Friday, July 04, 2014

Getting our act together

This is my column today, July 4, 2014. 


Although media still tried to turn the whole thing into a circus, there was less of the usual hysterics and drama when Senator Juan Ponce Enrile surrendered to authorities voluntarily last Friday.
There was a marked difference in the way the “processing” of the voluntary surrender of the aging senator was conducted.  Barely a few weeks ago, Senators Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada also underwent the same procedures – but in proceedings that were embarrassingly chaotic and marked with inefficiency and disorganization.
Last Friday, everyone seemed to have finally gotten his act together.  Police authorities provided adequate security and put in place measures to protect the privacy of the senator and his family and the integrity of the procedures.  Although there were still lots of shoving and jockeying for choice spots among media people who competed for better shots and an opportunity to bag an ambush interview along the way, the whole proceedings were done in a much more dignified way. 
I have always felt uncomfortable every single time a Senate hearing, a court appearance, or an arrest of a high profile person is turned into a free-for-all melee.  The discomfort is not necessarily borne out of empathy for the personages involved.  I have no love lost for the Janet Napoleses and the Bong Revillas and Jinggoy Estradas (and yes, even the Juan Ponce Enriles) of this world, but the anarchy is a reflection of our inability to establish order and, consequently, ensure fair and objective trial.  We have gotten so used to embarrassing public figures in public it appears as if public humiliation represents the full extent of the punishment we want imposed on erring public servants.  Basta maiskandalo, okay na.
We must learn to do things the right way even if we detest the people involved and want to throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at their faces.  We must learn to respect due process and ensure that the whole process is done correctly and thoroughly to protect the integrity of our systems.
What we learned last Friday is that a more dignified and orderly way to conduct administrative procedures of suspected plunderers can be done in this country – if we want to. 
So perhaps Revilla and Estrada were correct after all, our authorities dispense justice in a very selective manner.  For instance, Enrile was met by a Police General at the People Power monument at EDSA and the same general accompanied him to Camp Crame.  Media people were not allowed to take footages of much of the administrative proceedings and the mug shots of the senator – those incriminating photos that many people wrongly interpret as criminal arrest and conviction- were not made available to media.  There was less hyperventilating this time around and certainly less drama.  So it can be done naman pala.
So what made everyone turn deferential all of a sudden? Is it possible that our authorities finally learned from the Revilla and Estrada voluntary surrenders and finally put in place the correct procedures?  Was it because, as everyone has been harping endlessly in the last few months, of Enrile’s age?  Could it be because Enrile has been Senate President and performed a good job as Presiding Judge in the impeachment trial of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona? Perhaps because Enrile has better lawyers (and is a brilliant lawyer himself) who had better appreciation of the law as it applied to the proceedings last Friday?  Or could it be because Enrile has more clout in the military establishment having been Defense Minister for a number of years during the Martial Law years when, presumably, the current generals entered the force?  Or if we are to believe the scuttlebutt, there were previous instructions to afford Enrile with a little more dignity in exchange for certain political considerations.Whatever the reasons for last Friday’s more orderly proceedings, we hope our authorities have finally discovered the template that they can use in future proceedings of a similar nature.  There are ways to ensure that our judicial proceedings are not turned into a circus. We are a country of laws and we’ve worked so hard to put in place the mechanisms that will make democracy work; let’s not make a mockery of our systems.

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