Dirty Finger

by Juan L. Mercado

Today’s  ‘Viewpoint’   would   have  focused  on  the no-nonsense  demographer  Mercedes  Concepcion.   At  the  Philippine Population  Conference,  she and   her  colleagues,  blistered    Maguindanao’s  “statistically impossible” 5.4  percent  bolt in population.  Most “newcomers” were  18 years old —  and new voters?

Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao’s  population sprinted by 3.7  percent.  None of  19  Asian  countries  bloated  like ARRM.   Is  this “voodoo  demography’?,  we wanted to ask.

We  have today  a glut of  10 presidential  candidates.  As in the  1992, 1998, and 2004 elections,  the  next  President will get,  at best,  a  plurality  of  votes, political scientist, Jose  Abueva notes. Will  ARRM phantom 18-year olds  tip the scales? 

Recent  headlines postponed those   questions. ”Military Defies SC Court on 43”,  Inquirer’s  banner  read:   “Despite a  writ of   habeas corpus, issued  by  the Supreme Court”, military and  cops didn’t  present  43 detained health workers.”

“We  had “no time to coordinate security measures for the  transfer”, Col. Aurelio Baladad  claimed:   Ha-ha-ha-ha.  Excuse me. The gall and    implausibility took  your breath  away.

Would  a lowly  colonel   “dirty finger”  a  High  Court  order  on his own? Were  you  born yesterday?  “Inexcusable,” snapped  presidential   candidate Gilberto  Teodoro.  

Human  Rights  Commission  probers, meanwhile, reported  detaines were tortured.  Military  shilly-shallying  “goes  against  ‘immediacy’, the very  essence of habeas corpus,  HRC chair Leila de Lima said.    Belated  presentation of detainees only adds insult  to  earlier “dirty finger” injury.

Worse,  it sets  “dangerous  precedents”,   Associate Justice  Normandie  Pizzaro fumed. “You’re the biggest armed  group  in the country. Produce the living bodies.”   End of  lecture?, asked  Sun Star’s  Frank  Malilong.  “Such insolence would have earned  swift and severe sanctions from  the Court in other jurisdictions.” 

Was this the  hoary  “good-cop-bad-cop”  drill?

AFP  commander-in-chief.  Gloria  Macapagal  Arroyo  didn’t whimper. The writ,  after  all, is  not   like  Pampanga’s  jueteng.  England’s   Magna Carta  enacted the  privilege in 1215.  It  has become part and  parcel  of  law in democratic  countries. 

“Follow court orders,”   Gen. Victor Ibrado muttered.  He  didn’t  phone that order to  habeas corpus shredders at the  2nd  Infantry Division.   Instead, he  stapled  a  “to-whom-it-may concern” address. Did the general wink?

The writ enables any  person to  break free from  illegal  detention. “(It) secures  for  every man  here, alien  or citizen,  against anything that is not law,” Thomas Jefferson wrote.

Thus,  habeas  corpus  has been  a keystone  in all  our constitutions. Not so with  North Korea  and Iran.   So, why do some  AFP officers  clone  Pyongyang and Tehran?

Even  the  dictator Ferdinand Marcos  dared not shaft  publicly  the writ.  In  1972,  20 newsmen,  detained under  martial law,  were hauled  to the  Supreme Court for  habeas  corpus  hearings.

In a  “Black Maria” prison  van,  we  were  wedged, between  co-detainees  Amando  Doronila  of  Daily Mirror and Philippines News  Service Manuel   Almario.  Cowed  pedestrians  wouldn’t lock eyes with us. “Are we contagious?,” Evening News Luis Beltran  joked.

Ferried  to the Court  earlier  were  Joaquin  Roces and Maximo  Soliven  of  Manila Times,  Teodoro  Locsin  Sr.  and  Napoleon Rama  of  Philippine Free Press. and other journalist-detainees.  Senators Benigno Aquino, Jose Diokno, Ramon  Mitra,  plus  constitutional delegates like Tito Guingona  came in separate  vans.

Despite  threats,  National Press Club president Eddie Monteclaro and  others  lodged  habeas corpus petitions.  Among our pro-bono lawyers were: Sen.  Lorenzo Tanada, Sedfrey Ordonez  and Joker Arroyo.

“You  can’t  trust  most of  them,” Joker Arroyo whispered, as the Marcos Court  justices filed in. “But  the writ may provide a shield, however thin.”  He  proved  right on the button.  Marcos  selectively released detainees. His court dismissed  the pleas as “moot and academic.’ (See GR No. L35546 to 35567.)

Marcos Supreme Court  legitimized  actions of the President,  constitutional  scholar Joaquin Bernas, SJ  wrote.  With  suspension of habeas corpus,  “claims of denial of a speedy trial were unavailing”.  The writ’s  suspension also  spiked “the right to bail”.

Before  he  could speak at  the  Manila International airport, an  assassin cut down Benigno Aquino  Jr.  Today’s  writ shredders should  read  his  undelivered speech. 

“It is most ironic, after martial law has allegedly been lifted, that the Supreme Court last April  ruled   it can no longer entertain petitions for habeas  corpus for persons detained under a Presidential Commitment Order “, Ninoy wrote.  “(This ) covers all so-called national security cases. And  under present circumstances (that) can cover almost anything.”.

Since  then,  Filipinos  chased the dictator into exile. Corazon Aquino fired supine Supreme  Court justices.  People  Power restored  suppressed   rights, including  habeas corpus..

Failing to learn from history,  today’s military would shot craps with  this critical  human  right.  Will  Commander-in-Chief  Arroyo play along?  Habeas corpus shredding  would be added to her  legacy. And  that’s  messy  enough, as it is.


(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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