Instead of turning a bad thing into a good thing, acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra did exactly the opposite: he turned what was already a bad thing into something worse.

From the way he keeps smiling at the cameras, he looks as if he’s gained something from the whole wretched mess. But it’s certainly not the improvement of his public image or that of the government he serves. The widespread public cynicism over the capacity of the so-called justice system to do justice to those who’ve been aggrieved, as expressed in various ways by those familiar with the role of the Ampatuans in the so-called victory of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004 and of her candidates for the Senate in 2007, is now universal. (The results of a survey on which government agency the public trusts the least should be interesting. )

Agra has also succeeded in creating a firestorm of outrage directed not only against himself, but also against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. If Agra’s boss thought that only her henchman would attract the lightning bolts of criticism and protest over the order to drop two of the Ampatuans from multiple murder charges in connection with the November 23 massacre of 57 people, she has another think coming. Expect Agra’s caper to add to the continuing slide of Arroyo’s already subterranean approval ratings, although she cares about that about as much as a tarantula cares about its prey.

But what’s ironic is that some Filipinos did give the justice system the benefit of the doubt last November, and many of those Filipinos were journalists and media practitioners. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have gone to the justice system for redress, but to the streets or elsewhere straightaway.

In the first place it was journalists who helped the government get the facts about the massacre right — the police were contaminating the crime scene by handling the bodies every which way, so there was little help from that direction — by sending fact-finding teams to Maguindanao almost immediately after that terrible event.

Despite their maddening experience with official indifference and incompetence, and, in some cases, partisanship for the suspects in the arrest and prosecution of the killers of journalists since 2001, some journalist groups also fielded private prosecutors to help government prosecutors do their jobs. These groups have also worked with government prosecutors by providing whatever information they could so a credible case could be assembled against the people accused of involvement in the murders.

Some journalist and media advocacy groups even assumed such government tasks as providing immediate humanitarian aid and scholarships for the families and children of the survivors. Through their lawyers and by providing funds to fly the relatives to Manila so they can attend hearings, the same groups are still helping in the prosecution of the alleged murderers of the 32 journalists killed

The way the country’s leading journalists have comported themselves during the many scandals and crises the Arroyo government has generated suggests that the Philippine press — or at least the better part of it — is not so much into undermining the government, but in trying to make things work as they should. Their relationship to the government only seems adversarial; in reality they recognize the crucial role of government in the shaping of the country’s present and future. It’s not the press but the Arroyo government and such of its minions as Agra who have been recalcitrant in implementing the country’s laws, for example, or in finding creative ways around them, and in concealing what they’re doing from the media and the public.

The same attitude has been evident in past administrations. All governments lie and try to conceal wrongdoing. But the officials of no other administration in memory has been as deliberately non-transparent, non-accountable, blithely abusive of power, contemptuous of public opinion, and hostile to the press as Arroyo and her officials.

Although the administration is crawling with similar creatures, Arroyo election lawyer Agra is a near-perfect example of non-accountability and smug indifference to public opinion.

Interviewed by the print and broadcast media, Agra betrayed the most minimal understanding of official accountability to the citizenry he’s supposed to serve. To questions from the media meant to solicit an explanation for his order to drop the multiple murder charges against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan, the most Agra could say was that it was his prerogative to review the recommendations of DOJ prosecutors.

He used the word “prerogative” so often it was obvious it was both his excuse and his conceit. It wasn’t the public’s reaction he was concerned with, but Malacanang’s. He repeatedly said it was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s opinion that mattered to him; it apparently never occurred to him that public opinion weighs heaviest on public officials in societies that claim to be democratic.

But having reached the limits of their patience, their outrage relentlessly aggravated not only by such acts as Agra’s but also by his indifference to the public and its demand for justice, the citizenry could justly argue that what obtains in the Philippines is not a democracy but a plutocracy, the self-serving minions of which eagerly pander to the whims of those who rule it so they may themselves enter the exclusive circles of the powerful. Agra probably has millions of reasons for acting the way he did, and for practically telling the entire country and all Filipinos that their opinions about anything don’t matter in the least. But none of those millions have anything to do with legality, and least of all with justice.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. My apologies for being out-of-place. I just would like to establish awareness.

    Do consider
    5. Dr. Martin Bautista
    for the next elections obviously (a senatorial candidate of Liberal Party). He’s a 47-year-old gastroenterologist in the US who came home after 17 years. You can see from his background that he truly means service. For those who find him to be a hypocrite for working abroad, do understand he’s a family man who needs to sustain his family, that he will be able to keep his independence by not relying on public funds to support his family. He helps his countrymen in his capacity but it’s just not enough for there are millions of Filipinos. And as proof of his sincerity, he didn’t renounce his citizenship nor became a dual citizen even if he was long eligible. He’s able to work in the US by being a legalized alien instead. It’s a good start in Philippine Politics to have him around.
    He used to be with the ‘Ang Kapatiran’ party but because of internal conflicts, he’s now with Liberal Party. But allow me to discuss this Ang Kapatiran party.
    The BIG DIFFERENCE is the ‘Ang Kapatiran’ party is God-centered. There is no lesser-evil component. Its members will be disciplined by its own party should they stray from its code of ethics. They promised to restore what a true public servant means: to serve the public and not make it as a means of livelihood.
    Below are the lists of Senatoriables of the Ang Kapatiran:

    11 Rizalito David
    21 Jo Imbong
    43 Zosimo Paredes
    45 Maria Gracia Rinoza-Plazo
    52 Adrian Sison
    55 Reginald Tamayo
    56 Hector Tarrazona
    59 Manuel Valdehuesa

    You will be able to gauge Dr. Martin Bautista’s intelligence by reading the articles he posts in his website here:
    I urge you to INFORM BY E-MAIL/TEXT/INFORM all your contacts about them. I believe they only lack exposure that’s why I’m doing this. But I can’t do it alone so I’m appealing to everyone’s help. If all will inform their contacts about them and urge them as well to forward, we might hit millions.
    We cannot afford to be indifferent now if we want meaningful change. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame. BUT TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

  2. Also, in case you don’t have party list yet to vote… you may want to consider ABA.
    Spread the news and make ABA known to our extended families, relatives and friends. ABA is

    Alyansang Bayanihan ng mga Magsasaka, Manggagawang-Bukid at Mangingisda

    ABA is a pro-people, pro-life and pro-family party list. The Catholic church supports ABA.
    ABA is an alliance of groups that represent the rural poor, the urban poor, and the traditional natural family.

    The nominees of ABA are:
    1. 2009-10 party list representative Leonardo Montemayor
    2. former ABA party list representative Dioscoro Granada
    3. JOSE NEBRAO – founding member/president of Serve Life, founding member/vice-president for Task Force for Family and Life, Proponent of Organic Farming and Small Agri-based Business,
    4. Jose Morales
    5. Atty. Makilito Mahinay

    ABA has been advancing and advocating the following legislations and housing policy reforms within and outside of the halls of Philippine Congress. These are:

    • Legislation: Exemptions for cooperatives from EVAT; extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program; strengthening of the Crop Insurance Program; Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Act; Party List Act; Comprehensive Integrated Shelter Financing Act; Indigenous Peoples Rights Act; Fisheries Code; and the Safeguard Measures Act.
    • Housing policy reforms: fast-tracking the identification of government lands for social housing projects thru Presidential proclamations; and the just and humane eviction of squatters through EO 152.
    • Other advocacies: the creation of a congressional commission on the strengthening of the Filipino Family; the creation of the Omnibus Human Resource Development policy; and the promotion of bio-organic farming.

    Here are some priority measures of ABA in Congress:

    • To formulate new laws for: a National Land and Water Use Policy; a Magna Carta for the Urban Poor; and the creation of a Department of Housing.
    • To properly implement Agrarian, Urban Land, and Natural Resources Reforms so as to attain the true benefits to the people.
    • To strengthen: Sustainable Agricultural Modernization; the Cooperative sector; the micro-finance system; organic agriculture and community-based watershed/forest management programs; and the Party-List system.
    • To work for the early recovery and proper use of the coconut levy funds.
    • To nurture a Culture of Life and reject the death penalty, euthanasia, abortion, and radical fertility control; to defend the natural family as society’s primary unit and oppose divorce and same-sex marriage; and to preserve the primacy of the family in the rearing and education of its own children in all matters.

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