The guilty verdict on some of the principals responsible for the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre is the first instance in which members of a powerful warlord clan have been convicted as masterminds in the killing of journalists in the Philippines. No masterminds and only14 assassins had previously been convicted of the killing of the remaining 133 journalists out of the 165 who have been murdered for their work since 1986.
The phrase “heinous crimes,” for which death is their preferred penalty, falls often from the mouths of the advocates of state-sponsored murder, whether capital punishment, or the use of extrajudicial killings against suspected drug users and pushers as well as lawyer, student, farmer and worker activists and regime critics. Include in this lot certain senators and congressmen, the police and military, some judges, and, of course, the current president of this endangered republic.
The acquittal last week of former Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr., and his alleged accomplices’ being found guilty and sentenced to the mandatory penalty for plunder of reclusion perpetua (20 to 30 years’ imprisonment) has understandably raised doubts over the justice of the decision. Two of the five associate justices of the Sandiganbayan’s First Division that tried the case are even questioning the majority opinion.
Among the questions that have been raised is why, if Revilla is indeed innocent, he is being ordered to return at least part of the PhP124.5 million in pork barrel funds pocketed by his alleged accomplices, and if his former chief of staff who has been convicted of the offense could have done it on his own and without Revilla’s approval and even instigation.
Those Filipinos aware of the record-breaking looting of the public treasury by the Marcos kleptocracy are hailing the Sandiganbayan’s conviction of Imelda Marcos on seven counts of graft. They had already lost hope that any of the billions diverted to Swiss bank accounts, real estate, and jewelry and art collections in Bern, Paris and other world capitals will ever be recovered, or that any form of legal retribution against the thieves is forthcoming, but have been heartened by the graft court’s decision 27 years after charges were filed against the Marcos family matriarch.
THE campaign by President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies in Congress for the restoration of the death penalty is replete with irony. Capital punishment is supposed to discourage criminality while at the same time insuring that those who commit certain crimes get what they deserve. But what’s likely is that rather than deter crime and assure crime victims of justice, it will further strengthen the impunity, or exemption from punishment, of the powerful, privileged, and well-connected.