Sunday, January 25, 2009


As a famous novel cliché goes, the plot thickens. So goes the development in the Alabang Boys case when an investigation is launched anew over allegations that DOJ Special Prosecutor John Resado and his wife received deposits in the sum of P1.6 million in their joint bank account the day he ordered the dismissal of the charges against trio Brodett, Tecson and Joseph.

In his lame attempt to turn the tables on PDEA, DOJ Special Prosecutor John Resada made a surprising but ridiculous claim that it was PDEA lawyer Alvaro Lazaro who attempted to bribe him to drop the charges against the Alabang Boys.

Given his training as a lawyer, let alone his background as a DOJ prosecutor, Resado should know the words “afterthought” and “belated” – lingos with which lawyers are so familiar and glibly use in advancing or defending the cause of their clients. I’m sure Resado himself have made use of these terms several times before in resolving cases brought before him for preliminary investigations.

The implausibility of the claim can readily be seen. It was only after more than a month and a series of congressional investigations, not to mention the media interviews – since Major Marcelino bared alleged bribery attempts to secure the release of the Alabang Boys – that Resado accused Lazaro of being the one who attempted to bribe him.

The Alabang Boys case revolves around the allegations that there were attempts by well-to-do young men arrested in a drug buy bust to bribe PDEA agents and, more seriously, that DOJ prosecutors were bribed in dismissing the charges against them. If the former claim places the PDEA in a good light, the latter casts a serious doubt on the credibility and integrity of the DOJ as an important pillar in the administration of justice; it is an assault not only on the involved prosecutors, but on the institution itself.

Now if indeed Lazaro attempted to bribe Resado – an information that is important and vital in the investigation of this case – Resado should have revealed it at the outset instead of withholding it. The explanation that he was not given the chance to do so is simply ridiculous.

Something as important and serious as the claim that it was in fact PDEA’s lawyer that was guilty of bribery would have been among the major talking points of Resado’s counter-charge in trying to clear himself and in effect the DOJ; besides, if truly Resado was prevented from making the revelation during the congressional investigation, he had several opportunities to do so during the media interviews he gave before and after the investigation. A DOJ press conference was not farfetched.

Viewed now in the light of the timing and circumstances of the revelation, Resado would have himself called his allegation as a “belated” attempt and an “afterthought,” if he were to write the resolution of a similar case before him. It is belated and an afterthought because, as previously discussed, the alleged bribery attempt of Lazaro is something one would not normally keep to himself unless there are extraneous circumstances (excluding the ridiculous claim of lack of opportunity), such as coercions or threats against the claimant’s personal safety or that of his immediate relatives. And it is something one would only make to extricate himself from a difficult situation.

Resado never mentioned that he or a member of his family was ever threatened not to make the revelation about Lazaro’s alleged bribery attempt, thereby negating any plausible extraneous circumstance to justify his previous silence on the matter.

Lazaro’s counter-argument to Resado’s allegation is also worth noting. He argued that if indeed the charges against the Alabang Boys are dismissible then it makes no sense in saying that these boys orchestrated a bribery attempt for the dropping of the charges against them. Why would one go into the trouble of bribing someone to dismiss cases that are bound to be dismissed anyway? If the defendants failed to realize their favorable position given their lack of legal training, surely their lawyer would have seen it from a reading of the arresting officers’ affidavits and any testimony they might have given during the preliminary investigation.

Resado seems to be treading on dangerous grounds. In trying to parry possible charges of bribery and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, possibly for bungling the prosecution of drug cases under section 92 which carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 20 years (by law the maximum is imposable for convicted public officials), Resado inadvertently exposed himself to a string of violations of law, from banking, financing and tax laws to ethical rules for public officials and lawyers, for operating an underground lending business.

Resado’s latest refusal to waive his right to secrecy of his bank deposits, rather than help his defense, will only raise more questions on his innocence. Since he already exposed himself to possible tax evasion charges it is now pointless to hide under the veil of the bank secrecy law, for more sums of undeclared income would not make much of a difference anymore in so far as his self-incriminating declaration is concerned.

There are now only two narrow options that Resado must choose from in the face of these developments: (1) come clean and reveal whatever he knows, if he has anything to confess about the Alabang Boys case, and he might just be able to work out a plea deal with fellow prosecutors; or (2) get a darn good defense attorney and stop making incredible and incriminating statements.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


His election to the presidency of the United States in November 2008, while marking a very historic moment in America, is surely not the climactic point in former Senator Barack Obama’s ascent to power. Today, before an estimated crowd of two million from all across America, and in the icy cold Washington weather, Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States – officially sealing the first African-American’s assumption to the highest office in the land.

After being administered the oath of office by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Pres. Barack Obama delivered the inaugural address in his usual eloquent and measured oratorical skills that caught the nation’s attention and fired up his quest to the presidency.

While the theme of President Obama’s speech revolved around the need to return to the old values that shaped America as a nation of opportunity and power – such as hard work, honesty, courage, fair play, loyalty and patriotism – in confronting its new challenges, he sent a strong message against America’s enemies and in stressing his uncompromising stand of adhering to America’s ideals in protecting its security.

President Obama warned would be aggressors in no uncertain terms that they will not outlast America and will be defeated. At the same time he is leaving an open door for authoritarian regimes and expressed readiness to help them if they are ready to embrace and practice democratic ideals, such as Cuba, for example, with whom the U.S. has had strained relations for years since Fidel Castro came into power in 1959.

In what may be considered as a strong rebuff of George W. Bush’s policy on torture and other practices of questionable constitutionality in dealing with terrorists, such as the maintenance of the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons, renditions, and surveillance of citizens’ personal communications, Obama declared as false the choice between safety and ideals in defending the nation’s security. Obama appears to be stressing here that the constitutional safeguards and protections will not be set aside for the sake of national security, in contrast with Bush and Cheney’s policies.

For all the fanfare and festivities that marked this historic inauguration, hard work and seemingly insurmountable challenges immediately await President Obama. Confronted with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a steady threat to the nation’s security, a spiraling economy, and a demanding foreign policy environment in the Middle East, Obama knows that he does not have the time to spare in confronting the pressing problems of the world’s most powerful nation.

It is to his credit and a testament to his readiness that President Obama and his team of savvy political advisers and strategists started laying the groundwork for a ready and working president come day one; his people coordinated one of the smoothest transitions to power in U.S. presidential history, his key economic and national security team have been assembled long before the inauguration, and his economic relief plan is already being worked out with congressional leaders.

Both America and the world await what type of leader President Obama will be. There is obviously great expectation as to what can be achieved, and as soon as Obama started rolling his sleeves there will surely be disappointments and there will be those who will start questioning their allegiance and support; there will be unpopular decisions that will be made, statements that will not be acceptable, priorities that will not get support, but if the presidential campaign, transition, and inauguration – accomplished with organization and high efficiency – coupled with Obama’s vision and a popular support are indications, there is hope that an Obama presidency might just turn out to be the leadership that America and the world need.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The spate of publicity recently generated by the so-called Alabang boys case, which involves allegations of bribery of anti-drug enforcement agents and Justice Department prosecutors, has impelled the government to carry out a plan of action to curb the growing menace of dangerous drugs in the country.

One thing we are thankful of controversies is that government shifts into gears, albeit fleetingly in most cases, to address problems which have been begging attention for some time already.

In what appears to be a sweeping move to address the worsening drug problem, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared herself as the country’s anti-drug czar and bared plans to institute a nation-wide mandatory random drug testing of students in secondary and tertiary education.

As in most other governmental moves affecting individual liberty, this plan has elicited not a few objections, not least of which are those coming from our esteemed lawmakers – who by the way crafted the law that provides for this type of testing.

Drug testing not only of students, but also of employees, public officials, candidates for public office and criminal suspects, is required by Section 36 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (R.A. 9165).

As early as 2004, the legality of this particular provision of law had already been questioned before the Supreme Court in the consolidated cases of Social Justice Society v. Dangerous Drugs Board & Phil. Drug Enforcement Agency (G.R. No. 157870), Atty. Manuel J. Laserna, Jr. v. Dangerous Drugs Board & Phil. Drug Enforcement Agency (G.R. No. 158633), and Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. v. COMELEC (G.R. No. 161658) – the decision in all said cases being promulgated only on November 3, 2008.

Petitioners in Social Justice Society and Laserna, Jr. chiefly argued that mandatory drug testing of students constitutes unwarranted intrusion into their privacy and violates their right against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Constitution.

The Supreme Court disagreed with these claims by ruling that schools and their administrators stand in loco parentis over their students, students have reduced expectation of privacy in school, and the testing is reasonable.

Citing two U.S. cases, the Supreme Court said that schools and their administrators have substitute parental authority and responsibility over their students, with the common interest to promote the health and well-being of these students by adopting reasonable measures.

The Court cited the deleterious effects to the young of dangerous drugs and how it may affect not only users, but other members of the academe. It found the presence of a compelling need to address the grave problems of drug addiction as a justification for intrusion into the privacy of students, which the Court pointed out as subject to limitations.

By entering schools, students have reduced expectation of privacy. Their rights to privacy are circumscribed by the school policies and regulations governing student conduct on campus; students in effect submit to the substitute parental authority of schools and their administrators and waive their privacy rights by enrolling in schools.

Aside from finding the mandatory drug testing as a justified form of intrusion into students’ privacy, the Court also found its reasonableness in the manner it is to be carried out by being a “suspicionless” and “random” arrangement. It is not to be carried out in the context of a criminal suspicion and not directed against any particular individual.

Unlike in the mandated drug testing of criminal suspects, which the Supreme Court found as unlawful in Laserna, Jr., the testing of students is not intended to criminally prosecute them, but to stamp out illegal drugs and in the process safeguard students’ health and well-being from the harmful effects of dangerous drugs.

The Court noted that if any student is found positive for the use of dangerous drugs this will not necessarily result in criminal prosecution, because Sections 54 and 55 of the law provide for voluntary submission to a treatment or rehabilitation facility for drug dependency and concomitant exemption from criminal liability.

Finally, the law was found to provide sufficient safeguards against arbitrary and abusive testing by requiring the test to be conducted by government-accredited facilities, maintaining confidentiality and ensuring proper chain of custody of test results, among other things.

As the Supreme Court had already ruled on the legality of mandatory drug testing for students in secondary and tertiary education, what is left now is the proper implementation of the testing itself. Parents, school authorities and students must become vigilant to ensure that any testing is carried out in accordance with the strict requirements of the law to prevent the system from becoming a tool for abuse and wrongdoing.

Friday, January 9, 2009


It is not something that you often see on the news: anti-narcotics cops revealing attempts to bribe them to the tune of millions of pesos by suspected drug dealers.

This is the story of the so-called “Alabang boys” (trio Richard Brodett, Joseph Tecson, and Jordan Joseph) who allegedly attempted to bribe officials of the country’s top anti-drug agency, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), in a sum ranging from three million to the whopping amount of 50 million pesos to drop the drug charges against them.

I said it is a unique story because, having been a trial lawyer with experience in handling drug cases, it is usually the police who are seen or accused of asking bribe money in exchange for the dismissal of charges against suspected drug dealers. Allegations also fly high about the police intentionally arresting innocent citizens on drug charges in devious cash-for-freedom schemes.

This time around, however, it is the anti-narcotics operatives who are crying foul by allegedly being the victims of bribery attempts. What is even unique about this story is that the amount involved is staggering that a meagerly-paid policeman, or any public functionary for that matter, may find difficult to resist. This is not an indictment of the civil service, but merely a statement consistent with the sad fact – and I say this not with pride but shame – that our country ranks among the top corrupt nations in Asia.

The whole controversy erupted when the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the dismissal of the charges against the Alabang boys, purportedly for violation by PDEA of the procedures in the arrest of criminal suspects. According to the DOJ, the buy-bust (an anti-narcotics operation where a drug dealer is arrested during the purchase of dangerous drugs by a police undercover or informant [known as a “poseur buyer”]) conducted by PDEA was a farce.

Defendants in dangerous drugs cases commonly raise the defense of “frame-up,” by claiming that there was really no buy-bust or that the drugs found in their possession were merely planted. For this defense to fly defendants must show motive on the part of the arresting officers and, although difficult to prove, the most plausible motive is extortion. Under this theory, the police arrested them for the corrupt purpose of extorting money from them in exchange for their freedom.

If the police, however, say that it is the defendants who were bribing them for their release, motive becomes even more problematic to prove. What motive could the police possibly have in saying that they were being bribed? The offered bribe was not enough?

But the amount floated in the Alabang boys case was from three to 50 million pesos, an amount that by Philippine standards is huge. Did PDEA merely make up this amount? But if PDEA tried to extort money from the Alabang boys and found the amount miniscule it makes no sense to go public on an alleged bribery attempt against it.

If we follow this line by assuming that PDEA was the original bribe seeker but the amount offered by defendants was unacceptable, going public and turning the story around by accusing the defendants of bribery attempts would only make PDEA vulnerable to an investigation and open the door to its original extortion attempt. PDEA would be opening a can of worms, so to speak.

Given the implausibility of this theory another one is needed. PDEA may have come out with a bribery story to cover any lapses in conducting the buy-bust that led to the dismissal of the charges against the Alabang boys. By claiming the bribery attempt against it, PDEA may be conditioning the public that DOJ investigators were bribed in dropping the charges, with PDEA eventually emerging heroic in the process for resisting the bribery attempt.

This is, however, a long shot. Drug cases are dismissed a lot of times due to violation of defendants’ constitutional rights to due process during the arrest, more than because the defendants were innocent. More often than not this technicality is the criminal defense attorney’s best friend in securing the dismissal of charges against his clients suspected of drug dealing, and the police unfortunately seem to do nothing to improve their efficiency in this area.

In other words, dismissal of drug cases because the “constable has blundered” on constitutional grounds is not something that comes as a surprise. This being the case I don’t think PDEA would risk the publicity it is getting right now – both good and bad – by trying to cover its back for something that is an accepted lapse in law enforcement both here and abroad.

On the other hand, bribery of DOJ prosecutors who handled the preliminary investigation of the Alabang boys’ case appear plausible. Many instances suggest something improper transpired at the DOJ. For one, defendants’ lawyer Felisberto Verano admitted drafting the release order on DOJ stationery which is admittedly highly irregular and may be a serious violation of ethical rules for lawyers. The interest of DOJ Undersecretary Blancaflor in the case is very unusual, which even Secretary Raul Gonzalez admits. Blancaflor, it is reported, is a fraternity brother of Verano.

Considering the seriousness of the allegations, it would serve Secretary Gonzalez well to conduct a full blown investigation into the matter and promptly review the case for an early resolution, rather than engage in a publicity fight with PDEA. If indeed DOJ prosecutor Resado and Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño believe everything is above board and there are a lot of procedural errors committed by PDEA in the buy-bust, let this be shown in the review by the secretary. Not later but now.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


As of this writing there are more than 400 reported deaths and 1,900 wounded on the Gaza side, and four deaths and 56 wounded on the Israeli side, as the Israel-Gaza conflict enters its seventh day of bloody rocket pounding. According to Palestinian medical sources, of the more than 400 Palestinians killed 42 are children. Three of the four Islraeli casualties are civilians. These ghastly statistics are guaranteed to increase unless this latest round of violence in the most volatile Mideast conflict is immediately halted.

Like in most military conflicts the civilian population, especially children, is the most vulnerable. Without arms and armors to protect them, let alone the training and possibly the incentive to fight, civilians on both sides are always caught in the crossfire. Unless they themselves have been casualties, political leaders and military commanders deal only with cold statistics from the rising death toll and injuries while the victims feel the searing pain and suffering from the loss of their love ones.

As the casualties rise on both sides, victims seethe with rage which will only add more recruits to the fighting and violence. Every orphaned child becomes a likely foot soldier in this seemingly unending Arab-Israeli conflict. Equally worrisome is the spilling of the conflict beyond the borders of Israel and Palestinian settlements. Already, there have been calls from sympathetic Arab neighbors, such as Iran, to mount suicide bombings in Israel.

There is an urgent need for the international community to come together and immediately step in and aggressively pursue peace negotiations between Israel and Hamas, as well as with Abbas's Fatah party, to not only quell the ongoing violence but to shape a lasting peace between both sides.

Now is not the time to play the blame game like what Washington seems to be doing right now by pointing the accusing finger against Hamas. While Hamas may have incited the Israelis into retaliating as a result of the former's barrage of rocket fire into southern Israel after the expiration of a six-month ceasefire, the more important consideration right now is to limit, if not stop, the bloodletting by persuading the parties to come back to the negotiating table.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama should work closely with the outgoing administration of Bush in helping broker a truce. Although it may be true that there could only be one U.S. president at a time there is a pressing need to address this problem immediately and not let more innocent blood to flow on the streets of Israel and Gaza.
Although a known ally of Israel and despite its recent missteps in the international scene, the U.S. still wields considerable influence and unchallenged power in the shaping of international affairs, especially on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The de facto leadership status of the U.S. in global politics and the deferment of other leading countries to this stature can be seen from the recent pronouncement of the European Union's leadership to step into the problem to fill the vacuum created by Washington's inaction, brought about by the ongoing leadership transition at the White House. Bush is adamant to take any decisive action in apparent recognition of his lameduck status, while Obama refuses to rush into his presidency before January 20th.

The civilian casualties of war can no longer wait for political expedience. As time moves on the death and casualty rates also move up higher and higher. International pressure should be made to bear on Israel and Hamas to immediately put a stop to this madness.