Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lacson is not - and should not be - above the law

Two words describe the actions of Sen. Panfilo Lacson who went into hiding before the warrant for his arrest in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case could be served, and later on surfaced after the charges against him were thrown out by the court: mockery and impunity. As defined by the dictionary, mockery is ridicule, contempt or derision, while impunity is immunity from detrimental effects, such as punishment, for one's actions.

It is true the court nullified Lacson's indictment for the murder of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000, but before this a warrant for Lacson's arrest was issued upon initial finding that there was probable cause to detain him. Under the criminal justice system, when there is a finding of probable cause - although erroneous at times - a warrant of arrest is generally issued to detain the accused person pending trial.

In serious offenses like murder, bail is not a matter of right and the accused person has to prove that the evidence of guilt against him is not strong to obtain temporary liberty. Failure to do so would mean the accused will have to stay in jail while the case against him is being tried. Panfilo Lacson, a senator no less and a former PNP Chief and head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission under former Pres. Erap Estrada, flouted such established criminal procedure by going into hiding or, more to the point, disregarding the actions of those invested with the authority to run the criminal justice system while at the same time seeking remedies from them by asking the nullification of the charges against him. It is a classic case of eating one's cake and having it at the same time.

For a person who holds one of the highest public offices of the land and who was once chief enforcer of one of the pillars of the criminal justice system, Lacson's actions prove to be most egregious and reprehensible. Like most people who find themselves on the other side of the law, he should have been man enough to submit to the jurisdiction of the authorities, face and contest the charges against him within the system, instead of becoming a fugitive.

But no, Lacson would rather live in the comfort of his hiding than suffer jail time. His lame excuse for running away is that injustice was being perpetrated against him. You don't run away from injustice, but fight it. People who had not the benefit of military training like he did, such as Ninoy Aquino, Jose Diokno and Jovito Salonga, among others, did not hide when they were being persecuted during martial law. They bravely faced the trumped up charges against them and became symbols of the struggle against oppression while in jail.

With Lacson, there is even more reason for him not to hide. As a high profile personality, how can the government possibly fool around with his rights, let alone ignore them. It is true our justice system still leaves much to be desired, but gone are the dark days of martial law when an accused person's rights mean nothing. There is a cornucopia of rights now available to an accused person, guaranteed by no less than the Constitution, which a shrewd criminal lawyer can exploit at every angle to his client's advantage. Is it a surprise that Lacson got off the hook?

Now, never mind that Lacson has been cleared by the court. Rightly or wrongly, our human fallibility being an unfortunate part of any system we create, the court has spoken and either we accept such decision or legally challenge it if still feasible. But as far as what Lacson did in trifling with the processes of the law, something should be done about it and not let is slip as yet another bad example of some bigwig acting above the law.

As a senator, Lacson should be expelled for disorderly behavior. What could be more disorderly than violating one's oath to uphold and defend the rule of law and running away from and not performing one's duties as an elected senator? Not to punish Lacson for what he did would reinforce - yet again - that those in power can easly break the law with impunity.

But then again, the value for the rule of law in our country is deplorably low, if not lacking, since we have elected into high office people who helped perpetrate a dictatorship, conspired in the imposition of martial law, convicted of rape, launched coup d’etats, etc.

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