It’s not about whether you’re rich or poor; it’s about whether you knew you were breaking the law

For days, I’ve been reading and watching the news about the government’s efforts to stay the execution of the three Filipinos who had been sentenced to death for smuggling heroin into China. I’m sure that the government, especially the Vice President who has been very much visible these days, is earning a lot of “pogi” points from the OFWs and their families. And not just the three convicted OFWs and their families but OFWs and their families in general. The message is that if they were in the same situation, the government would be exerting this kind of effort for them too.

The facts:

1. The convicted Filipinos were caught smuggling drugs into China.

2. The size of the packages of the drugs make it clear that the packages couldn’t have been inserted into their luggage without their knowledge.

3. Teresita Ang See “who served as an interpreter for Chinese authorities who investigated the cases, said the 3 Filipinos had a deal with drug syndicates” and so knew what they were carrying.


1. The Philippines and China are two independent and sovereign states. Crimes committed in Chinese territory, including those committed by non-Chinese nationals, are subject to Chinese law. And vice versa. Why can’t we just respect China’s right to impose its law?

2. Notwithstanding the data on drug mules, why is the very phenomenon of drug mules being linked directly to lack of jobs locally and the prevailing poverty? There is just as much data to show that people involved in the drug trade are not necessarily poor. Many are in it because it is easy money — a chance to make millions with relatively little work involved.

And it is that attraction that makes me skeptical about claims that if Filipinos weren’t so poor and if they were gainfully employed, none would be involved in the drug trade — which is the very justification being used as to why the government is doing everything to save the three convicted Filipinos from execution.

Yes, it is sad that three fellow Filipinos are now facing the death penalty in China. It is even sadder that hundreds more are languishing in jails in many other parts of the world — also for drug smuggling.

But the thing is, the three Filipinos in China knew they were carrying drugs, they knew it is illegal to bring drugs to China and they knew the risks. And they did it anyway. If those drugs had been merely planted in their luggage without their knowledge nor consent, I’d be more sympathetic. But that’s not the case. In fact, at least one of the three had done it before.

And these aren’t jobless Filipinos — they flew to China armed with employment contracts.

So why is the government spending taxpayers’ money to beg the Chinese government not to carry out the death sentence on these Filipinos? Continue reading →

Still on Angelo Reyes’ death: where’s the slug?

There. I said death, not suicide. Lots of reasons. I had to read all the new reports I could find after agreeing to do a TV interview. And, to answer a reader (on the FB page of my food blog) who’s wondering if the recent spate of TV appearances means I’m giving TV a “go” again, the answer is time. I have so much time these days with the kids living away five days a week and TV guesting is an interesting way to kill time. Consider this post as my way of organizing my thoughts — I tend to forget unless I write them down.

1. It’s curious that more than two and half days since Reyes died, the most recent news reports say little more than what they said on Tuesday morning. While TV and radio crews have covered the wake and the statements given by Reyes family, the big media outfits have largely been dismissive in reporting about official investigations on Reyes’ death itself. I had to visit the websites of smaller news outfits to find information about the what the police have found out — and what the police found out, as well was what they haven’t, that is strange too.

2. It weirds me out that the Philippine National Police (PNP) has closed the case on the strength (weakness would be a more appropriate term) of an “eyewitness” account and the recovery of a bullet casing and a .45 caliber gun.

The eyewitness account is useless because the witness, the cemetery caretaker, did not see Reyes actually shoot himself. He said he saw Reyes holding a gun in his left hand, heard a shot and saw Reyes sprawled on the ground.

The recovery of a bullet casing and a gun are is useless unless the slug is recovered and matched to the casing and the gun. If Reyes shot himself, at that close range, the bullet would have gone through (some reports say the bullet did go through but that can also happen if Reyes was shot from a distance using a high-powered gun) and the slug should have been on the ground. It did not rain on Tuesday morning and the crime scene was immediately cordoned off. Why was the slug not found?

3. Why are most people willing to accept his death as suicide? More importantly, why are most people willing to accept the theory that Reyes killed himself out of love for his family so he could protect them?

An autopsy was not performed; Reyes’ family wouldn’t allow it. An autopsy would have determined 1) the trajectory of the bullet; 2) whether Reyes was shot at close range and 3) whether Reyes’ hand had powder burns to show that he pulled the trigger. Again, without answers to all that, the eyewitness account, the recovery of the casing and the gun are useless to establish suicide — without question.

Almost everything I’ve read veer toward the theory that Reyes meant to protect his family. This theory is tied to previous statements he uttered that his family shouldn’t be dragged into the “pabaon” mess currently under investigation by the Senate.

But here’s the thing. Reyes had been in government long enough to be well-versed with the law. Moreover, when he got embroiled in the inquiry, he hired a lawyer precisely to advise him. It is too improbable to presume that he didn’t know that his death would NOT have spared his family. It is too unlikely that his lawyer did not previously advise him of what Senator Miriam Santiago announced after his death: the Anti-Graft Law covers persons who benefitted, directly or indirectly, from the ill-gotten wealth of a public official. Reyes himself might have escaped criminal and civil liability but not his family.

So, I don’t but buy the theory that he killed himself to spare his family. At least, not in the context of sparing them from any investigation arising from the Anti-Graft Law. If anything, his death just threw them into the pit and left to fend for themselves.

But, perhaps, Reyes knew about human nature more than most of us do. Perhaps, he was counting on how Filipinos can be so forgiving after a person dies. Perhaps, he knew that there would be an abundance of sympathy and the allegations about him would be forgotten. If that was what he thought, he may have been right. Look at how some people in the Senate reacted — some senators wanted the investigation adjourned in deference to Reyes family who should be allowed to time to mourn. Good thing that this small group of senators got outvoted.

Look at what ordinary people are saying — they’re talking of honor and practically calling him a hero for choosing to take his life.

My goodness, what death can bring. Filipinos are so forgiving of the dead, really — just look at how Marcos has been forgiven as evidenced by the now successful political careers of his widow and children. Continue reading →

Failure to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt

The crime was committed in June 1991 when Estrellita, Carmela and Jennifer Vizconde were killed at their house. Suspects were arrested, confessions were signed but the case was dismissed.

In 1995, on the strength of an “eyewitness” account, eight young men — Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio “Tony Boy” Lejano, Artemio “Dong” Ventura, Michael A. Gatchalian, Hospicio “Pyke” Fernandez, Peter Estrada, Miguel “Ging” Rodriguez, and Joey Filart (Ventura and Filart were never found and arrested) — were tried for rape with homicide. In 2000, the trial court convicted them.

In 2005, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

In a decision promulgated on December 14, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction for failure of the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, and ordered their release.

Release? Yes, release. For 15 years, from the time they were arrested to the day the Supreme Court reversed the conviction, the accused were in detention. Article III, Section 13 of the Constitution says, “All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law…” Rape with homicide is punishable by reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment).

If it’s difficult to appreciate the length of time by sheer numbers, I look at it this way: In June 1991 when the Vizcondes were killed, Speedy was my boyfriend. Today, our firstborn, Sam, is 18 years old. In 1995 when Hubert Webb, et al. were arrested, our younger daughter, Alex, was one year old. She will turn 17 in January. In 2000 when the accused were convicted by the trial court, Sam was in Grade 2 and Alex was in Grade 1. Today, they are both in college. Hubert Webb and the other accused were young men when they were arrested and jailed; today, they are middle-aged men.

When I read the Supreme Court decision last night (click here for the full text of the Supreme Court decision on People vs. Webb, et al.), I wasn’t sure if I believe that the accused are innocent. I’m still not sure. Even the Supreme Court isn’t. What the decision says is that the prosecution FAILED to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. And that’s not the same as saying that they are innocent. No, not the same at all.

It is difficult — and unfair — for a by-stander to pass judgment on the guilt and innocence of the accused. So, I won’t. But the Supreme Court decision is significant in ways beyond the question of guilt or innocence. In fact, what it says is downright scary. Continue reading →

Strange cases of U.P. Law Dean Marvic Leonen and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Dean Marvic Leonen was at the forefront of a call for the resignation of Supreme Court justice Mariano del Castillo for plagiarism. The Supreme Court itself absolved Del Castillo then lashed at the 37 members of the U.P. Law faculty who signed the statement calling for his resignation, demanding that they show cause as to why they shouldn’t be held in contempt. For a more detailed discussion, click here and here.

My support for them had nothing to do with the fact that some of them are my friends. Dean Leonen and I were in the same class and we were both in Section A. I shared the position of those 37 faculty members because I believe in intellectual honesty and because, as a professional writer, it is in my best interests that intellectual honesty be upheld at all levels. It was a blow to read the Supreme Court decision saying that where there is no malice, there is no plagiarism — as though the act of taking is not malice by itself.

And then, the tables turned. A group called Philippine Social Justice Foundation (Philjust) through its members Samson Alcantara, Lope Feble, Mariano Santiago, and Pedro Dabu Jr. wrote to Dean Leonen about an article published in 2004 where Dean Leonen allegedly committed plagiarism himself. It’s all over the news. Continue reading →

As the last bastion crumbles

Much as I’d like to write about something — anything — else, I can’t seem to do it. I had a birthday party over the weekend and we talked about the plagiarism in the Supreme Court scandal. I go to Facebook and we talk about the same thing. Online and offline, the topic stays the same. Bigger scandals have rocked this country but this plagiarism issue is really getting pervasive. Why? Well, because in the past, whenever there was a crisis in government, we always looked up to the Supreme Court as the last bastion of sanity and probity. And the way things are turning out, the bastion is crumbling fast.

To be fair, it is not the first time that the sanctity of the Supreme Court has been tainted. When Marcos was president, there was a reason why the Supreme Court was called his rubber stamp. Apart from a couple of dissenters, Marcos’ illegal acts were upheld by the Supreme Court — including the abolition of Congress, the re-writing of the Constitution and the questionable manner by which it was ratified.

When Joseph Estrada was booted out and the legal luminaries were at a loss as to how to justify Gloria Arroyo’s ascent to the presidency, then Supreme Court chief justice Hilario Davide and Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban made no secret that their decision that she should be sworn in was not the result outstanding legal research but, rather, of having prayed on their knees to ask for guidance. Continue reading →