[OPINION] The First Avenger 1

[OPINION] The First Avenger

Dean Dela Paz

Posted at Apr 28 2022 02:05 AM

In the genocidal drug wars being waged spanning decades and six violent years, first in Davao City where Rodrigo Duterte ruled as a virtual kingpin and later as president -- years characterized by heinous crimes underlying extra-judicial killings (EJK) now the subject of a criminal complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague, Senator Leila de Lima was perhaps the first who avenged the rights of the victimized and the fallen.

Unfortunately, in a political wasteland awash with autocratic criminality under a second despot whose waning rule ominously predicates another resurrected from a dark and distant past, as heroic as De Lima is in her struggles, she is also among the first victims.

Evil does not have a sabbath. The trials, tribulations, and the torment De Lima suffers are seen as vengeance for her battle against EJK more than the accusations against her by those who are perhaps the most unlikely, if not incredible witnesses in the history of judicial litigation.

The twisted irony is not lost to most intelligent, decent and law-abiding citizens similarly assaulted albeit indirectly by the injustice marshalled against De Lima.

Without discussing the merits of her cases, allow us to analyze the tools of torment and discern the deliberateness of their infernal design. The venom and vitriol are obvious from the accusations ab initio.

The first is the non-consolidation of charges. There are three, all on drug trafficking involving her term as former secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ). While she has been acquitted of one, by grand design, each remain prosecuted piecemeal, inefficiently, expensively, and time-consumingly – dilatory tact to deny her the freedom to perform her full senatorial duties, but more important, these muzzle her as a critic of the drug war.

Segueing, the second concerns De Lima’s detention.

Detention should simply ensure her availability demanded by on-going trial protocols. Her incarceration is not yet punitive pending the resolution and sentencing of her cases. Justice declares her innocent until proven guilty and yet her jailers continue to deny her basic rights which have no bearing on guaranteeing her presence during trial.

Ex abundanti cautela easily transforms into torment. Note she is not allowed a word processor. All outgoing communications are handwritten. She is not allowed to teleconference or record and release a video fearing that through her images or spoken and written words she might escape. And yet, beyond regulating her freedom of movement there is no law that declares the suspension much less the denial of the basic rights of an innocent person.

The third involves alternative judicial fora albeit the Supreme Court on a vote of 9 to 6 has settled this with finality and has sided with the choice of the DOJ and the Solicitor General to prosecute her through the regular trial courts and not via the Ombudsman to Sandiganbayan route exclusively reserved for accused government officials charged with graft and corruption and other offenses. That the Sandiganbayan can and does indeed try offenses beyond graft and corruption is critical here.

There were several debatable issues on judicial fora where the Ombudsman route is arguably the expected protocol to hold public officials accountable as conceived by the Sandiganbayan’s 1978 charter.

She is being charged under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that penalizes the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.” She was not charged with graft and corruption. While she was accused of drug trafficking allegedly to fund her run for the Senate, why were graft charges not filed when the personal gain motive is integral to the accusation? Had that been the accusation, then the Office of the Ombudsman would have been the proper venue and the Ombudsman at the time might have appreciated the accusations in a totally different light.

While we respect and abide by the SC ruling, their margin of three on the issue of judicial fora is indicative of the complexity of the debate however settled it might be.

This May, the weight carried by the electorate to finally end gross injustices is heavy. But Leila de Lima’s cause and her hopes that we do the right thing must be one of our principal goals when we troop to the precincts. Through the ballot it is our turn to avenge an avenger.

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(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.