Due process and the rule of law: What about the Alabang Boys?

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This was published in the December 22, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror, page A6.

“Everybody wants to see justice done, to somebody else.” – Bruce Cockburn

Because of a defective search warrant, President Aquino ordered the Justice Department to withdraw the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against the Morong 43.

It must have been difficult for President Aquino to uphold due process and the rule of law at a time when the NPA (New People’s Army) is escalating ambuscades on the military. Some of the 43 were CPP-NPAs. The rest were presumably innocent health workers attending a rural health seminar in a house courtesy of a kindly old lady. I bet they were shocked when some of their fellow health workers gave clenched fist salutes upon their arrest and scared out of their wits when they learned they were eating and sleeping beside guns, explosives, and detonating devices.

For the record, it is not illegal to be a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines or to socialize with communists. What is illegal is to take up arms against the government. Thus, a communist party member who is a soldier in the NPA and shoots a gun is different from a communist party member who merely shoots his mouth off. However, the law makes no distinctions between gun-toting and blathering communists. All of them are guaranteed due process. And that’s as it should be for every citizen of our great nation, including the Alabang Boys, the young men who were arrested illegally and are still detained on charges of possession and trafficking of prohibited drugs.

The Justice Department, then headed by Raul Gonzales, threw out the case filed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) against the Alabang Boys because its operatives conducted an illegal buy-bust operation, seized evidence illegally, and used excessive force against unarmed suspects who were not even informed of their rights. The agents even raked one suspect’s car with a submachine gun.

But the PDEA chief, retired AFP Chief of Staff Dionisio Santiago, was able to pressure non-lawyer Gloria Arroyo into overturning her own justice secretary and the state prosecutors who handled the case through a public relations campaign that rode on the popular sentiment against drugs and the well-to-do.

Gloria Arroyo cited a commission report that she kept hidden from the public, the defendants’ lawyers, and the Justice Department as the basis for ordering the prosecution of the Alabang Boys to proceed. She knew that the public applauds drug arrests even without first asking if they were carried out within the bounds of law; more so, if the suspects are also suspected of being rich.

The presumption of legality and correctness accorded anti-narcotics agents is not there for security forces defending the country against rebels. Compare the public outcry against the security forces that arrested the Morong 43 with the adulation showered on the PDEA operatives who arrested the Alabang Boys.

And yet in both cases, law enforcers failed to follow proper legal procedure.

The Morong 43, including the NPAs among them, will be celebrating the coming holidays as free men but the Alabang Boys will remain in jail, victims of political expediency and unequal protection under the law.

Sure it is painful to release a suspect on a legal technicality but if the Aquino government can set things right for the Morong 43, then it must do right by the Alabang Boys as well. Due process and the rule of law are the hallmarks of civilization, they not only separate the civilized from barbarians but more importantly they prevent a reversion to capricious justice.

Free the Alabang Boys. Now.

No comments yet.