Thoughts on Erap’s conviction

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror September 17, 2007 edition, p. A10.

It’s about justice.

The Sandiganbayan ruled unanimously that former president Estrada was guilty beyond reasonable doubt. From a purely legal perspective, justice has been served.

But justice does not belong only to lawyers and courts. It belongs to the people too. They decide what is just or unjust. In that sense, there’s more to justice than what the law and the courts say.

In a case like Erap’s, the people, ultimately, are the judge and jury. And they are not limited by the rules of evidence and other legalities because they are guided by their “sense of justice.” It’s neither good nor bad, right nor wrong; it’s just the way it is.
It’s called the collective wisdom of the people.

People will only say justice has been served if they believe justice has been served. That means they asked themselves: “Was it prosecution or persecution?” “Were the scales of justice balanced or were they tilted?” “Was Lady Justice blind or blinded?”

The verdict on Erap should have put closure to the events that led to his downfall. But it did not because the trial and the verdict did not address the politics that was at the root of it all. It failed to transform a political issue into a judicial issue where one can say “Guilty! Case closed!”

Erap succeeded in portraying himself as an underdog. And that negated any chance that the public would accept the notion that no one is above the law.

It proved to the weak, rightly or wrongly, that the powerful can and will do what they please and get away with it, especially if they are with the right crowd.

It proved that the whole thing was about politics, not justice.

It did not restore the people’s faith in the judicial system or in the government as a whole. It fueled more cynicism because the public did not sense that justice was served.

A golden opportunity, to show that justice works in this country, was lost. And that’s exactly what shouldn’t have happened.

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