Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the March 25, 2009 edition of the Business Mirror, page A10.

The tabloid’s headline said,“Arroyo orders raps vs DoJ, PDEA personnel. Also criminal charges vs ‘Alabang Boys’.”  I read the story and I don’t know what to make of it.

Did Arroyo believe the Justice Department (DoJ) prosecutors were bribed?

Did she think the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents carried out a buy-bust without an operations manual, used excessive force, maltreated unarmed suspects, failed to follow proper procedure in the handling of evidence, and freed the driver of the car where the alleged drug transaction took place?

Did she find probable cause to charge the Alabang Boys?

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s spokesman claimed she “took into very serious consideration the input” of the fact-finding body she formed after a PDEA agent alleged that DoJ prosecutors were paid to throw the case. Unfortunately, the commission’s report was kept confidential.

Neither a copy of the panel’s report nor Arroyo’s subsequent order was made available to the suspected drug pushers, the DoJ, or the PDEA.

The suspects wanted to know the basis for Arroyo’s reversal of the DoJ resolution to dismiss their case. They wanted due process, the right to reply, but they didn’t get it. They’re not happy.

The DoJ is not happy either.  Justice chief Raul Gonzalez always believed he had the last word on the resolution of the case.

“Under the law, actually, it should be my resolution. That is what is provided by law,” said Gonzalez a week before the panel submitted its report to the Palace.

Two weeks later, Arroyo issued her directive and Gonzalez could only say, “That is the order of the President. You have to obey that. She is the boss.” The hurt feelings are palpable.

Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, charged with negligence for the “cursory conduct of review” of the resolution on the case against the Alabang Boys, said, “My only reaction is that the resolution we approved was also approved and adopted by Secretary Gonzalez. That’s all.”
Gonzalez confirmed Zuño’s statement. He said, “In my review of the resolution, I did not just uphold the findings. I modified it and concentrated on bribery. There was no bribery.”

Indeed there was no bribery. When panel members Justice Raoul Victorino and Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino asked PDEA chief Dionisio Santiago if he had any direct evidence of bribery, Santiago had to admit, “There’s none. We have no evidence, no information to confirm that they received the bribe. We don’t have direct knowledge.”

He added, “We were told before that the case would be filed, then so suddenly it was dismissed, we wondered why?”

Why? Because the case will not stand up in court, that’s why.

Santiago’s agents didn’t have an operations manual to guide them. Their affidavits and after-operations reports were a mess. The arrest was illegal. The evidence was mishandled. Excessive force was used against unarmed suspects who were not even properly informed of their rights. One of the agents, asked by Justice Raul Victorino to recite the Miranda rights, could not even do it in either English or Pilipino.

That’s why only the PDEA is happy about the non-disclosure of the panel’s report.  It was able to claim partial “vindication” based solely on Arroyo’s directive.

Without the panel’s report, the PDEA’s psy-war tactics turned vigilantes into heroes, DoJ prosecutors into heels, and suspected drug pushers into poster boys for Arroyo’s war on drugs.

The Alabang Boys will be charged with a non-bailable offense. Their case will be dismissed, eventually, but they will have to wait in a cell for a long time.  Their only consolation will be that they are still alive, unlike those suspected carnappers on Ortigas Ave. and Edsa who were murdered gangland style by thugs who fancied themselves judge-executioners.

Moral certainty and righteous indignation are no substitutes for due process and the rule of law. Vigilante justice has no place in civilized societies.