EDITORIAL – Forgotten cases

() - July 16, 2007 - 12:00am

Remember the murder of Nida Blanca? Now we do – after the man suspected to have ordered her grisly killing, her husband Roger Lawrence Strunk, leapt to his death from a hotel balcony in California last Wednesday. Though implicated in the murder of the actress beloved by generations of Filipinos, Strunk managed to leave the Philippines in October 2003 because no sufficient evidence had been presented to prevent his departure.

A man who owned up to the murder but later recanted his confession, Philip Medel, stuck to his story of innocence when told of Strunk’s suicide. Medel had originally said he was hired by Strunk to kill the actress. When asked for comment on the suicide, Medel insisted that he did not know Strunk, and now we have no way of knowing. If there is any physical evidence linking the two men – a photograph, video footage or a taped conversation – it’s bound to be lost by now, years after Nida Blanca’s body was found in her car in a parking lot on Nov. 7, 2001. She had 13 stab wounds.

It’s not just plunder cases involving deposed presidents that drag on interminably in Philippine courts. As the case of Nida Blanca has shown, suspected masterminds can be dead before a criminal case is resolved. Innocent people have also died, some of them in detention, waiting in vain for many years for their vindication in court.

There are several reasons for the slow pace of justice. One is the sheer lack of judges, whether in remote towns or in densely populated cities. Apart from judges, the judiciary needs more courtrooms as well as offices for prosecutors and court personnel. Then there are rules of court that open opportunities for endless legal delays. Finally there is corruption, with court decisions up for sale including the issuance of restraining orders, approval of motions for reconsideration and final judgment. Some corrupt judges even order the release of defendants who are supposed to be held without bail, including accused kidnappers and drug traffickers, effectively paving the way for the defendants to escape.

All these problems are not impossible to solve. With additional resources, improved judicial management and political will, crime victims or their heirs need not wait for suspects to commit suicide before they can get justice.

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