Justice makes an unexpected and welcome appearance
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2018 - 12:00am

There is a saying that goes – “justice delayed is justice denied.” With that in mind, here in the Philippines justice gets denied on a regular basis. We have seen it happen repeatedly. Something terrible happens, there is an uproar, people demand justice, the courts take forever, then eventually something else that’s awful happens and the collective consciousness moves on. It’s become a bad cycle in the Philippines and one that regularly feeds the culture of impunity. After all, if people don’t have to pay for their crimes, why should they stop?

Knowing all of this, I have to admit that I am amazed that justice was served for teenager Kian Lloyd delos Santos – and not just justice but swift justice at that, especially as far as the standards go in the Philippines. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear that this case has come to a conclusion and that those responsible for Kian’s death are going to be facing the consequences of their actions.

We’re all familiar with his story. It’s not unique – far from it in this current climate. In fact, for a time, Kian became the face for suspicious deaths or extrajudicial killings. He was a teenage boy who was among several individuals rounded up in his neighborhood last year during yet another anti-drug sweep conducted by the police. He was shot dead due to what the police described as “resisting arrest” or “nanlaban” (the most common term for it). They claimed it was a justified killing with a completely straight face. Unfortunately for them, video footage and witness testimonies proved otherwise.

Once the video footage was leaked on social media it quickly went viral. People demanded justice for the innocent boy who was just another in a long list of collateral damage in the bloody drug war. His case was no different from so many others but people really clung to it – perhaps seeing the faces of so many poor innocent children reflected in Kian’s – and they demanded that something be done.

I suppose in the face of such overwhelming evidence and the intense pressure of public scrutiny, Kian’s case was not going to be swept under the rug. Still it took a few months before the police probe and preliminary investigation were concluded and charges were brought against the Caloocan police team responsible. This was already a step in the right direction, but an indictment is very different from a guilty verdict and we were all left wondering if this case would actually push through to the end.

Much to everyone’s surprise, last week – just six months after the start of the trial – the three policemen who were tagged in the death of delos Santos were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison by Judge Rodolfo Azucena of the Caloocan Regional Trial Court. Incredible. Not only were those who were guilty made to pay for their crimes with a suitable punishment (and not just a cursory slap on the wrist), but the sentence came at lightning speed (especially for anyone familiar with our justice system).

The resolution to the case came as welcome news to everyone who has doubted the validity of the criminal justice system in the Philippines. To many who have begun to worry that law enforcement in the country is feeling invincible, it was welcome news that policemen, despite having the strong backing of the current administration, are also being held liable and accountable for their actions.

It certainly makes one question though – if it can be done, if justice can be served quickly and fairly in the country, than why doesn’t it happen more often? Everyone is shocked, and grateful for the outcome but the reason they – or we – are so surprised is because nobody thought it would actually happen. Now that we know it can – we have to ask ourselves why is this case the exception and not the norm. I am happy that Kian’s family is getting some sort of closure and justice (although nothing will ever bring their son back), but what about all the other families that also had to suffer the loss of an innocent loved one? Are they not entitled to the same?

I hope Kian’s case serves as the standard when it comes to the resolution of many other killings related to the administration’s drug war. We know that the drug problem is real and thriving and it needs a strong response, but we should never let that fact to allow other similarly heinous crimes to go by unpunished. The conviction in Kian’s case is a welcome appearance of justice, and we must all hope it’s not a one-off.

* * *

This election season the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is finally going to try to regulate the use of social media in the upcoming May 2019 elections. I commend them on this bold step and on recognizing the power social media plays in shaping public opinion and influencing voter choices, I’m interested to see though, just how they plan on pulling it off.

Comelec spokesman, James Jimenez, revealed that they are not going to prevent candidates from using social media platforms, but they are going to limit the cost of doing so. In other words, candidates can utilize social media, but they will have to be transparent about the amount they spend while doing so. This makes sense of course, but the implementation seems difficult at best and impossible at worst. After all, the online space – while regulated – is still incredibly full and very fast-paced. I would be amazed if Comelec had the manpower and time to truly regulate and catch everything.

I guess we’ll have to wait until the campaign period next year to see how it goes.

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