Elusive justice
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

I have often said before that justice in the Philippines is a very elusive concept. For some, who are wealthy or powerful, it usually comes easily and more often than not, in the form they want or expect. But for the poor and defenseless they are, all too often, left with very little justice and have to make do with what they can get – if they can get any at all.

Whether it’s the ongoing drug war or violent crimes it seems as if criminals go largely unpunished in the country if you don’t have the monetary means and clout to push the case forward. This leads to people thinking they can get away with anything because no one is going to stop them anyway and that sets an extremely dangerous precedent.

Just recently, an extremely disturbing CCTV video surfaced online of a jeepney hitting a group of kids crossing a pedestrian lane in Makati. The kids were crossing the street as a group and the jeepney just veered away from hitting another car and plowed right through them.

Eight of the children were hit, one, Jules Villapando, died while being taken to the hospital and the other seven were injured – some critically. The offending jeepney was able to pull over after hitting the kids and originally claimed mechanical error was to blame. He was arrested and tested for drugs and found to be positive for shabu. He also has a prior traffic violation to his name.

At this point the evidence that the jeepney was at fault is overwhelming and the operator should be held liable under provisions in the Civil Code. However, despite this, the families of the other seven victims have yet to receive help or proper compensation.

According to a post circulating online one of the victims – who is severely injured and in critical condition – only received a visit from a representative of the jeepney operator to ask if the victim had died already and to offer a miserably small amount of money and a token. Sadly, we can all surmise why that visit was made. After all, a dead victim is cheaper than a live one that has to be medically cared for and compensated.

It’s sad because the high school student in question is the son of a garbage man who works tirelessly hard to be able to send his child to school and is now faced with overwhelming medical bills and the possibility that his kid might not make it. And instead of helping him, the company liable is giving him the runaround and trying to confuse him as to his legal options. Something that happens all too often in the Philippines when those involved don’t know any better or have the means to get good legal help.

I was happy to see that an online petition and fundraiser helped raise funds for this poor teenager and his family, but that won’t always be the case. And this case is, in no way, an isolated one. I’m sure many poor people who have been left without help in desperate situations because they don’t have the means to seek the justice they deserve.

But how can we change this situation? It seems like an impossible task because it has always been this way for so long. But this shouldn’t be the case and it shouldn’t require social vigilantism to get what is owed or what is right.

It brings to mind the case of Mayor Antonio Sanchez, the convicted rapist who was on the verge of being set free if not for vehement social media clamor against the move. Luckily, people let their voices be heard loud and clear and the president himself made sure that Sanchez stayed behind bars where he belonged.

Do criminals operate without fear because they have long learned that they will not be persecuted and punished? Have we cultivated an environment where the criminal is more secure than the victim? That should never be the case.

There has been talk for a while now about returning the death penalty. This is one of the president’s priorities and I have thought that, partnered with a fair justice system that this is the right thing to do. With his allies in the House and Senate, the president should be able to pass this into law before the end of his administration and I think it will be to the benefit of the country.

We have far too many victims of dastardly crimes have their perpetrators get off scot-free. And we have an ineffective and a bad penitentiary problem because we have tons of criminals coming in daily but not being tried and arraigned and sometimes eventually just being set free. I’m not saying the death penalty should be returned to deal with this overcrowding in the prisons. Nor am I saying it should be dealt out without intensive consideration. However, with it on the table, it might strike fear into the hearts of hardened criminals who are acting with impudence. It should also help curb the need for vigilantism – both virtual and in real life.

We just have to be careful. Like I said, without proper checks and balances in place the death penalty could be used as a weapon. That is not fair either. Additionally, some issues could potentially be problematic like lowering the criminal liability age to 12. That shouldn’t be the case – these are children who need rehabilitation more than capital punishment.

Again, the road to successful implementation is going to be rough and littered with bumps no doubt. But the alternative doesn’t work and hasn’t been working for a while now. We need to make changes and find ways to give justice to those who truly need it.

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