EDITORIAL — Snail-paced justice

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � Snail-paced justice

It took 13 years for the family of veteran journalist Lourdes Simbulan to get justice for her death in a vehicular accident. People thought justice would be swift since the accident seemed like a cut-and-dried case: a taxi that was taking Simbulan to the UP Ayala Technohub along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City was struck by two buses.

Simbulan, known as Chit Estella, was on her way to a high school reunion on May 13, 2011 when a Nova Auto Transport bus driven by Victor Ancheta hit the taxi. As the vehicle careened from the impact, its rear was rammed by a Universal Guiding Star bus driven by Daniel Espinosa. The impact killed Estella, at the time a journalism professor in the University of the Philippines.

Witnesses said the two buses were both traveling at high speed. Ancheta and Espinosa were convicted of homicide and damage to property through reckless imprudence, and sentenced to two years in prison. In a decision dated April 22 this year, Judge Ralph Lee of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 83 also ordered the two drivers to pay Simbulan’s family P7.64 million in moral and exemplary damages, with the amount to be shouldered by the destitute drivers’ bus companies.

The accident led to the enforcement of a 60-kph speed limit along Commonwealth. In 2016, Republic Act 10916 or the Road Speed Limiter Act was passed, requiring public utility vehicles to have speed limiters. The case, however, was yet another example of the glacial pace of Philippine justice, attributed to a probe by the Supreme Court of the judge handling the case, changes in the defense counsel and later the COVID lockdowns.

There’s a long list of such cases, with several dismissed by the courts over the “inordinate delay” that deprived the defendants of due process. Simbulan’s case dragged on for 13 years. In a graft case filed against Moro National Liberation Front chieftain Nur Misuari, judgment was handed down 23 years after the offenses were committed.

Yesterday, the Sandiganbayan convicted Misuari of two counts of graft in connection with the procurement of non-existent educational materials worth P77 million by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao between 2000 and 2001 when he was ARMM governor. The Office of the Ombudsman filed the case before the Sandiganbayan only in 2017.

Misuari is expected to appeal the conviction. It could take another 23 years before a final ruling is handed down. By that time, if he is still around, he could invoke age, frail health or dementia to avoid punishment, as certain high-profile graft convicts have done in this country. With this quality of justice, the law cannot serve as a deterrent against crime and dangerous recklessness.

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