HONG KONG/PHILIPPINES: Presumption of guilt dispenses with need for evidence

(Note: this article was first published in the January 4, 2015 issue of the Sunday Examiner)

Six year old Chris Angela Sales, whose father is being held on charges of murder, could not understand why her father, who brings her street food, buys her milk and puts her to bed after work, has been locked in a cell for nearly 10 months.

Angela’s 28-year-old, father, Christopher Sales, is one of the nine farmers and motorcycle drivers taken into custody by the military and handed over to the police, after being questioned at a checkpoint on March 10, in Matanao, Davao del Sur.


Photo: Angelie Sales.

“When she arrived at the police station, she ran to the lock up cell. She ordered the police officer to open the lock so her father could come out. When it was not opened, she sobbed her eyes out,” her mother, Angelie Sales, said.

When soldiers questioned Sales and the eight others, they had neither any personal knowledge of the crime they were being accused of committing nor were they on any wanted list for any other crime.

In the village, when soldiers questioned the passers-by, they are expected, if not forced, to cooperate, and there is not much of a choice.

Anyone who refuses to answer or who questions the right of the police or military to interrogate them gets into trouble. The name of the game is forced, not voluntary, cooperation.

Uncooperative people are profiled arrogant. It is presumed they are probably guilty of a crime and are just trying to hide it from the law.

“If you are nothing to hide, why fear, why not cooperate?” is the usual rhetoric the soldiers and the police use.

This explains why Sales and the others are locked up. For soldiers and the police, interrogating or questioning is their usual practice. It does not matter whether they are accusing the real culprit or not they figure they can get information from anyone.

They do not initiate questioning because there is a reasonable suspicion, but on no basis all. Sales and others were indicted in court for murder. They are accused of attacking and raiding a police station. Despite forensic evidence showing none of them fired a gun, nevertheless they were charged with the murder of two policemen and wounding three others.

The question asked by six-year-old Chris Angela about why her father is in jail is also the same question the relatives of her father’s co-accused, Renante Orot, Julito Sales, Laudeemer Gama, Rufo Boy Gama, Joel Alberca, Noel Maranggit, Roger Natonton and Johnrey Pabillo,are asking. Why?

Clearly, after 28 years after the collapse of Marcos, the legacy of his dictatorial and authoritarian regime thrives deep within our law enforcement system. Prosecutors are used as a tool to meet political ends and, consequently, file politically motivated charges.

The practice of public prosecutors, as the Sales case illustrates, is that once crimes associated with internal security are alleged to have been committed, there is a presumption of guilt, certainly not innocence, or even probability of guilt.

This kind of thinking, targeting dissidents, is a policy born out of practice during the Marcos era.

In addition, many practices of the security forces from the martial law days have continued. Military checkpoints in villages or urban areas continue to operate all over the country.

It remains an enduring symbol that de facto, it is the military and not civilians that reign supreme. Civilian supremacy exists on paper only, not in practice.

In the last six years or so, the practice filing of fabricated and questionable charges against human rights and political advocates has become routine, systematic widespread.

The prosecutors are equally responsible for this and complicit with soldiers and police.

After all Angela Sales’ question to her father, as to why her father is now in jail, has no simple answer.

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Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-003-2015
Countries : Hong Kong, Philippines,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings, Judicial system, Military, Right to food, Rule of law,