PHILIPPINES: Delay endorses extrajudicial killing, inequality before law – responses to Abadilla Five case

(Hong Kong, July 28, 2008) All the respondents from interviews conducted by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) agreed that the delays in the trial of the Abadilla Five case highlighted the endemic problem in the country’s justice system. A feature that breeds conditions that allows for instances of extrajudicial killings and endorses inequality before the law rendering the court system as a whole meaningless.

This set of interviews conducted by a researcher for the AHRC reveals that the majority of respondents expressed serious concerns and discontent in the justice system as a result of the endemic delays.

One of the 13 respondents interviewed, claims these delays have rendered the courts meaningless as they are no longer seen as institutions that can administer and deliver justice. The crime suspects are instead being summarily killed before their case is heard before the courts:  “There are many killed victims here in Davao, but none of the cases were solved. Justice is delayed because of money, it is an advantage if you have money.” said Michael Elorde, a service driver in Davao City.

Respondents to the interview commonly complained that inequality before the law was linked to the material wealth and standing of the accused:  “If you have a lot of money, judicial process is quick.” said Emilio Templonuevo, an employee in General Santos City.

A political science graduate, Clemente Espinosa, believes that existing laws often fail to hold wealthy members of society to account for the crimes that they have committed: “Laws are made in order for the poor people to abide. Rich people do not need these laws because they are powerful.” He cited the case of a son of an influential politician exonerated for murder despite strong forensic evidence to prosecute him.

Some of the respondents also believe an accused social status and his capacity to support legal expenditures in pursuing cases impacts greatly on the administration of justice in the country: “Others don’t have the money to pay for a lawyer that is why there is a delay in justice. Also, if you do not have money, you (the accused) would not be given priority”, says Boy Hodito, a fruit vendor in Davao City.

Gary Dizon, a baker also in the same city added that: “Poor people are pitiful. When they are charged of crime, they would be put in jail immediately, but rich people always find ways not to be jailed.”

“Based on my observation, to attain justice, you should know someone who is in the rank (someone from the government).” says another respondent, Maricar Liraganson, small restaurant owner in Davao City.

A reporter for a local newspaper, Rhodamae Hernandez, also pointed out that tedious court procedures has added to the delays in adjudication of cases which has in fact began even at the prosecutor’s office: “When you (the complainant) file a case, you cannot have the decision immediately because the respondent is also given a chance to file a counter-affidavit, so delays in the prosecutors office has already been experienced”.

Rhodamae likewise added that though there is a possibility that in order to resolve a case parties can be bought off. However, due to delays and the costs associated parties are forced to come to an out of court settlement because they knew how long they would have to endure should they decide for pursue a trial: “It is not because other complainants tend to settle their differences with the respondents. The respondents would offer money to the complainant (to settle the case) who would later file an affidavit of desistance,” she said

The endemic inequality before the law has also been a result of the judiciary and the justice department’s failure to ensure; for instance legal aid is made available to accused needing them, to uphold their right to defend themselves in court: “When poor people commit crimes, they would be jailed and also if they are released from prison they are just killed. I don’t understand why it is so. Justice is not for poor people, but only for the rich ones,” says Jerry dela Cruz, a mobile phone repair man in Davao City

Fruit vendor Jerry dela Cerna said his advice to the Abadilla Five would be:”The justice system in the Philippines is unfair. The (suspects) of the Abadilla Five case should accept that they would be staying long in prison if no one would exert effort to help them”.

A criminology student, Sherylyn Carandang, stated her belief that the plight of Abadilla Five is one of the examples why some detainees would rather escape from prison rather than go through the judicial process because the justice system is not fair.

Even though they expressed a sense of defeatism and helplessness, the respondents shared their concerns for the Abadilla Five and demanded a speedy resolution of their case.  “Life in the Philippines is hard, if you have no money, you will be deprived of your rights. Abadilla Five suspects should be released from prison, their case must be reviewed,” said Jerson Pancit, a security guard in Davao City.

Many expressed a strong sentiment that the government has a pressing responsibility to improve the justice system in the country. Furthermore, apart from praying, citizens should do good deeds and be models to the younger ones so they can build a strong foundation and principle in life, said Manolito Tidoy, a pastor at the Christian Renewal Fellowship in Panabo City.

The AHRC is continuously conducting these interviews in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the experiences shared to people in the community, particularly on what they thought of the Abadilla Five case and the implication of court delays. You can also email your own feedback to:

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-025-2008
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5