Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18 January 2014


There are two noteworthy aspects of the case of Vilma Bautista, a former personal aide of Imelda Marcos that should be pointed out. The first is that insofar as memory serves, she is the only member of the “entourage” of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos—meaning themselves, their close aides, and their cronies at any time during their 14-year dictatorship—who is going to jail (I am assuming that her appeal will be turned down). The second is the speed with which her case was resolved (in New York): It took, from indictment to decision, 13 months. Add another month for the sentence to come down.

With regard to the first aspect, only consider: So far, I remember only one person closely connected to the Marcoses who was sentenced in 1990 to a 17-year-minimum, 20-year-maximum jail stay by the Sandiganbayan for malversation of funds (P55 million). But that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997, which is why Vilma Bautista, to the best of my knowledge, is the first one going to jail. I am talking about Luis A. “Louie” Tabuena, general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority from 1968 to 1986, who, on Jan. 10, 1986, following oral and written instructions from Ferdinand Marcos, withdrew funds from the MIAA account (supposedly to pay an obligation to Philippine National Construction Corp.), and brought the cash to Malacañang.

In the hierarchy of officials, Tabuena was definitely in the lower echelons, but it was he who took the hit. It is noteworthy that he made not a centavo from the deal, bringing the funds directly to his boss. What did him in was that the amount was more than what was owed to PNCC, and that he didn’t give the money to PNCC but rather followed the orders of his boss (Marcos) to deliver it to Malacañang. He even produced a receipt signed by Fe Roa Gimenez, the private secretary of Marcos. However, the Sandiganbayan lowered the boom on him. He asked for reconsideration, it was denied. Them were the days. He brought it to the Supreme Court, and after seven years, got a favorable decision.

Now think of more famous (or infamous) names. Bobby Benedicto, at the peak of his association with Marcos, was running three or four TV stations, a bank, and the sugar industry (which collapsed). But he, as well as Jose Campos, returned assets to the government, and were forgiven. Danding Cojuangco and Lucio Tan battled it out in court, and their decision to do so was apparently the right one because they have not lost anything. In the case of Cojuangco, he even won a case on the coconut levy worth billions of pesos, at the expense of millions of coconut farmers. But Tan may be the biggest winner in the court sweepstakes: Every decision has been favorable to him. Whether this is an indictment of our justice system is for the Reader to decide. Not only that: The successors of Ferdinand Marcos have treated Tan with great kindness—Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo even gave him national awards. Whether this is an indictment of our political system is for the Reader to decide.

To be fair, I don’t think criminal charges, which could end up in jail sentences, were ever filed against these people. I do not know the reason why—maybe because they require a stricter standard of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt). Remember OJ Simpson? He was accused of murdering his wife. He was acquitted of the criminal charge of murder, but he lost the civil case filed against him by the family of his murdered wife and had to pay millions of dollars in damages. But in the Philippines, even the civil cases have languished (some for more than 20 years), or have been lost, or both.

Which brings us to the second aspect of Vilma Bautista’s case: the speed of its resolution—a little over a year from her indictment to her sentencing. Compare that to, say, the Tabuena case, which reportedly took three years to resolve, and another seven years for the Supreme Court to decide on his appeal. Or to Civil Case No. 0005, which has the people of the Philippines ranged against the heirs of Ferdinand Marcos, Lucio Tan, several other cronies and corporations. It was filed sometime before 1990, and now, 24 years later, it still has not been finally resolved. Or to almost any other case in the Philippines.

Why can’t we have a speedier disposition of justice, or a more even-handed one? For one, lawyers say, our justice system allows the abuse of due process (i.e., postponements, repeated motions for reconsideration, and other legal tactics). Then there is the lack of enough people of competence and integrity in the system. Just look at the unfilled vacancies in the Department of Justice. And of too many ordinary cases being allowed to go all the way to our Supreme Court. How come the cases that reach the US Supreme Court are much fewer in number and more limited on issues compared to our system?

As for even-handedness, the problem has always been about money and power and special connections.

It is great to read that the Supreme Court has assigned a third assisting judge in the Maguindanao massacre case. One only wonders why it was not done earlier. As for the larger systemic problem, surely our jurists and lawyers know what needs to be done for more speed and even-handedness. Is it too much to suggest that every paper or study written on the subject (surely there are some) be put together and be the subject of a summit between the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Supreme Court, and whoever else needs to be involved?