Philippine President Benigno Simeon â€œBSâ€ Aquino has weighed in on the â€œDamasoâ€ dilemma and has showed his inconsistency yet again. He â€œurged the Church to follow the Popeâ€™s example and forgiveâ€ tourist guide and part-time activist, Carlos Celdran. The latter was found guilty of violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (for “offending religious feelings”) after he disrupted a service at Manila Cathedral wearing a 19th Century costume and holding up a sign with the word â€œDamaso,â€ – a reference to a villainous priest in Philippine national hero, Jose Rizalâ€™s novel Noli Me Tangere.
There are a few issues that come to mind when a head of state intervenes in criminal cases. First, BS Aquino appears to be violating the separation of Church and State. A decision has been handed down but the President, the head of state, felt compelled to lecture the Church on a matter that was brought before a local court. Second, BS Aquino appears to have violated Article 133 â€“ the same provision that Celdran himself was found guilty of violating. By urging the members of the Philippine Catholic Church to forgive Celdran, BS Aquino seems to be insinuating that one, they are not practicing what they preach and two, he is in a way, dismissing the â€œfeelingsâ€ of the members of the Church towards Celdran.
By asking the Church to â€œforgive and forgetâ€, BS Aquino seems to believe that what Celdran did inside the Church premises – accusing all priests of being â€œDamasosâ€ or bad men – is not a big deal. The President himself is forgetting that one cannot presume to know how the other party is feeling. What he is asking the Church to do is equivalent to asking a victim of any criminal activity to just â€œforgive and forgetâ€. Never mind if someone had robbed you of your dignity or your face in society and never mind what the law says. According to BS Aquino, just â€œforgive and forgetâ€.
Even in the study of psychology, in dealing with children, they do not recommend that grown-ups make light of what a child is feeling. If the child feels scared of something that a grown-up would find ridiculous, the child should not be made to feel silly about it. Otherwise, the child will feel there is something wrong with him and could develop insecurities and other psychological problems that could affect him as an adult. In other words, what seems stupid to some like the practice of religion, is not stupid to others. This is the reason why the Constitution guarantees the freedom to practice religion and assures us that making fun of or insulting the feelings of those who do is wrong.
President BS Aquinoâ€™s penchant for meddling in criminal cases also further weakens our institutions. Like what I have said before, a weak leader in a country like the Philippines, which has weak institutions will tend to succumb to the world-renowned Filipino â€œpadrinoâ€ system â€” a system that trumps any other system in place. Worse, such a leader will mask his weakness or understanding of the law by acting like he is above the law. It has been a well-documented fact that BS Aquino and Celdran are both supporters of the reproductive health bill, which gives some people enough reason to suspect that the padrino system is working once again when BS Aquino called for the Church to â€œforgive and forgetâ€.
As some of us know, this is not the first time that BS Aquino intervened in a criminal or court case. Whether he is for or against, BS Aquino has a penchant for meddling depending on how strongly he feels for the respondent. If you happen to be a Liberal Party ally, he will extend a helping hand; but if you happen to be considered a political enemy, he will use everything in his power to crucify you in public. The signing of the impeachment case against former Chief Justice Renato Corona is just one of the growing number of cases that the President is said to have used his magic wand on. Congressman Toby Tiangco even testified in court that majority of the congressmen who signed the badly-written impeachment complaint against Corona did so without reading it and did so to accommodate the wishes of BS Aquino.
In another case, President BS Aquino posted PhP70,000.00 bail for Grace Padaca, a Liberal Party member who was charged for â€œalleged irregular disbursement of a P25-million grant to the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc. without public bidding in 2006.â€ Aside from bailing her out of criminal prosecution, Padaca now enjoys the lucrative post of Commissions on Elections (COMELEC) head. The padrino system trumped the justice system in Padacaâ€™s case indeed. The Filipino people seems to have now â€œforgiven and forgottenâ€ the case against Padaca particulary since BS Aquino insisted that she is not guilty of her crimes.
The set of precedents have some people holding their breath on how BS Aquino will treat future cases particularly the charges against Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection Nereus “Neric” Acosta and his mother, Socorro who were charged with the “alleged anomalous transfer of P5.5-million priority development assistance fund to the Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative, a non-government organization run by his family, when he was still congressman representing Bukidnon”. Some members of Philippine society are assuming that BS Aquino will help him get off the hook. Obviously thereâ€™s a lot at stake if and when Acosta is found guilty. BS Aquino seems to have trusted him with a few government positions. Acosta is also serving as the general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority. Some say that itâ€™s just a matter of time before BS Aquino ask the courts to â€œforgive and forgetâ€ the cases against Acosta.
When it comes to inconsistencies, BS Aquinoâ€™s treatment of former President Gloria Arroyo is the mother of all inconsistencies. His message not to forgive and forget GMAâ€™s alleged indiscretions during her term still rings in the Filipino peopleâ€™s ears considering he repeated it again in his recent speech in Davos in front of a small international delegation who were largely clueless as to what he was ranting about. In his speech, he emphasized once again how corrupt the previous administration was compared to his own. Never mind that the charges against GMA have yet to be proven in court.
Whether Celdran gets a reprieve from serving time in jail or not will matter very little to the tour guide’s business. Reports say that criminal activity in particular, random and premeditated murders have risen in the Philippines under BS Aquino’s watch. This is obviously another blow to the tourism industry which Celdran is a part of.
Unfortunately, members of the Philippine National Police and military are even implicated in the crimes. This despite BS Aquino boasting of improvements in his so called “Daang Matuwid”.
A sure sign of a country having weak institutions is when members of law enforcement agencies like the police and military engage in criminal activity. They know the the rule of law and the principle of due process are hardly being upheld, which is why they can plant or remove evidence whenever they want. Certainly, BS Aquino’s dismissive attitude towards crimes committed by his allies will worsen our already ailing institutions.
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