Have the courts been displaced by the Senate and social media?

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Greg B. Macabenta

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Have the courts been displaced by the Senate and social media?

Time was, whenever a major corruption scandal or a heinous crime exploded in the public sphere, old timers like myself followed the developments in the courts of law, as reported by the newspapers. While the wheels of justice moved excruciatingly slowly, they did manage to move. Eventually, decisions would be reached, appealed to higher courts, and finally decided on by the Supreme Court. Whether or not real justice was meted out, depended on the perspective of the protagonists. But some kind of resolution was arrived at for each major scandal or crime.

Those were the years when the Philippines Free Press, with columnists like Teodoro M. Locsin and Leon O. Ty, commented sagely on the burning issues of the day. Of course, those burning issues, such as the gold-plated arinola (bedpan) and the expensive bed of the Malacañang resident, would be equivalent to a lighted matchstick, compared to the multibillion-peso conflagrations of today. But the citizens were appropriately horrified or scandalized back then, and the culprits became pariahs in the eyes of the public.

When Senate President Jose Avelino made the classic quotable, “What are we in power for?” his words literally hounded him to the end of his days and well past his demise. And when President Ramon Magsaysay declared that “those who had less in life would have more in law,” people believed him — as he himself believed in his dictum, no matter that it seemed questionable in the context of “equal justice for all.”

What about the present?

These days, a major corruption scandal or a heinous crime is “tried” in the Senate by some committee or other, chaired by the incarnation of three monkeys who see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil. Of course, such inquiries are also sometimes chaired by the incarnation of the boy who cried wolf and his associate, Sheer-luck Holmes, mistaking suspicion and hunches for facts and circumstantial evidence.


It may be small comfort (or consuelo de bobo) that the current Senate “trials” involve truly massive scandals and truly horrific crimes. The P6.4-billion smuggling caper, involving drugs, does qualify as historic, and the killing of teenagers by the police on mere suspicion, does deserve a place in the annals of heinous crimes.

In recent years, the Senate has been known to conduct “serious” inquiries on sex videos featuring popular personalities. And only a few months ago, the House of Representatives conducted a hearing at which the sexual activities of a lady Senator were the prime focus. The questions asked by the lascivious congressmen had nothing to do with the allegations of criminal conduct of which the lady senator was accused.

There appears to be no sense of shame — or at least embarrassment — among the members of the legislature for their dishonorable actuations. It can only be hoped that their descendants will at least suffer the shame and embarrassment that should have caused these legislators to commit hara kiri (if they were Japanese).

But then, what can we expect from an officialdom that flaunts immorality and rationalizes killings based on mere suspicion? The President of the Philippines and the Speaker of the House of Representatives have shamelessly admitted — nay, even boasted about — having mistresses and multiple wives and girlfriends. The President has also publicly offered protection for police officers accused of cold-bloodedly killing suspects already in custody. And the quotable quotes of the day no longer resonate with nobility (“Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”) but are laced with vulgarity and drip with gutter language.

Against this environment, the monumental scandals and crimes are no longer argued in the courts of law but in social media, aside from the parodies pretending to be Senate inquiries.

And what about the courts?

It appears that even the magistrates in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have been forced to hold their tongue lest they be threatened with impeachment by a power-mad legislature. Only recently, the Speaker threatened to “abolish” the Court of Appeals, because of imagined resistance to his distorted perception of right and wrong.

The distorted perception of right and wrong is also clearly manifested in the exchanges in social media. Self-righteous defenders of one side or other of an issue have no qualms about concocting creative insults in bold and colored types on Facebook. And they do not do this once or twice but in unrelenting fashion, everyday.

But the most alarming aspect of all is how those in the social media gallery cheer on the protagonists while contributing their own clever innuendoes.

Is justice ever served?

In a recent instance, the barrage of social media attacks and lascivious legislative questioning resulted in the arrest and incarceration of a lady senator. One wonders if the courts will eventually have a say in the fate of Sen. Leila de Lima.

Will the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court risk impeachment and look into her case? Or will she worry that she might suffer the same fate as Chief Justice Renato Corona?

It seems to me that the only recourse that De Lima has is to wait out the term of President Rodrigo Duterte and hope that her political allies wrest back power.

Of course, even if this were to happen, we cannot reasonably expect an improvement in the poisoned environment characterized by a thirst for vengeance (Sen. Gringo Honasan referred to it as the vicious culture of “resbak,” which he vowed to change if he were elected vice-president, which did not happen). Cory Aquino sought vengeance against the Marcoses. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had Erap Estrada kept in “hospital arrest” — a fate that she herself suffered when Noynoy Aquino assumed the presidency. And now, Aquino also faces a similar fate depending on the whim of Duterte.

If an opposition candidate wins the next presidency, perhaps he or she will “make resbak” against Duterte. And on. And on. And on. In the tradition of lex taliones.

In all of these, we have not heard from the courts.

A sword of Damocles continues to hang over the head of the Chief Justice and the magistrates in the Court of Appeals. And the lower courts continue to adjudicate the less sensational, less entertaining cases, in order to earn their pay.

The Senate inquiries will continue for as long as streaming video and live television compete with TV soap operas and noontime shows for viewership. The senators conducting the inquiries know that they are gaining TV exposure worth millions, even if they, at times, look like a bunch of bad comedians. At least, they gain promotional mileage and a measure of satisfaction.

One wonders — do the vicious purveyors of social media slander really find spiritual or even intellectual satisfaction in what they do?

Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.