Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said a few days ago that those individuals and groups demanding the imprisonment of Imelda Marcos because of her conviction on seven counts of graft should be “fair” to the Marcos family matriarch by respecting her constitutional rights, among them her right to post bail.
If her family was unfair to the people during the brutal reign of the Marcos kleptocracy, said Pimentel, they should nevertheless be fair to her — although the most the people can do is demand her imprisonment, because only the courts and the so-called “justice system” have the power to jail anyone. Because much of that system is a captive of the oligarchy that rules these isles, Imelda Marcos is in fact out on bail and scot-free despite her conviction, and unlikely to ever spend a single night in jail.
By “fair” Pimentel apparently means letting her file whatever appeal or motion she wants before any court she chooses. But fairness also means giving one his or her due, and is therefore another name for justice. And justice can only be realized by meting out rewards commensurate to one’s good deeds, and penalties proportionate to one’s transgressions.
Fairness is in this sense exactly what those demanding the implementation of the Sandiganbayan ruling are asking for: that Imelda Marcos be penalized in terms appropriate to her offense.
Justice is after all exactly what the dictatorship of which she was partner and accomplice denied this country and its people during its 14-year rule. Not only have the murderers and torturers of that period had a huge supply and the masterminds behind them eluded the punishment that is their due. What is even more outrageous is that many of the world-class thieves that set those sub-humans loose have also survived and thrived in all the regimes that succeeded Marcos and are at this very moment continuing to mock not only the laws of the land but every code of civilized society as well.
They pretend to be victims rather than criminals, are arrogantly unrepentant, and have made full use of the public funds they robbed the people of by buying the loyalties of entire communities and much of the corrupt bureaucracy in furtherance of their undying ambition to once more rule the same country they and their accomplices have never cared about.
Pimentel is so right. The Marcoses were indeed not fair during the reign of their late patriarch. He is also in a better position than many others of his generation to appreciate the absence of justice and fairness during the Marcos regime, his father having been one of its thousands of victims.
In 1972, Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. was arrested and detained by that regime for being among the delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention who opposed the draft of the Charter that would enable Ferdinand Marcos to run for a third term and which contained a number of other anti-people provisions.
Detained at the gymnasium that had been converted into a prison in the Philippine Constabulary (PC) headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, “Nene” Pimentel nevertheless used his time and skills as a lawyer to represent several poor detainees who had been arrested on the basis of manufactured and even nonexistent evidence. When they realized what he was doing, his PC captors moved him from the Camp Crame gym to the stockade to intimidate him. But even while among hardened criminals there, he continued to serve as the lawyer of detainees who had no counsel. Released after three months, he refused to sign the 1973 Marcos Constitution despite martial law’s still being in force.
Running with Benigno Aquino, Jr. for the interim Batasang Pambansa elections in 1978, Pimentel joined opposition leaders Lorenzo Tañada, and Teofisto Guingona in protesting the fraud-ridden election. He was again arrested and detained for being part of a demonstration denouncing it. Pimentel was arrested for the third time on rebellion charges in 1983, again on the flimsiest of evidence.
But it is not only the blatant injustices that the Marcoses committed that the experience of “Nene” Pimentel urges all Filipinos to remember. It is also the need for the fairness and justice to which everyone and not only the wealthy and well-connected are entitled.
That imperative has never been more urgent than today, during the reign of “Koko” Pimentel’s unlikely ally, President Rodrigo Duterte.
One of the ironies of these uncertain times is that his party, PDP-Laban, is a merger of two parties — Partido Demokratiko Pilipino and Lakas ng Bayan — that were opposed to the Marcos dictatorship that Mr. Duterte is so clumsily aping.
PDP was founded by “Koko’s” father “Nene” Pimentel, while Lakas ng Bayan was founded by Senators Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. and Lorenzo Tañada. The two parties merged to form PDP-Laban to oppose the candidacy of Ferdinand Marcos during the snap elections of 1986, three years after the Marcos regime’s assassination of Aquino in 1983. The PDP-Laban’s standard-bearer was the slain senator’s widow, Corazon Aquino, whose son, former President Benigno Aquino III, was, during his term, relatively truer to that party’s legacy than its current leadership.
PDP-Laban’s anti-dictatorship origins are hardly in evidence today, its head being Mr. Duterte and its membership list being a veritable directory of other provincial despots, turncoats, and opportunists of every stripe. Among its now forgotten legacies is precisely its commitment to the fairness and justice that Pimentel was arguing in favor of Imelda Marcos.
Under the Duterte leadership, the party has become identified with tyranny and the encouragement of the very opposite of those values. Instead of justice, what the country is now being subjected to is a regime of injustice perpetrated by a league of bureaucrat capitalists and their military and police henchmen focused on the destruction of the Constitution and the very laws under the protection of which, Pimentel III was saying, Imelda Marcos has every right to seek refuge.
Equal protection of the law is, of course, best expressed in its equal application. But during the Duterte regime, it has since become apparent that only the likes of the Marcoses, the Estradas, the Arroyos and their kindred dynasties are entitled to that constitutional right.
Neither fairness nor justice is at work when the poor, the powerless, and regime critics and protesters are harassed and persecuted. They are completely absent when the police and their surrogate assassins murder children as well as suspected drug users and petty traders, while billions of pesos in illegal drugs are smuggled into the country with the collusion of Customs personnel.
Neither are those values in evidence when critics are summarily imprisoned on the flimsiest and most absurd of charges complete with planted evidence and the scripted testimony of the government agencies the regime has mobilized to silence dissenters.
“Koko” Pimentel is absolutely right when he asks the public to be fair to Imelda Marcos, although the police and the courts have been more than that to her. But he could do even better by reminding the regime he currently serves that fairness and justice are rights to which everyone else, and not just its chosen few, are entitled. He should be asking the injustice league, much more than the public it is still victimizing, to be just and fair.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.