It is not likely that US President Donald Trump will have a Merry Christmas. On Dec. 18, the House of Representatives voted along party lines (232–196) to impeach Trump for criminal bribery and wire fraud charges as part of the abuse of power charge of an alleged quid pro quo deal with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, The New York Times reported the next day. Trump’s troubles started in September, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated an impeachment inquiry presenting a whistleblower and alleging that Trump may have abused the power of the presidency by withholding military aid as a means of pressuring newly elected Zelensky to pursue investigations on Trump’s likely re-election rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter on their business dealings in Ukraine, and to investigate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine (not Trump’s friend Russia), was behind interference in the 2016 presidential election (NPR.org, Sept. 26, 2019). The US Senate, which is Republican-dominated, will make their decision on Trump’s impeachment in early 2020.
“Democracy requires that no one be above the law — a principle that’s most crucially applied to the holder of the most powerful office in the US government. Extreme abuse of power from the top of the government must be seen and treated as intolerable,” Norman Solomon of the Huffington Post wrote on Feb. 11, 2018, persistently reminded all of what all democratic citizens must hold foremost in mind and heart.
To affirm the collective and universal values of right and wrong, a special court of the Islamic government of Pakistan on Dec. 19 sentenced self-exiled former dictator (1999-2008) Pervez Musharraf to death in absentia for subverting the Constitution in 2007 by imposing emergency rule and sacking Supreme Court judges who refused to accept it (ABS-CBN, Dec. 20, 2019). The 169-page detailed judgement called on law enforcement agencies to bring Musharraf back to Pakistan and enforce the punishment, directing that if he dies before then, “his corpse be dragged to the D-Chowk (a square in front of the parliament building)… and hanged for three days,” the same news report said. The court also said all those who facilitated Musharraf’s escape from Pakistan in March 2016 should also be brought to justice.
Here in our country, conspirators, accomplices, even on-lookers who did not report the Maguindanao mass murder were included in the charges, together with the principals accused, mostly of the powerful Ampatuan clan. CNN Philippines, as with the other networks, said, “It is considered the worst election-related violence and the most gruesome attack against journalists in recent history — on Nov. 23, 2009, 58 lives perished, 32 of them were journalists.” As a consequence of the massacre, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) declared the Philippines as the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists, and sixth globally on the list of most murderous countries (ipsnews.net/2018/01).
Good that a “Merry Christmas” came to salve the wounded Filipino psyche on Thursday, Dec. 19, when Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes found 43 accused in the massacre, including the three Ampatuan brothers Zaldy, Datu Andal, Jr, Anwar, Sr., and several members of the Ampatuan clan, guilty of 57 counts of murder. It was a happy relief for the relatives and loved ones of the victims, and for the Filipino people who have been desperately famished for assurances of justice prevailing in many high-profile, seemingly-obvious high crimes.
But the jubilation has not been complete. The ruling did not cover the 58th victim, Reynaldo Momay, whose body is missing to this day, and denied the Momay family’s claim for civil damages. The court also acquitted 56 accused, mostly police officers, who were released a day after the promulgation of judgment. Among the acquitted in absentia was Sajid Ampatuan, now an incumbent mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, whose guilt could not be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Beyond reasonable doubt” is the same tidy legal metric that has decided lack of basis for yet another civil case filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) on the Estate of Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda R. Marcos, Imelda R. Marcos Manotoc, Irene R. Marcos Araneta, Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., and Constante Rubio… to recover at least P200 billion allegedly purloined from public coffers during their Marcos Sr.’s over two-decade rule. In its 58-page decision, the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division dismissed the forfeiture case due to the inability of the prosecution to prove the allegations against the Marcoses, the Inquirer of Dec. 16 reported. “This is the fifth civil case that was decided in 2019, with the Marcoses and their cronies winning in four and losing in one case,” the Inquirer noted. The anti-graft court had earlier dismissed Civil Case Nos. 0007, 0008, and 0034 which sought to recover from the former first family ill-gotten wealth amounting to P267.371 million, P1.052 billion, and P102 billion, respectively,” The Philippine Star of Dec. 17 added.
And then there is the shameful, unshakeable perception of the seeming unreliability of the justice system. The Philippine Star of March 15 reported that the Philippines submitted a formal notification of withdrawal from the ICC’s Rome Statute in March 2018, which had taken effect March 2019. What now of the reported “extrajudicial killings (EJK) that have been the chief human rights concern in the Philippines for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the anti-drug campaign in 2016, continuing in 2018 with an average of six persons killed daily in operations against illegal drugs, according to the latest annual United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” cited the Star.
In September, the United States Senate approved to prohibit the entry of Philippine government officials involved in the “politically motivated” detention of Sen. Leila De Lima. Malacañang called the panel’s approval of the amendment a “brazen attempt” to meddle in the country’s domestic affairs as it maintained that De Lima is “no prisoner of conscience,” the Star of Sept. 27 reported, quoting the reaction of Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo: “It seeks to place pressure upon our independent institutions thereby effectively interfering with our nation’s sovereignty. It is an insult to the competence and capacity of our duly constituted authorities as such act makes it appear that this US Senate panel has the monopoly of what is right and just.”
Are we to be happy about the state of affairs in our country this Christmas, 2019? It will be the end of the decade in 2020. What 2018 leaves us is a “Whispering Hope” for justice and peace.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (despite)!
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.