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QUEZON CITY, Philippines – Former Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, together with leaders of civil society organizations, called to cease the culture of special treatment that operates to favor special interests of select individuals and groups.
In a press conference held at Icon Hotel last August 31, Bello condemned the Supreme Court for breaching the criminal provision of plunder being a non-bailable offense when it granted the release on bail of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile last August 18. The senator is facing plunder and graft charges related to the pork barrel scam.
“This is appalling legal acrobatics,” Walden said. “What Judge Lucas Bersamin is saying is that Enrile is entitled to special treatment. As Justice Marvic Leonen has rightly said in his powerful dissenting opinion, this is selective justice.”
Bello believed that the special treatment bestowed on Enrile encouraged Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) protesters to convene at EDSA and thereby disrupting traffic flow among others.
“Iglesia ni Cristo members have paralyzed EDSA and other sites in Metro-Manila with demonstrations to force the Justice Department to stop investigation of complaints filed by INC members about threats to their life and well-being,” Bello added. “Government has the obligation to investigate, provide judicial remedy, and offer protection to all citizens who feel their lives are threatened, whatever may be their economic, political, or religious affiliations.”
Ed Tadem, President of Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), said that the criticism does not attack INC as a religious community of faith. “We're not attacking the rank and file of INC who we feel are being manipulated by their leaders and are being made to do things they don't really understand.”
Princess Nemenzo of WomanHealth Philippines said, “Isang nakakabahala sa sitwasyon ay yung political environment natin na panahon na upang baguhin kung saan ang mga powerful, mga vested interest [ay may special treatment]."
Former FDC President Ric Reyes added, “End the culture of special favors and special treatment. Equal rights for eveybody, equal rights for all under the law. Iyan ang totoong demokrasiya.”
“Special treatment and double standards are the bane of our political existence. It is time that citizens must step forward stop these perversions of the rule of law,” Bello concluded.
Also joining Bello, Tadem, Nemenzo, and Reyes were Jean Enriquez of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, and Frank Mero of Sentro ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa (SENTRO).
Below is the full text of Walden Bello’s statement last August 31, 2015.
NO SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR SPECIAL INTEREST
One of the worst practices of our system of governance has been the special treatment given to powerful special interests in business, politics, religion, and other fields.
In defiance of all legal logic, the majority in the Supreme Court recently released on bail Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, violating the criminal code provision that plunder, for which Enrile is charged, is a non-bailable offense. What the judgment of the eight justices penned by Judge Lucas Bersamin amounts to is that although plunder is a non-bailable offense, the individual Juan Ponce Enrile has the right to bail. This is appalling legal acrobatics. What Bersamin is saying is that Enrile is entitled to special treatment. As Justice Marvic Leonen has rightly said in his powerful dissenting opinion, this is selective justice. "Nowhere in the rules of procedure do we allow the grant of bail based on judicial notice of a doctor's certification." He also stated: "That we make factual determinations ourselves to grant provisional liberty to one who is obviously politically privileged without the benefit of the presentation of evidence…casts serious doubts on our neutrality and objectivity."
Enrile Special Treatment Encourages INC
Not surprisingly, encouraged by Enrile’s success in defying the law, others have rushed to plead special treatment for themselves. Iglesia ni Cristo members have paralyzed EDSA and other sites in Metro-Manila with demonstrations to force the Justice Department to stop investigation of complaints filed by INC members about threats to their life and well-being. I may have differences with Sec of Justice de Lima on a number of issues, particularly on the DOJ's lack of energy in prosecuting sex for flight and human trafficking cases, but she is on the right side of this issue. Government has the obligation to investigate, provide judicial remedy, and offer protection to all citizens who feel their lives are threatened, whatever may be their economic, political, or religious affiliations. When charges of detention, coercion, threats, and harassment were filed against the Sangunnian of the INC on behalf of an INC minister, the Department of Justice was obligated to investigate the matter exhaustively and, based on that, decide whether to carry the case to prosecution or to dismiss it. This would be the same obligatory process that would kick in if a Roman Catholic priest were accused of sexually exploiting minors. He would not be allowed to use the separation of Church and State principle to escape prosecution. No one is above the law, no one has the right to special treatment.
Politicians Pander to Enrile and INC
Owing to political debts to Enrile, many politicians are pleading for treating him as a “special case.” And owing to their desire to get the blessings of the Iglesia ni Cristo for their candidacies, many are scrambling to also seek special treatment for the Iglesia. In a blatant misrepresentation of the issue at stake, Vice President Jejomar Binay has said the INC rallyists are “fighting for their faith.” Senator Grace Poe, also pandering to the INC, said the INC rallyists were “defending their faith.” DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, the top law enforcement official in the country, allowed the INC to create chaos in EDSA despite the announced intention of the INC leaders hours beforehand to commit public disorder by crippling traffic along EDSA. Roxas and the administration received the INC text that was sent out to millions: "Mga kapatid, nagsimula na ang pagtitipon sa EDSA. Baldahin natin ang trapiko sa Metro Manila para maramdaman ng gobyerno ang lakas ng Iglesia ni Kristo!" Despite these warnings, Roxas allowed the few thousand INC rallyists on EDSA to deliberately disrupt the already crawling EDSA Friday night traffic, to create chaos at will. The demonstrators were treated with kids' gloves, with maximum tolerance to create chaos as millions in the metropolitan suffered. This was disorder allowed by a DILG chief and presidential candidate who did not want to offend the INC leadership. What happened on Friday night and continues till today was a product either of ineffective governance or deliberate tolerance of chaos, or both. Roxas allowed the petulant action of a minority to override the rights of the vast majority.
Special treatment and double standards are the bane of our political existence. It is time that citizens must step forward stop these perversions of the rule of law.