The modern personification of justice was first used in ancient Rome. Lady Justitia, as it is called, is often depicted as a woman with a weighing scale in one hand, a sword in the other; her eyes behind a blindfold. Impartial, fair, stern, and unyielding, she is all these and more. The Romans, whose laws and acts of persecution, names, titles, deeds, and practices within courts and governing halls echo still even today, based their society on the concept that law is absolute. From the lowest proletariat to state senators, they are all subject to persecution within reason, their crimes punishable in a culture that hinged on order and discipline.
Yet, justice can be fallible, laws politicized. Legal decisions can be altered, evidence strengthened or weakened, depending on those invested with such cases. In the Roman Republic’s fading days, the laws of old gave way to the whims of emperors, utterly tailored not with reason, but by political will. Such perversion of the nature of justice–that is, the inherent good to treat one another with fairness (if we’re to follow Plato)–speaks more of the vast, continuing inequality and application of justice, laws, and morals in modern society. Such a flawed system has never presented itself more blatantly than in the present, rivaled only, perhaps, by the social injustices prevalent in the Martial Law era.
Recently, the Sandiganbayan convicted Imelda Marcos of seven counts of graft. The court sentenced her to six to eleven years in prison for each count, and barred her from running for public office. The 89-year-old widow of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was to finally face court-mandated justice, after decades of eluding its reach following the overthrow of their family. However, on December 5, despite overwhelming evidence against her, Imelda was allowed to post bail amounting to P300,000. Furthermore, she was able to appeal her conviction.
Just like that, the guilty walks free. Branded, yes, but not in captivity. After that, who knows? Tides may change. The congresswoman of Ilocos Norte’s second district may yet run in the upcoming 2019 elections. Senator Bongbong Marcos seems set to run for higher office: with all his demands for an electoral recall against Vice President Leni Robredo, the idea of him being in the executive branch does not seem far-fetched. Governor Imee Marcos gears for a national run, her face splattered in banners across the nation without shame. The Sandiganbayan made its choice clear: if you’re with money and power, fear not. Justice is to be upheld, but not against you.
On the other side of the spectrum, online news site Rappler covered a story of a similar fate, if not with a dissimilar ending. On December 10, a 21-year-old man entered a convenience store in Mandaluyong City and stole a can of Spam luncheon meat worth P199. An employee promptly spotted him on the closed circuit television (CCTV), and with a security guard, detained Dula. Upon the arrival of the Mandaluyong police, the can of Spam was found hidden under Dula’s clothes, and subsequently he was detained, jailed without a proper trial. In 2017, the Philippine Daily Inquirer covered the case of a sales clerk pilfering a small can of corned beef worth P31.50 from the supermarket where he worked. He was arrested, and faced a charge of qualified theft, which according to Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code states “…if committed by a domestic servant, or with grave abuse of confidence..” Here, the chief difference between theft and qualified theft is that in the latter, there is loss of confidence by the employer or workplace, and the accused is barred from being employed there again. The penalty for this is 12 to 17 years in prison, a far reach from Imelda’s own sentence. In 2012, a senior citizen was arrested after he did not pay for chocolates worth P36. Accosted by a security guard at the exit, he claims he had merely forgotten to pay. Yet all the same, he was handed over to the Tondo police, and subsequently charged with theft, which can still carry a sentence of imprisonment if proven guilty.
One hundred ninety-nine pesos seem miniscule compared to the billions of pesos stolen by the Marcoses. In fact, what is P31.50 against the daily profit of a grocery store? P36 compared to the lavish dinners held by the Marcoses during their time, as the people starved outside their walls? Of course, an illegal act is still illegal, and in the eyes of justice, demands the same prosecution and sentencing as with any other crime, whatever the cost of the item. But again, we Filipinos must not be so naive. Imelda walks free. Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla walk free, despite being charged similarly with graft in the Pork Barrel Scam of 2014. The three have fully announced their senatorial intentions next year. They are immune to justice, immune to the laws meant for the common man.
Where else would you find a country more snail-paced in its implementation of justice, more tolerant of politicians stealing money meant for the people than the Philippines? The maw of inequality grows ever wider, the social order collapsing under the weight of the rich at the top, getting richer through the toiling of the millions below, indifferent to suffering. Pope Francis says that fighting social inequality is the mission of our time. The late Senator Jose Diokno, famous for championing human rights during Martial Law and opposing Ferdinand Marcos at the height of his reign, said something similar:
“Social justice, for us Filipinos, means a coherent, intelligent system of law made known to us, enacted by a legitimate government freely chosen by us, and enforced fairly and equitably by a courageous, honest, impartial, and competent force, legal profession and judiciary, that first, respects our rights and our freedom both as individuals and as a people.”
So he states. Yet Diokno uttered those words nearly four decades ago when the Marcoses were in power. Little had changed in the country since then, and irony prevails as the dictator’s scions, even the matriarch, return to the fold once more.
There is much to be desired, much to be reformed with the justice system in the Philippines. We long for the day when prosecution of the guilty in the government sees to its completion, sentences carried out appropriately and definitely. After all, such cases against the common people are quick to be dealt with. Why do the courts hesitate to do the same with our politicians? The answer is simple: corruption. Our justice system is corrupt and subjective. Laws are conditional. Even if prosecuted, they are only slapped a measly fine and are able to walk free, even hold public office despite this blatant breach of trust and confidence. Cases are postponed for years, intentionally dragged out to lengthen the day of the decision.
The Philippine Lady Justitia, it seems, has become truly and completely blind. Impartiality gives way to politics. The unrelenting morals of justice, the supposed absolute prosecuting power of the law, has become mere suggestion, and what’s more, subjective. This has been the case so for decades, and it is time to stop. Recall Senator Diokno’s words. Though they are highly idealized and improbable in our current situation, they are the ideals with which our justice should aspire to become. And it is up to us to enact this change, through being more mindful of such instances, to be more vigilant and vocal against this blatant miscarriage of justice, and put an end to the social misery and inequality that ever festers in our society. ■