Sunday, May 23, 2010

Agra and the Ampatuans

It has been suggested that the public prosecutors' public disagreement with Justice Secretary Alberto Agra's decision not to indict two members of the Ampatuan clan with the November 2009 massacre serves as an indictment of the Secretary's position.

The prosecutors may have been right. Unfortunately, the Secretary acted within his powers when he disagreed with them. The prosecutors should have hoped that the President would reverse the Secretary. Instead, by publicly objecting to the exclusion of certain members of the Ampatuan clan from the case, they weakened our institutions.

Lower courts too, incidentally, may disagree with the Supreme Court. Lower court judges, however, do not make public statements about how the Supreme Court erred. Under the system, their decisions can be subjected to review and reversed by higher courts. Whether the higher courts are right is irrelevant. Lower courts fall in line because that is the way the system keeps itself together. Litigation will provide higher courts with the opportunity to correct themselves.

The danger with the prosecutors' act was that it encourages everyone to bypass procedure. Procedure may seem cumbersome or counterproductive but they are established to ensure fairness. Rules are designed to ensure the rule of law. The prosecutors' public disagreement ignores the hierarchy that is inherent in the executive branch of government. Had the President sustained Agra's decision, would it have been somehow irregular? The fact is that under our system of government, superiors can reverse findings of their subordinates.

I am hoping that in the resolution of this case, we allow the evidence to determine the guilt of the defendants, not our collective outrage at what was easily the worst act of political violence in the history of our country.

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