Monday, January 31, 2011

Katarungan sa Pilipinas/Justice in The Philippines

The Philippines seems to not yet have fully recovered from the hostage bombing late last year as successive tragedies continue to attack our collective psyche. It seems every other week something happens that will make your blood boil, if not overwhelm you with despair. Just to recap quickly, recent events that have shocked the country include: 6WPG4EMHG4PE

The recent carjackings of Margarita ForesEmerson Lozano, driver Ernane Sensil and Venson Evangelista, the latter three of which led to their deaths

If you look at the reactions by Pinoys online, it would seem that this is the worst situation that this country could be in. As bad as things seem now, we need to put things in perspective and not be swayed by hyperbole or divisive rhetoric. We have yet to experience a truly failed state, as have the people of Afghanistan, Somalia, Timor-Leste or Haiti. In spite of everything, we still have a lot to be thankful for.

But if these events do not yet make us a failed state, what are we to make of these recent spates of violence? Are some of these part of destabilization plots against the government, as is often claimed? Are these all just a matter of successive coincidences? Are these the indications of a failed judicial system, or the consequences of one?

The Philippines' culture of impunity and history of extrajudicial killings have been cited before as indications of the lack of justice in the country. However, this seems to me to define specific situations, and is inadequate at rationalizing others. Let me share my thoughts on two particular cases that continue to perplex me.

The acquittal of Hubert Webb and five others in the murders of the Vizcondes divided the country. For a long time, most of us were convinced that they were able to punish the perpetrators of the crime, but a review of the case would show that the investigation had been handled poorly from the start, and now those end results have been put into question. As Janette Toral notes, we can be conditioned into taking sides in issues like this, not due to an elaborate coverup, but simply because of confirmation bias and social reinforcement.

Likewise, Ivan Padilla's death remains debatable. Did the police deliberately withdraw aid that could have saved his life when he was caught? Forensic reports indicate he may have even been strangled. I worry that the public did not express the appropriate amount of outrage towards this. Did it seem to many that he deserved to die? As much as we complain about our judicial system, I still believe in its function. Shouldn't Ivan have been allowed to have his day in court?

In both cases, as well as numerous others, unanswered questions linger. Investigations aren't thorough enough to cover all the sides of the story. Instead, we're left with fragments of stories, and in some cases we're not even sure if these fragments are wholly true. And we're supposed to accept these fragments as the entire thing, and our lives go on.

It's like justice itself has been gilded in a cage, hidden deep in the darkness, not to be seen.

UPDATED: I wanted to share this link to Maria Ressa's article How Good People Turn Evil Her reflections of Philip Zimardo's Stanford prison study fit in with what I've been talking about.

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