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Guilty?

Rhona Canoy .

SO… There have been a few politicians who made it to the news (albeit just as crawlers on TV or a minor blurb on page 3 or 4 of the rags) because they have been found guilty of some form of corruption. And actually sentenced to prison. Strangely, most people who read or heard the news reacted sardonically. I don’t know if it’s because this occurs so few and far between, or what. Or maybe, after a few legal appeals to overturn the sentence, these hoods will walk away free with a smug grin on their faces.

We have gotten so used to having the justice system behave in ways that are difficult to comprehend. So much so that I don’t know how many people are left with any faith in it. Especially when it comes to dealing with our wayward public officials. We’ve all already completely accepted that corruption is what fuels our government. We’ve already completely accepted that many of the people who have self-serving agendas are seated in power, the cabal holding majority in most bodies. And that the rare rebels who manage to get elected or appointed will either be ineffective or soon be swallowed by the system and turned to the dark side.

What happens when someone in office commits a transgression enormous enough to warrant being sued? We know that the wheels of “justice” turn turtle slow. Any case that gets even investigated one year after filing is moving at the speed of light. In the meantime, the parties being accused of guilt are (in most cases) functioning as normal, occasionally holding prayer rallies to beseech the deities for protection. At the same time, there are more than enough bystanders and onlookers who are certain of their guilt.

Yes, there is the premise that anyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But in the Philippines? If the accused is in government? That presumption is naïve at the very least. The many practices or “S.O.P.” have become commonplace. The secret payments to someone who processes our land claims and titles at the Register of Deeds, or facilitates a lesser computation on our audits at the B.I.R., all issued without receipts. The assumed kickbacks to the powers-that-be for infrastructure projects such as concrete roads and school buildings. We all believe these to be true.

Of course, when the malfeasance is brought to light and appropriate cases are filed, the accused does not go quietly into the night. Wheeling and dealing, whispers of payments made to the robed justices who make the final dispensation. So much so that when a “not guilty” decision is handed down, nobody really anymore believes that justice was served. It is not an issue of whether the crook was not crooked. It is an issue of how much money and influence was peddled.

Worst of it all is it allows the wrongdoer to go out and wrongdo again. When the judge says “not guilty”, it is supposed to be because there really is no guilt to be found, no crime committed, no abuse of power done. But we’ve reached a point where it is not about having committed a grave sin. No. No. No. It boils down to a matter of how well anyone can get away with it. And even more painful and insulting to us, these crooks will rejoice publicly at having their cases junked. I often wonder where they buy their beds and pillows because they seem to sleep so well at night.

Evil wrongdoers have become so inured to walking on the wrong side of the law that all they worry about is not getting caught. They don’t worry about being ethical, or having integrity, or being honest. It’s all about getting caught. And God forbid that they be punished. So I suppose it’s biblical in a way. Never let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. Boy, were we wrong about that one.

We can assume the meaning of guilty has mutated. Or maybe because I’m not a lawyer, my interpretation and understanding of guilty takes on a different meaning from the legal one. It’s about not getting caught, rather than knowing and admitting that a wrong has been done. Our driver and I got flagged down by an LTO officer the other day. We were knowingly and merrily driving along without our seat belts fastened, which we both knew was against the law.

As soon as the man in uniform waved his arms and directed us to pull over, we both started laughing because just a minute before, I had actually told him that we ought to put our seat belts on. When The Man approached the window, our mirth was already spilling out of the car. I suppose it was contagious enough for him to be smiling widely. After a cursory inspection of our car registration and our driver’s license, The Man pointed out that we weren’t wearing our seatbelts and that we were breaking the law. What else were we supposed to say?

Still laughing, we acknowledged our guilt and our awareness of it and of the ticket about to be written. He let us off with a warning, telling us to be sure that our belts are fastened each time before starting the car. I thanked him profusely for his kindness, whereupon he said, “You were already laughing when I approached your window. And you didn’t hesitate to say you were guilty. You were prepared to get a ticket and pay the fine. I appreciate that. Some people give me a lot of attitude. Those are the ones I relish giving a very hard time.”

If people would just be guilty because they are, or not guilty because they aren’t, how simple life would be. But not guilty because they managed to evade accountability? Not guilty because they managed to weasel out of it? Or worst, not guilty because they bought their innocence? Perhaps we need to find another name for our justice system. Justice certainly isn’t what they dish out.

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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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