Deadly Malampaya funds

Doctor Gerry Ortega, the 142nd journalist killed since 1986, was not just a critic of local mining in Palawan. In fact, I met him more than eight years ago because of his involvement in a civil society group, Kilusan Love Malampaya. The group advocates that the people of Palawan should have an “equitable share” in the wealth generated by the Malampaya natural gas and oil field and in the percentage identified by the Local Government Code: 40 percent of all such income generated by Malampaya. This initiative led to the filing of a case, which was finally the subject of oral arguments by the Supreme Court last year. On the basis of the court hearings, it is clear that the Malampaya issue is a three cornered fight: between civil society of Dr. Gerry and Bishop Pedro Arigo who want to enforce the literal provisions of the Constitution and the Local Government Code, the local government that entered into an illegal provisional sharing agreement which Justice Antonio Carpio described during oral arguments as effectively “ an amendment of the law”, and the national government of former President Arroyo that sought to spend the Malampaya funds as its pork barrel.
It is unfortunate that Doc Gerry did not live long to see the outcome of the case that he has lived for. Meanwhile, it is my duty as a friend and as his counsel to correct the mistake of national media speculating that his death may be related to his opposition to three on-going mining projects in Palawan.

The truth is that prior to his death, Doc Gerry was in constant contact with me concerning Commission on Audit reports which detail how Palawan’s local government officials have misused sums given to Palawan as part of the provisional sharing agreements. He was the one who furnished me with a copy of just one of the many COA reports that involved ghost projects, inferior projects and crass misappropriation of public funds. Some of the recommendations of the COA were: “ Refund of P49 million representing excessive cost of projects, disallowance of a P25 million consultancy project, refund of P6 million representing deficiencies, file appropriate charges against (then) Governor Joel T .Reyes, Vice-Governor David Ponce-De Leon, members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and the Provincial Administrator x x x”.

While Dr. Gerry’s dedication to the preservation of the environment was in fact notable, police authorities should not discount the involvement of these local officials as masterminds in his murder. I, together with many Palawenos, believe that ultimately, it is these local elected officials of Palawan who may have the motive to silence Dr Gerry.

As of the writing of this column, it has been reported that the gun used for the murder is registered in the name of the former provincial administrator of former Governor Reyes.

Dr. Gerry was first and foremost, one of my closest friends. I will miss him. Already, I miss his weekly phone patch during his daily broadcast in the local affiliate of RMN in Palawan. Ironically, Doc Gerry took over the slot of another broadcaster, Dong Batul, who himself was murdered.

Perhaps it is high time that President Noynoy Aquino once and for all take back his earlier pronouncement and marching orders to Secretary Leila De Lima to run after tax cheats and smugglers as a matter of his highest priority. Please, please: it’s high time that this administration, swept into power on a platform of change, should now accord the highest priority to investigating, prosecuting and punishing the killers in our society.

The Center for International Law, of which I am the chairman, that stood as counsel for Doc Gerry and KLM, and as an advocacy group that seeks to promote freedom of expression, condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent murder of Doc Gerry as yet another affront on freedom of the press. We call upon President Aquino to spearhead an investigation into his death, even if some of those who may want to see Doc Gerry dead happen to be his party mates.


The bomb attack on a passenger bus along EDSA has highlighted anew the country’s inability to deal with modern-day terrorism. Part of the problem is not that we do not have sufficient legal infrastructure to deal with terrorism, as in fact we do, including the dreaded Human Security Act that I have consistently criticized as being inconsistent with our human rights obligations; but that we do not have a working justice system to effectively investigate and punish terrorist.

Recall that when world class bomber, Al Ghozi, was apprehended and detained in Camp Crame, the notorious bomber, probably not liking his food ration, simply walked out of his detention cell. Ironically, it has also been reported that our government created the dreaded Abu Sayaff terrorist group and that the past dispensation allowed our territory to be used as a training ground by the Jemiah Islamiah and other terrorist groups.

In like manner that a working criminal justice system is the panacea to the malaise of extralegal killings, the same is also the panacea to the problem of terrorism. Absent a working legal system, what we will continue to have is more of what we see every day: the streets of Manila and the Philippines reduced into a jungle where lawlessness and terrorism prevail. Will anyone please tell me: who’s in charge here?

Pray for you lives and be safe

The recent death and burning of used car dealers Emerson Lozano and Venzon Evangelista highlight anew President Noynoy Aquino’s most pressing challenge: the restoration of the rule of law. I have said it before and will say it again: these killings are happening because of a lack of political will to make the criminal justice system work. Unless P-Noy recognizes the gravity of the problem and take bold and decisive moves to overhaul the system, no Filipino will be safe.
There should be no difference if the victim is killed because he is a political activist, journalist, or everyday folk. These killings are happening because their perpetrators are not apprehended, prosecuted and punished. Already, the reasons for this impunity are very clear: all the pillars in our criminal justice system are defective and require through overhauls.

First, our police apparently do not know how to investigate. A recent newspaper report indicated that 8 out of 10 of our policemen handling police investigations lack formal training and skills. Even prior to the release of this report, doctor Raquel Fortun, in her lectures on the investigation and prosecution of extralegal killings sponsored by the Center for International Law, complained that existing PNP investigation protocols ask police investigators to identify the suspect first before they are asked to gather evidence. In other jurisdiction that are able to punish killers, the procedure would be to gather evidence first, particularly physical evidence, or the type that does not lie, before they identify the suspect. Worse, in addition to lack of skill, our police of late have become notorious for being criminals themselves instead of being their pursuers. The 62 policemen indicted for the Ampatuan massacre, Sr. Inspector Jose Binuyag and his colleagues at the Asuncion Community Police precinct of the torture video notoriety, and PO 3 Antonio Bautista, who was accused of raping a detainee for vagrancy at the police station itself, are only some of the notorious policemen who have spurned public indignation.

Two, there is the National Prosecution Service with its 19-percent conviction rate. Part of the problem is that cases are lost due to sloppy police investigations. And yet, despite the knowledge that this is partly to blame for its dismal conviction rate, public prosecutors are altogether averse to involving themselves in police investigations despite existing executive orders compelling them to do so. One would think that if inept investigation is the problem, then the involvement of lawyers should be the solution. But no, our prosecutors will continuously invoke their alleged status as quasi-judicial posts as justification for their refusal to be involved in police investigations. One former American federal prosecutor, Christine Chung, also formerly a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, did not mince her words. In her view, the problem is that Filipino prosecutors are lazy. Full stop.

Three, there is the Judiciary. While our judges today could no longer complain of being underpaid, as in fact, their salaries today, courtesy of recent legislation and allowances from the local government units, are now almost at par with lawyers from the private sector; still, their pay hikes have not been accompanied by a corresponding improvement in their overall efficiency. Judges continue to hear cases at snail pace oblivious to the state obligation to finish the trial of cases involving extralegal killings with dispatch.

Finally, there is the citizenry who have either become jaded and hopeless, on one hand; or have completely lost all belief on the rule of law, turning instead to vigilante killing as the preferred means to maintain peace and order. This is prevalent in areas where vigilante killings are more of the norm rather than the exception. Davao City is one such place where ordinary folks have learned not only to accept the death squads. More alarming is the fact that they have become supportive of such groups.

How should P Noy deal with this single most pressing challenge? Well, he can begin by acknowledging that there is in fact a problem. After which, he should redefine his priorities in the justice front from running after tax cheats and smugglers, as he has asked Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to do; to making the investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of these killings as his absolute priority. Anything short of this would only strengthen the culture of impunity that already exists in our land.

Meanwhile, dear readers : pray for your lives and try to be safe.

Cha-cha, anyone?

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno had very controversial submissions the other day. The occasion was the conferment on him of the Doctor of Laws Degree, Honoris Causa, which was yesterday’s highlight of the centennial celebration of the country’s and Asia’s premier law school, The College of Law of the University of the Philippines. According to […] More →

Airport robbery II: The P2-billion loss

I was dismayed that President Aquino, through his spokespersons, has turned out to be the loudest defender of his predecessor fromer President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the dirty airport deal. Terminal 3 become a dirty deal for two reasons: one, if the German investors are to be believed, their Build-Operate-Transfer Contract was allegedly cancelled by the […] More →