By Datu Zahir Meditar & Kennlee Orola
No one is above the law – unless you are the one imposing it, apparently.
At least, this is the case for the Philippines, where the law is unevenly implemented for the longest time. While people continue to suffer the consequences of the government’s inaction, we have high-ranking officials receiving leniency after they violated quarantine protocols. In these uncertain times brought by both the pandemic and incompetent governance, where dissenters are being silenced and poor families are being deprived of financial and relief assistance, it is saddening to note how flawed the justice system of our country truly is.
History has proven that the police, despite having insufficient basis, continue to impulsively arrest, even kill, anyone who they think disobeys the law. The state even had the temerity to tell the public that justice will temper the rigor of the law with human compassion; unfortunately, it seems that this only favors the ruling class. They are outright neglecting the fact that the real enemy of this pandemic is the virus, and not the people whom they are sworn to serve and protect.
The existence of double standards is an irritating reality that must be completely erased in the government. This awful principle has been deeply embedded in our society, sparking injustice. Double standards amplify the disparity of the rich and the poor, the oppressor and the oppressed, with how unjust our laws are crafted and enforced. It is clear that the laws we have are only convenient to the powerful few who are guarded by their riches and connections, enabling them to obtain greater advantages than most people.
In recent days, officials from the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) assembled to celebrate the birthday of their boss, Major General Debold Sinas, in Camp Bagong Diwa. Surfacing online are pictures of them not following the same protocols that they are mandated to enforce, causing uproar among concerned netizens. This is a clear violation of the Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan Act, since they obviously disobeyed simple necessary health measures and protocols as the photos posted by the PIO NCRPO in Facebook showed individuals not wearing face masks, seated in decorated chairs with ‘social distancing’ measures absent. Packs of food and alcoholic beverages can also be seen on the tables.
This is a prime example of how double standards are evident among the elites. Ironically, they are the same authorities who constantly order the public to stay home, avoid social and mass gatherings, and to strictly follow safety measures. When an ordinary citizen is not wearing a mask outdoors, or when volunteers simply conduct relief operations, the police single-handedly arrest them immediately, but the law eventually disappears if the ones mandated to impose and enforce this are violating it. Due process seems to be favoring only them, not the people.
For two months of attempting to curb the virus, the government seems to depend much more on its police and military, upholding draconian measures by strict lockdown actions and arresting individuals. As if the lack of mass testing and contact tracing isn’t bad enough, the uniformed personnel of this administration has the audacity to abuse their power to the extremes through imposing aggressive punishments to quarantine violators.
Disturbingly, they’re desperately cleaning up their mess by stating that those pictures were just edited. An officer even had the guts to say to the media that those pictures were taken last December, when in fact the pictures show that many of whom were already wearing face masks.
The PNP chief defended Sinas by stating that it was not a birthday party, but rather a mañanita, when in fact there was already a published post on their page of the party, but was already deleted after the public’s uproar. Their inconsistency manifests because of their unconnected narratives, exposing so much of their substandard actions in handling this pandemic.
Since the implementation of the militarized lockdown, the national government showed us its fair share of selective justice, dealing some cases with compassion and most with aggression. Even quoting “Dura lex sed lex” — “It is harsh, but it is the law.”
Last April 21, Army Corporal Winston Ragos was shot dead by a police officer in Quezon City for alleged disobedience on quarantine rules. PNP Chief Police Gen. Archie Gamboa then backed his men as he viewed the incident as a threat to his officers. Other high ranking PNP officials said that it was a case of self-defense. The family and witnesses, however, believed otherwise saying the bag only had IDs and a water bottle. The QCPD still strongly affirmed that they found a 38 caliber in his bag.
In line with disobeying quarantine guidelines, Mocha Uson gathered 322 OFWs in a resort on Lian, Batangas to check their situation. This is despite the national directive that prohibited mass gatherings and observance of strict social distancing protocols. As we know of, Uson has her way of clearing all her mess. Harry Roque in a press briefing said that Malacañang will not decide on her fate, easily turning a blind eye on yet another admin ally.
The authorities are rather unforgiving for Ronnel Mas, a public school teacher who went viral online and was arrested for tweeting ill against the president through a hyperbolic statement. The NBI was quick enough to respond to the situation, arresting Mas without a warrant of arrest. He was even humiliated online and forced to confess a crime without the presence of his counsel of choice, which is a violation of his right to legal counsel. They argued that freedom of speech had its own restrictions, stating what he did was an act of sedition. It is uncanny how they badly treated people like Mas by publicly shaming him, while the president, on numerous occasions, gives massive threats and offensive remarks to the general public, especially the oppressed sectors. At a public health crisis where people are suffering and struggling to survive, he even orders his policemen to “shoot to kill” anyone who violates the protocols set by the government, instead of uplifting the spirits of the people by enforcing better medical solutions.
We can also recall how the same police force arrested innocent volunteers in relief operations during Labor Day.
Given the current political climate of the country, anyone who dares to oppose or critic the current government’s ways in controlling this public health emergency is a threat, may it be workers, farmers, or even youth leaders across the country. When will this culture of impunity end? At a time when we crucially need decent governance and proper medical solutions out of a pandemic that constantly challenges our consciousness as a nation, the state further worsens the entire situation through implementing unfair treatments and selective justice. If these strongmen, together with their allies and cronies, continue these crimes against the people, it is fair enough to conclude that the virus is not the only enemy here. Their lack of compassion and urgency are also slowly killing our people. Time will come for them to pay for all the debts of their sins.
Graphics by Aynrand Galicia