"It doesn’t help if it even appears that some of us are more equal than others."
There was always something worrisome about the President’s practice of publicly shaming suspects even before they had been found guilty by a court of law.
This practice began with the President’s so-called narco-list, a roster of politicians—most of them mayors—who were alleged to be involved in the illegal drug trade. Although none of them had been convicted at the time, the President said he had sufficient evidence against them. Of course, because he held this evidence close to his chest, we were simply to take his word for it.
During one of these public shaming sessions of 44 politicians in March 2019, the President said a person’s right to privacy must be subservient to the higher right or calling of public interest.
“Freedom of expression, individual right, privacy and all…these things affect only one person. But the right to public interest, security matters, the right of a nation to exist must be paramount… Apparently, the time has come that we have to deal with the truth,” he noted.
He added that the “standards of ordinary justice” would be followed, and that administrative cases have been filed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government at the Office of the Ombudsman against the politicians on his narco-list.
The following month, the President revealed a different set of names, this time of journalists, lawyers, and even clergymen in a convoluted diagram that he called a matrix to illustrate a plot to oust him from office.
The jaw-dropping claim by the President’s spokesman at the time was that there was absolutely no need for the President to prove his ouster plot matrix.
“The matrix shows that there is an ouster plot. It is just a plot, a plan, an idea. The same is not actionable in court, it being just a conspiracy. Conspiracy is not a crime unless the law specifically classifies a particular conspiracy to undertake a project or actualize a plan as a crime,” said Salvador Panelo.
“It is only when the cases are filed in court that proof will be submitted to substantiate the criminal charges,” he added.
Yet the President’s allegations had repercussions on the reputation of the journalists and lawyers named. The police also announced they would investigate the people named in the “matrix”—but nothing ever came of these investigations simply because there was no ouster plot.
Against the backdrop of the President’s readiness to name names, it was unusual to see him declare that he would not name lawmakers who have been accused of engaging in corrupt practices in public works projects. In his anti-corruption drive—a campaign we all support—the President has twice read from a list of names of public officials who have been linked to official corruption.
The President said he is not shielding the lawmakers but says he has no jurisdiction over them, and that cases against them are better lodged with the Office of the Ombudsman. A Palace spokesman has added that the President did not name the lawmakers because he did not have enough evidence to do so.
These explanations seem reasonable, until we recall how the lack of evidence never stopped the President from linking journalists and lawyers to a non-existent plot to oust him.
As for jurisdiction, we also recall that a list of alleged narco-politicians released by the Presidential Communications Operations Office included three names of congressmen. If it was all right then to name lawmakers as being part of the illegal drug trade then, why is it suddenly wrong to name those who are accused of corruption?
We should all support the President’s campaign against official corruption, but it doesn’t help if it even appears that some of us are more equal than others.