The media bureau of leftist organizations went into overdrive following the offer of a P1-million bounty for the arrest of former lawmakers Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño, Rafael Mariano, as well as National Anti-Poverty Commission head Liza Maza, who were accused in 2006 of killing political rivals.
At a press briefing on Saturday, 4 August, Citizens’ Crime Watch (CCW) said it is offering as much as P250,000 each for information leading to the arrest of the four former congressmen.
Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said the bounty money was donated by former clients.
The CCW reward fund was offered following the 11 July arrest order issued by Presiding Judge Evelyn Turla of the Regional Trial Court in Palayan, Nueva Ecija after finding probable cause against the four accused.
Twelve years ago, complainants Mayumi Peralta and Isabelita Bayudang charged the four leftist leaders of conspiring to kill their husbands Jimmy Peralta and Carlito Bayudang in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
The reward offered by Topacio’s group earned the ire of several groups identified with the Left.
Gabriela Women’s Party branded it as a “cheap comedy show,” adding that it was an attempt to make up for the patently defective murder charges against the former lawmakers.
Human rights organization Karapatan, for its part, shared the statement of the Public Interest Law Center that accused Topacio of “indecently inciting people to take the law into their own hands” in violation of the lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility and the Lawyer’s Oath.
Lawyer Rachel Pastores, managing counsel of Public Interest Law Center and lawyer for the four former lawmakers, echoed the Gabriela statement, saying Topacio’s offer is “like a go signal for a free-for-all race for bounty hunters.”
Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights advocates, also condemned the bounty offer and went as far as accusing the Duterte administration of waging “political persecution” against the four former Makabayan representatives.
By employing their tried and tested tactic of vociferous protestations, these left-leaning groups obviously seek to reinforce their accusations against the government by drowning out the categorical statement of the Palace that it has nothing to do at all with the issuance of the warrants of arrest against the four accused.
At a press briefing last 31 July, presidential spokesman Harry Roque stressed that President Duterte would not have had any hand on the issuance of warrants based on the constitutional principle of separation of powers.
Likewise, Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra stressed during the department’s budget hearing Monday that it has no hand at all in the decision of the court to issue warrants of arrest against the four former lawmakers.
He also debunked allegations of selective prosecution against the DoJ.
“We have no such policy of identifying certain groups to be priority areas for prosecution as far as the DoJ is concerned we are ready to act on (the) complaint regardless of who the respondent may be,” Guevarra said.
What the supporters of the four accused conspicuously tried to skirt is the issue of respect for the court and the rule of law. Unless they can provide convincing evidence of the court’s bias as they alleged, their rhetoric is all sound and fury signifying nothing.
Maza even refused to heed the sound advice of Roque for her and her co-accused to present themselves to the court and prove their claim of innocence in accordance with the legal processes.
While indeed the case had languished for 12 long years it was by no means sufficient indication of any irregularity or bias. In fact, it is a common complaint that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow.
The decision of the four accused to pursue their ideological struggle within the bounds of the Constitution instead of using the force of arms is welcome. But that does not exempt them from the application of the law.
That reminds us of a campaign slogan adopted by a former police officer-turned politician: “The law applies to all, otherwise none at all.”