We remain ruled, but by our own brothers

In our Criminal Law I class, we discussed Amy Rossabi’s “The Colonial Roots of Criminal Procedure in the Philippines.” Most of our laws were imposed on us by the Spaniards and then by the Americans, Rossabi said. The Americans improved on the justice system imposed by the Spaniards, but they did not introduce into the Philippines the system of jury trial, which would allow people to be tried by an impartial jury of their peers. One reason was that the Americans did not trust the Filipino public to make what, according to their standards, would be the right decisions.

This claim was supported by no less than then Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano, who said in a hearing before the US Secretary of War: “Even among the class of persons in these Islands who are fairly well educated, I do not believe that we could expect them to have the stability of judgment which would be necessary for them to pass fairly and justly upon the questions that a jury would have to decide.”

“American colonials feared that granting such constitutional rights as a trial by jury might challenge US control of the archipelago. Sanctioning trial by a jury of one’s peers would offer ordinary Filipinos the right to determine the outcome of legal cases independent of American overseers,” Rossabi wrote.

Until now, decades after we have declared ourselves free from our American and Spanish colonizers, we have kept much of their laws. And we have not introduced the jury system.

But that is because we have only changed the color of the skin of our rulers. Can you imagine what the verdict would have been if former President Estrada was tried by a jury whose members were picked at random from the population? How many would be willing to accept the wisdom of that jury’s decision?

Punishment is supposed to ensure that society functions according to certain agreed upon norms and standards. Those who do not behave according to the rules will be punished. But what if some people have different values? And what if there are more of them, but they are not the ones that run the country?

This disconnect between the people and those who rule them – as well as those who would rule them – explains the palpable fear during the 2004 elections that Fernando Poe Jr. just might win the presidential elections. This is why, every now and then, government officials say media must be controlled: because the people cannot be trusted to discern what is right from wrong. Unfortunately, it is also the underlying assumption for the need to organize the people. 

By themselves, on their own, the people do not know what is the right thing to do.

But if we cannot trust the people to make their own decisions, if we think of them as children instead of as citizens, ARE WE IN A DEMOCRACY?





3 Responses

  1. The jury system seems to be better than the system that we have at the moment (bench trial), but as I practice more, I become more convinced that having a jury might not be the for the best, not for the old reasons that you cite – such as having no faith in the Filipino – but for other reasons:

    a) We can’t afford a jury system.
    b) A jury system is prone to ad hominem arguments that put undue emphasis on choice of lawyer.
    c) The grass is always greener on the other side – we’ll be singing the praises of a bench trial if we ever do make that switch.

    First, finding a jury that can do what it is supposed to do is expensive. We do not have a dependable identification system to notify potential jurors that they are being called to serve. We do not have satisfactory housing for these people while they are serving jury duty. Nor do we have any space for them inside our courtrooms.

    A jury will stay in isolation for as long as necessary in evaluating the weight of evidence. In the meantime, they will have to be compensated financially. They must be able to serve without fear of losing work. What happens when the person summoned to jury duty is a seaman or similarly situated OFW?

    Second, a jury (even in the United States) is prone to ad hominem arguments. This is a major source of tort law reform in the United States, where awards for damages can skyrocket exponentially just because one lawyer is able to use courtroom drama to a better extent than the next guy. Here, battles are won and lost on paper. I doubt if questions of fact can be resolved better by such a system.

    Third, even when an award has been reached by a jury, most convicts will still insist on a bench-decided appeal to convict, overturn, or remand a judgment reached by a jury. This is because these trials do not need to explain why a case is decided a certain way. Remove court justifications for their decisions, and no one will ever get a sense that they got a fair shake.

    Take President Estrada’s Sandiganbayan verdict, which was read only in its dispositive – a choice made by President Estrada. The guilty verdict there would have put the lives of the jurors at risk precisely because these people would not need to explain why the former President is/was guilty of plunder. Contrast that with the Hubert Webb decision (which was read in full), and there’s more credibility there, at least in my perspective (even though I personally disagree with the weight given to particular testimony).

    This is not to say that the system is perfect. Systems should be subject to refinement to improve productivity and decrease downtime. However, just because a system seems to work somewhere else does not necessarily mean it will work here.

    My two cents. 🙂

  2. good points. i’m not ready to concede that there is no divide in philippine society, but there may be other reasons than the one that i cited. 🙂
    this time, you know more about the topic, not me, so i won’t argue. thanks for the comments, i hope you’ll check out the other law school notes i plan to post later (that way i get free tips! hahaha!)
    seriously, you have a good point. and they improve the discussion 🙂

  3. I am just wondering whery you got your source for the quoted lines by CJ Arellano. THanks.

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