MALIGAYANG KAARAWAN, KASAMANG DONG!
CONTEMPLATING TRIAL BY JURY IN OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
(Speech of Rep. V. Dennis M. Socrates in the House of Representatives, 22.V.2011)
Mr. Speaker, may i be heard on a matter of personal and collective privilege: this is about our personal security, protecting the lives of citizens—and for that matter, of politicians—and the apparent inadequacy of our criminal justice system in that regard.
It bothers this representation, Mr. Speaker, that two of my best friends have already been killed, murdered, as victims of what were obviously political assassinations. I am referring to Fernando “Dong” Batul, a former Vice-Mayor of Puerto Princesa City, who was felled by assassins’ bullets on the morning of May 22, 2006; and to Dr. Gerardo Ortega, a former Provincial Board Member of Palawan, who was gunned down very recently, on the morning of January 24, 2011.
Much has been made of the fact that both Dong Batul and Doc Gerry were hard-hitting, courageous, and idealistic broadcasters; but, yes, they were also politicians—in a very real sense, our colleagues in this noble calling of politics, of public governance.
Dong Batul was like a younger brother to this representation. He and i were running mates in the 2001 elections in which he was elected as Vice-Mayor; and I, as Mayor of Puerto Princesa City.
We were also almost simultaneously unseated without completing the three-year term of office: Vice-Mayor Dong Batul by way of an election protest; and i by way of a recall election. Together, Dong Batul and i ran again for our former positions in the 2004 elections, and, after losing together, we co-hosted a radio show until his tragic, untimely demise.
Yesterday, May 22, 2011, was the fifth anniversary of Dong Batul’s assassination; and tomorrow, May 24, would be his forty-second birthday, and so i wish to take this opportunity as well to greet Dong Batul a happy dies natalis in his present heavenly abode.
But the point in invoking this privilege of being heard by this august chamber and by our nation, the substance of my gripe, is that the gunman who was charged with the murder of Dong Batul was acquitted.
Days after the assassination of my friend, former Vice-Mayor Dong Batul, several witnesses came forward to testify that they saw the actual shooting incident and knew and could identify one of the two gunmen who murdered Dong Batul. That one whom they knew and could name was Police Officer Aaron Golifardo.
Based on the sworn statements of these witnesses, an Information was filed in the Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa City, docketed as Criminal Case No. 21309, entitled “People of the Philippines, plaintiff, versus PO1 Aaron Golifardo and John Doe, accused”, for Murder.
Trial proceeded only against PO1 Golifardo because the co-accused John Doe was never found nor his true name ascertained. This representation was one of the panel of private prosecutors in the proceedings representing the family of the late Dong Batul; that is, until i assumed this present position as a humble member of this august body.
The defense took the line of alibi. Surprisingly, and to the mind of this representation, unfortunately, despite positive identification by eyewitnesses whose credibility were unimpeached, in a judgment promulgated very recently, while we were on recess, decision was rendered acquitting Police Officer Golifardo of the charge.
Mr. Speaker, i am not complaining about the acquittal of Police Officer Golifardo, nor against the judge who rendered the decision. Nevertheless, based on knowledge from my direct participation in the proceedings, i think that the outcome should have been a conviction rather than an acquittal—a thinking which i know is shared by many.
But like all acquittals, that judgment is immediately final and executory and not appealable, because of the constitutional right of the accused not to be twice placed in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. Thus, to revisit here the merits of that case would be like crying over spilled lugaw. What is more worth our while is to consider the possibility of adopting the institution of “trial by jury” in our criminal justice system.
Under the present state of Philippine law, the judge presiding over a case decides “questions of fact”, based on the evidence, as well as “questions of law”, based on his technical knowledge and interpretation of existing statutes and jurisprudence. But, as the example of the Dong Batul murder case shows, such a decision arrived at by the judge hearing the case can leave in its wake widespread feelings of dissatisfaction and a sense that justice was not done. The judge may also be vulnerable—unfair though it may be—to suspicions that his judgment was motivated by considerations other than an honest and competent appraisal of the facts, based on evidence, and of the law and jurisprudence applicable.
On the other hand, in a system of trial by jury, at least for purposes of this present discussion, the judge will continue to decide questions of law as they may arise in the course of the proceedings, based on his technical knowledge and understanding of law and jurisprudence. But the questions of fact, which depend on a human, subjective, appraisal of the evidence presented, will be decided by a jury, that is, a previously empanelled group of ordinary citizens, after discussing and deliberating among themselves towards achieving unanimity—especially regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused.
In the not so distant past, discussions among the bench and bar regarding the merits of adopting a system of trial by jury ended up dismissing the idea as not feasible because: a) the average citizen is supposedly not politically mature enough to be entrusted with determining the guilt or innocence of the accused in a criminal case; and b) because of the time, effort and expense that selecting and maintaining a jury would cost during the trial period.
To the contrary, this representation submits that: a) if the average citizen is deemed politically mature enough to decide who will represent him in this august chamber, the average citizen is certainly capable of determining the guilt or innocence of the accused in a criminal case; and b) considering the immense time, effort and expense cases already cost at present, the additional costs, if any, net of savings on shorter deliberation-time, would only be marginal or negligible. But we would then have the satisfaction of knowing that the evidence were seen and evaluated, and the guilt or innocence of the accused discussed and deliberated-upon, by and among a group of persons interacting as citizens conscious of civic duty, of justice, and of the common good.
It is also the submission of this representation that while a lot of people might think that juries were composed of twelve persons in all criminal cases, the number need not be that many: we can perhaps have a jury of six persons; and the mandated trial-by-jury can be limited, at least initially, to heinous crimes or to criminal cases where the imposable penalty were reclusion perpetua, life imprisonment, or death.
As i end, Mr. Speaker, i exhort our distinguished colleagues to consider and reflect upon the possibility of adopting a system of trial by jury in criminal cases, towards eventually passing a measure that would make the outcome of criminal trials less dependent on the subjective dispositions of the individual judge and more satisfactory to the public, to the political community as a whole.
Maligayang bati sa iyong kaarawan, Kasamang Dong!
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, thank you, distinguished colleagues.