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Independence of judiciary goes on trial

MANILA (UCAN): In what is set to become a test of the separation of the powers of the judiciary and the administration, the families of victims of the purge being conducted against the poor of The Philippines in the guise of a war on drugs filed charges in court on March 14 against the police they believe murdered their relatives.

Father Gilbert Billena described their action as a test case that will show whether or not the Philippine judicial system can prove itself as being a reliable place of justice.

The Carmelite priest is the head of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a group that has been working to support the families of victims murdered by both the police and paid vigilantes, mostly among the poor of Manila’s shantytowns.

While at least 8,000 people dubbed suspects have been shot in the past eight months, some sources say that the real figure is well beyond 10,000.

Fifteen-year-old Angelito Soriano was shot in Bagong Silang on December 28 last year. “We are poor, but we dream of a complete and happy family,” his mother said outside the office of the Ombudsman in Manila when filing charges against the police.

Maria Kristina Conti, from the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said that the filing of the charges is not just a test case, but the beginning of what she anticipates will be a succession of charges against the police.

She added that more are being prepared by legal and Church groups, “as accountability from government forces must always be sought every time news of killings is heard.”

In early March, a survivor of an execution raid also filed murder charges against the police with the Ombudsman.

The charges stem from a raid in August last year when police fired on four men, but were clumsy, so while three of the four died, one lived to tell the tale.

Efren Morillo testified to the Ombudsman that the four were playing pool when they were arrested and forced to claim ownership of a plastic sachet containing a white substance the police were holding.

The police claim that they shot the men, armed only with a pool cue, in self-defence. However, the battle in the courts is not going to be simple, as an increasing number of groups are determined to continue filing charges and an equally determined president is steeling for a fight against the law.

In addition, his big election promise to act for the environment is being challenged, as a concerted attack on his secretary for the environment, Gina Lopez, who has won plaudits from environmental groups for her action against mining companies, has begun.

She was never going to be popular with the powerful mining interests and the Commission on Appointments has set new rules allowing secret voting among its members, just as Lopez is about to face a hearing.

It takes little imagination to know which way the money is flowing in this battle between presidential appointments and the body that is charged with verifying them.

“Clearly the selection process is tarnished with lack of transparency, particularly in the Gina Lopez case, with Commission on Appointment members with clear connection with the (mining) industry or supported by them,” Father Edwin Gariguez, from the National Secretariat for Social Action, commented.

However, another challenge is being made to the efforts of the president to usurp all power in the nation. The congress representative for Magdalo, Gary Alejano, has filed a 16-page impeachment application with the Office of the Secretary General.

Alejeno, who took part in two failed coup attempts against a former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in 2003 and 2007, said that he knows that his chances of succeeding are slim, especially in a congress where all office holders, who voted against the president’s pet Death Penalty Bill, were summarily ousted.

But Alejeno believes it is time to draw attention to the president’s illegal action with the police.

In his petition, he also documents what he says is evidence of corruption in the hiring of 11,000 ghost employees by Rodrigo Duterte when he was mayor of Davao, which netted him an estimated 2.2 billion pesos ($341 billion) for his hip pocket.

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