By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
Breath of fresh air
posted 6-Sep-2015  ·  
4,774 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

The last issue of this paper brought a breath of fresh air. First is the news report that Catanduanes will soon be home to the largest and most modern catamaran-type waterjet passenger ferry in the Philippines. It is said to be similar to other high-speed catamarans in use around the country which have normally a cruising speed of 24 knots, or twice the speed of RORO ferries here. As one of the 1,107 islands of “Islas Filipinas” as the Spanish colonizers once called these pearls of the Orient Seas, Catanduanes needs this fast craft. In the absence of a bridge linking our island to mainland Luzon, the next best thing to have is a modern ferryboat which can ensure safe, reliable, efficient, adequate and economic passenger and cargo service.  Until the outbreak of the Second Global War, and especially during the Japanese Occupation, the sea craft that ferried Catandunganons to and from Albay was the venerable “paraw” or sailboat which was driven by the wind and by plain muscle power whenever the wind refuses to cooperate. Thereafter, since as far back as I can remember, the wooden lantsa with diesel engines emitting noxious fumes with millions of bedbugs infesting the “teheras”, was the only sea craft available. This remained to be so until quite recently, when ferry boats began ferrying passengers and cargoes to and from Virac and Tabaco, Albay. This is admittedly a big improvement. But the ferryboats serving Catanduanes are lumbering, second-hand boats better suited for the junk yards or for transporting cargoes, cars and trucks, than for ferrying passengers. Passengers from Catanduanes obviously need a faster and better ferry boat.

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Another breath of fresh air comes from Rosulo Manlangit, the columnist right beside me on this page. In his last column, Mr. Manlangit paid tribute to Sgt. Francisco Camacho Sr. who, he wrote, is an authentic Catandungeño whose bravery and courage are well recorded in Philippine military annals. However, he lamented that in the present day we hardly see the spirit of courage and sacrifice in Catandunganons. All we see are tendencies towards self-comfort or self-aggrandizement even in the midst of injustice, corruption in public office and excesses of those we select to lead us. We are a passive and submissive people who do not understand our rights in a free society; we pray everyday not for spiritual salvation or righteousness in the community but for moneyed candidates to join our elections: we sell our votes; we are the first to discourage future leaders, even heroes perhaps, from seeking public offices if they cannot put up the money to buy votes. He surmised that Sgt. Camacho and lately SAF officer Max Jim Tria may have a different story of heroism but it is not only in the battlefield that heroes stand out. In an environment of poverty, public corruption, ignorance and despair, and a developing culture of impunity, modern-day heroes can also be produced.

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Very well said. It is comforting to note that a fellow Catandunganon – an opinion-maker like myself – has taken notice. Indeed, heroism does not come only from the battlefields. It could come from unlikely places, like a place devastated by typhoon, a bus being held up by armed robbers, or even a remote mountain community of indigenous people with children remaining unlettered for lack of a school. It also comes from the courtrooms where legal “battles” are waged daily. Having studied the laws for more than half a century (at least since the year 1964 when I enrolled in law school), I know that many our fundamental or basic rights are still disregarded or trampled upon in the zeal of some government functionaries to rid our society of “criminals”. Those hapless individuals, like persons [even nursing mothers, I heard] dragged to court only because they happened to be in the place subject of a Search Warrant at the time of its implementation,  are not “criminals” until they are proven to be so. As our Supreme Court emphatically declared in a leading case: “Accusation is not, according to the fundamental law, synonymous with guilt. It is incumbent on the prosecution to demonstrate that culpability lies. Appellants were not even called upon then to offer evidence on their behalf. Their freedom is forfeit only if the requisite quantum of proof necessary for conviction be in existence. Their guilt must be shown beyond reasonable doubt. To such a standard, this Court has always been committed.” If the rights of the accused are routinely disregarded, they might be compelled, in some instances, to either opt to stay away from the judicial system, arm themselves and go to the mountains, or simply plead guilty to an offense they are not guilty of.

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If the people are off their guard, government functionaries who are grossly ignorant of the law [yes, Jose, many of them are in government] and ambitious, corrupt, and unscrupulous officials [ditto] will ingeniously and persistently encroach upon the rights of an unwary people, and will, finally, undermine the very foundations of democracy. It behooves the people under a free government to prosecute to the limit, without stint or favor, every person who attempts, in the slightest degree, to trample upon their rights under the forms prescribed by law. If punishment is not meted out speedily and severely upon those who rob the people of their individual rights, the result is generally a revolution in which the people again repossess themselves of the jewels of personal and political liberty, through blood and carnage. This bloodbath should never happen again. So, as a lawyer and a man of the law who eats, drinks, breathes, and thinks of the law a big chunk of his waking hours, this is my unsolicited advice to anybody who might care to listen: (a) Do not shy away from the legal system – it has been forged in the wisdom of great thinkers before us and tested in the crucible of human experience for centuries; (b) Do not go to the mountains – this government of the people, by the people, and for the people is too precious to exchange for any other form which does not respect individual liberties; and lastly, (c) Do not admit guilt of any crime which you can not swear to your own God of having committed. What one should do is to prosecute/file a complaint, or be a witness in cases filed by others against government officials who commit abuses or other excesses in their official acts. That is also heroism.

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