By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The Rule of Law
posted 3-Jul-2016  ·  
4,154 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

The issue last week of this paper bannered the question “DOJ policy on ‘detention’ harming anti-drug efforts?”  This was prompted by the reported release from detention of an arrested drug suspect by Assistant Prosecutor Emmanuel Pelea who conducted an inquest investigation and found that delivery of the arrested person to the authorities was beyond the period fixed by law. The same news item also mentioned that the head of the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office herself, Provincial Prosecutor Mary Jane Zantua, released in an earlier case another suspected drug suspect for the same reason. In ordering the Catanduanes police to release suspects arrested in anti-drug operations, the prosecutors allegedly relied upon DOJ Department Circular No. 50-A which provides additional guidelines on the application of the periods in Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code on the delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities. The circular was intended “to advance the rule of law especially the constitutional guarantee against deprivation of liberty without due process of law.” The department said the circular reinforced the protection of arrested person by emphasizing that authorities who detain a person arrested without warrant and without filing charges in court after the lapse of 12, 18 and 36 hours after his arrest, depending on the gravity of crime committed are criminally liable.

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In my humble opinion, the Prosecutors did the right thing in releasing the suspects in obedience to the department circular, thereby upholding the rule of law. Needless to say, public prosecutors not only prosecute cases against suspected criminals. Over and above their duty as lawyers for the government in criminal cases is their higher duty to promote justice and the rule of law. Not losing a single case in court is not the yardstick by which a good prosecutor is measured. Not unlike all other lawyers, a trial lawyer’s worth is measured not on the percentage of cases won, but on his scrupulous observance of the demands of law and justice in the cases handled by him.

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But what is the meaning of “Rule of Law”? The Oxford English Dictionary has defined "rule of law" this way: The authority and influence of law in society, esp. when viewed as a constraint on individual and institutional behavior; (hence) the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt summed it up in these words: “No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it.”

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Rule of Law is not a modern concept. The ancient Greeks initially regarded the best form of government as rule by the best men. Plato advocated a benevolent monarchy ruled by an idealized philosopher-king, who was above the law. Plato nevertheless hoped that the best men would be good at respecting established laws, explaining that, "Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state."  Aristotle advocated the rule of law by opposing the wield of power by the highest officials beyond guarding and serving the laws. It was thought that it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens. If it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws. According to the Roman statesman Cicero, "We are all servants of the laws in order that we may be free." 

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Sadly, there is always a way for the law of the jungle to prevail. Through the succeeding centuries, despots, kings and dictators wielded absolute powers -- themselves above the laws with which they clobbered the weak into submission. After all, the king is law. It took generations and enormous amount of sacrifices to subvert the traditional Latin phrase rex lex ("the king is law") into the formulation lex rex ("the law is king"). Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet Common Sense that "in America, the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other." In 1780, John Adams enshrined this principle in the Massachusetts Constitution by seeking to establish "a government of laws and not of men." In the end, a Bill of Rights was incorporated in the U.S. constitution which has been incorporated in all Philippine fundamental laws as well as, now, in Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

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The Bill of Rights guarantees the right of an accused to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.  The Supreme Court, had occasion to state in a 2010 case, thus: “The role of the Constitution cannot be overlooked. xxx The Constitution is the basic and paramount law to which all other laws must conform and to which all persons, including the highest officials of the land, must defer. Constitutional doctrines must remain steadfast no matter what may be the tides of time. It cannot be simply made to sway and accommodate the call of situations and much more tailor itself to the whims and caprices of government and the people who run it.” In an earlier case the SC held: "The constitutional presumption of innocence is not an empty platitude meant only to embellish the Bill of Rights. Its purpose is to balance the scales in what would otherwise be an uneven contest between the lone individual pitted against the People of the Philippines and all the resources at their command. Its inexorable mandate is that, for all the authority and influence of the prosecution, the accused must be acquitted and set free if his guilt cannot be proved beyond the whisper of a doubt. That mandate shall be enforced."

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CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: For as long as there are government prosecutors like Atty. Mary Jane Zantua and Atty. Emmanuel Pelea who have the courage to act according to the rule of law without fear or favor, there is hope for the justice system in this province. 

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