Press Release
February 21, 2020


The reality of lawfare does not operate in a vacuum. It operates within a system of justice and institutions that are inherently weak, and oftentimes inutile. Close to 30% of our country's courts have no judges. 40% of our prosecution positions in the Department of Justice, 40% vacant. No criminal case can be heard without the presence of the public prosecutor. Which is to say, therefore, up to a certain extent, 40% of your cases are not being heard or being heard so slowly.

It takes some five years at the minimum for a case in the first level courts to be adjudicated and disposed with. Tell me: Can a poor afford a lawyer for five years? Conviction rates and corruption cases in the country is estimated at less than 30%. Compare that to 80% of Hong Kong, and close to 90% in Japan.

Our judicial system has been in chronic crisis. It is unable to serve the vast majority of our citizens. Close to 85% of whom earn P30,000 a month or below. P30,000 a month or below means kapag ikaw ay nagkasakit, you are reduced to poverty. Kapag ikaw ay naaksidente, you are reduced to poverty. Income that is severely inadequate and will lead to immediate and certain penury, should illness or injury or calamity befall.

It is a justice system that is accessible only to a handful. When a justice system is merely nonexistent on an overwhelming number of the population, it cannot hope to marshal support for and expect respect for, the rule of law. It is a system of justice that is inherently weak, serves the interest of a very few, and as such is vulnerable to manipulation and machinations of a few to the detriment of the many.

This is the setting in which lawfare becomes possible. Its seeds are from a dysfunctional and antiquated system of justice that has become more or less irrelevant or worse, a stumbling block, to nearly 8 out of 10 or more of our citizens.

It is a system that is callously undemocratic and horribly anti-poor. If you liken a country into a computer system, the justice system is the country's operating system. While health, education, investments would be its software. No matter what the software, if the operating system does not work, the entire system will not work. If meaningful access to the operating system is limited to a few, the rest given token access if at all, how sustainable can that system be? Unsustainable, weak, unworkable, prone to abuse. And this is where lawfare is able to thrive.

We are facing mass murder. Some will call it EJKs, some will call it killings, but it is mass murder. In the context of what is happening today, we have to ask ourselves: Where do we stand in the face of mass murder? And where does the law stand in the face of mass murder? I share the view of Atty. Pacifico Agabin [former dean, College of Law, University of the Philippines-Diliman]: The law precisely can be used as a weapon. And it has been used as a weapon for the last three years.

I recall, if i'm not mistaken, it may be, was it Sentor Diokno who said it, that when the levers of power are concentrated on a few, justice and the rule of law are not necessarily synonymous. In a system of justice that is dysfunctional, lawfare will thrive.

Strategically, we have to modernize our justice system. Strategically we have to increase our judiciary budget. The combined budgets of the DOJ and the judiciary is not even 2% of our P4.1 trillion budget. We must increase our conviction rates. We must reduce the shelf life of cases in our courts. We must fill up the vacancies in our courts, in our prosecution service, to speed up the system of justice.

Mass murder was made possible precisely because the system of justice has not been able to punish more and punish swiftly. And it will not go away unless we address that squarely.

The call to action is that democracy is not a spectator sport. If I'm not mistaken, it was the Director Michael Moore who said that democracy is not a spectator sport. We are all participants in this democracy. We must stand up. We must have our voices heard. We must speak out.

Martial Law, during my time when I was a student like many of you here many years ago, was legal. The Supreme Court said so. But we opposed it anyway because it was unjust.

In the end, public anger, righteous indignation expressed in mobilized and organized manner is still the most lethal antidote to tyranny and abuse.

In the end, many of you are students here, in the academe. I remember my own daughter Frankie. Among the millennials, I'm known now as Frankie's father rather than she being my daughter. I was an activist in the Marcos regime during the Marcos dictatorship. Now I understand how my father felt.

Frankie has been subjected to bashing, trolling, even death threats because of her outspokenness in the last several months. But I guess she is her father's daughter. But in her, I see the hope. In her, I see that there is hope for our nation. Among you, the young people, students and youth, you will take up the cudgels and defeat tyranny and abuse.

Magandang umaga po sa kanilang lahat at maraming salamat.

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