Monday, April 20, 2009

You Have the Right… Really?

To say that the events surrounding the Failon incident last week were alarming is an understatement. For those whose neurons are still on extended leave or buried under reality-displacing office work, one of last week’s biggest news was the death of Trinidad Etong, the wife of veteran broadcaster Ted Failon. Failon himself allegedly found his wife with a gunshot wound on her temple in a comfort room in their home. Etong died the following day, April 16, in the ICU of New Era General Hospital.

For the many of us who do not personally know Failon, it is not the incident itself that is the most disturbing. What made the hair on the back of my neck stand up more than the Exorcism of Emily Rose was the spectacular enthusiasm of the Quezon City police (QCPD). To quote Darth Raul (Gonzalez, a.k.a. the Justice Secretary) the police were only “doing their jobs” and were perhaps only a little “over-enthusiastic.” If the QCPD truly did define police enthusiasm last week, then I live in dread of living in the Philippines and we’re not even under martial law anymore.

Consider these facts:
  • Four house employees of Failon and two siblings of Etong were arrested for obstruction of justice without warrants. According to the QCPD warrantless arrests can be conducted for the offense. Some lawyers argue though that a legitimate warrantless arrest can only be performed when the individuals to be arrested are caught in the act. Ateneo Human Rights Center Executive Director Atty. Carlos Medina also says that the general rule for arrests calls for warrants but that in the Philippines, 90% of arrests are without warrants.
  • I may be watching CSI too much but isn’t the standard TV script for arresting American policemen the standard in the Philippines too? Aren’t suspects supposed to be told that they have the right to remain silent, blah, blah? Aren’t suspects allowed to raise eyebrows and declare that they want a lawyer when they are questioned? All of the individuals arrested were not informed of the Miranda rights. Pamela, the sister of Etong also revealed on national television that a policeman told her that she killed her sister for refusing to say anything when questioned.
  • Failon was also charged for obstruction of justice but was not immediately put behind bars. Obviously, Failon had a lawyer beside him most of the time. The household employees, a driver and housekeepers, were immediately put behind bars after being picked up by the police. That was despite the fact that a lawyer chattered shrilly around arresting police in behalf of the employees. That kind of makes you wonder how other poorer, less informed folks are handled.
  • Police complained about not being immediately informed of the shooting incident. Common sense will tell you that if you find a loved one bathing in a pool of her blood, your senses, common or other will promptly go down the drain. Any humane person’s first reaction will be to rush the wounded to the hospital. Telling the victim not to die yet because you have to call the police and inform the members of the household not to disturb evidence first will probably not occur to you.
  • Etong’s siblings were taken away by police while watching over their sister inside the hospital. Relatives begged the police not to do so yet because they wanted to be together with their sister who could die at anytime. Of course, you guessed it, police snubbed the request and went on ahead and arrested the siblings who were later released for lack of evidence. Their sister died while they were away.
  • The members of Failon's household were subjected to paraffin tests. According to Raquel Fortun who is one of the top forensic experts in the country, this is already an outmoded test. Only the Philippines and some third world countries continue to use it. The rest of the world knows it is highly inaccurate. According to Fortun, a UP experiment, in which 40+ participants who had fired guns were given paraffin tests, only two tested positive. Paraffin tests, she says, only add to the confusion.
I am not a legal expert so I am not qualified to make judgments on police actions. For the benefit of the doubt, I might even say that perhaps there really was a legal basis for some of what they did. But really, I still wonder if these are how things should really be done. If they could treat the family of a national figure that way, how much more us common folk? If Darth Raul says police did okay, then that’s just plain scary.

News Flash: According to the DILG the Etong case will be taken out of the hands of the QCPD and will be transferred to the NBI. What does that tell you?

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