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San Juan Gossip Mills Outlet

A veritable fanatic of the Internet. His avocation is teaching while his main vocation is practicing the much maligned law profession. Currently teaching Constitutional Law at the FEU Institute of Law and a guest lecturer at the De La Salle University teaching "Freedom and Regulation in Cyberspace" in the Graduate Program of the Department of Communication. He is married to his beautiful Ateneo law school classmate and is blessed with a daughter and a son.

Location: San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Thicket Of Laws

I was browsing through Inq7.net and I chanced upon an article on the arraignment of Dinky Soliman in the Php20 Million libel case filed by Congressman Marcoleta.

If I got the article right, the judge in that case refused to act on Dinky’s Motion to Quash (on the ground that the facts do not constitute an offense) until she enters a plea. As a result, the public prosecutor entered, on her behalf, a plea of not guilty, despite objections from Dinky.

There seems to be a twisted application of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.

Under Section 1 of the Rule 117, an accused may move to quash the information at any time before entering a plea (presumably, a not-guilty plea). The reasons for quashing the information before plea are (1) there are formal or substantive defects in the information that may result to an amendment, re-filing or dismissal of the information, thereby obviating the need to be arraigned; and (2) once a plea is entered, certain grounds for a Motion to Quash are deemed waived (in this case, Dinky’s motion would have been waived)

It has been a procedural practice that once a Motion to Quash is filed, that takes precedence over the arraignment stage where Dinky is supposed to plead not guilty. That is one of the legally permissible strategies provided for in the Rules, not so much to delay the criminal proceedings but to afford the prosecution the opportunity to correct itself and set right its case and/or to provide the accused some semblance of swift justice.

And procedurally and precisely for reasons stated above, the motion is always decided beforehand and before arraignment. But somehow, in Dinky’s case, the good judge gave short shrift to Dinky’s Motion to Quash and insisted on her arraignment. I could not fathom why the judge would do that. Dinky is not a fugitive from justice, she is not an escaped detention prisoner, she did not commit a heinous impeachable offense like cheating in the elections, she is a known personality, who unlike the supremely coward of a Rotarian, Joc Joc Bolante, is willing to face the music, however “undanceable” the steps are. So, the haste upon which her case has progressed has undoubtedly raised not a few eyebrows.

While we are aware that Motions to Quash can be abused to death by the accused, the fact stands that our remedial laws do provide this legal remedy. To the minds of the drafters, an abuse of the rules on the motion to quash is insignificant compared to a situation where the taxpayer’s money would have been spent and wasted convicting an accused only to realize that there was error and defect in the case in the first place.

In Dinky’s case as in so many others, the judge should have deferred the arraignment of Dinky and act on the Motion first. At the risk of sounding redundant, there is no rhyme or reason to fast track Dinky’s arraignment since she is no felon. Why the haste then? Your guess is as good as mine.

This reminds me of Thomas More’s lines in Robert Bolt’s play “A Man For All Seasons” for the law to be evenhanded, even to the worst of criminals, not because justice must be provided them but out of fear that without law, the devil will come back to haunt him.

To Roper, a sycophant, he explains: “Oh, and when the last law was down, and the devil turned on you, where would you hide, Roper, all the laws being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, man's laws not God's, and if you cut them down -- and you're just the man to do it -- do you really think that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the devil the benefit of the law, for my own safety's sake.

It would do well for the good judge to remember that.


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