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The show is over; bow now to justice

(Article Published in the Rappler, Aug 6,2014)

The 3 senators accused of plunder in the pork barrel scandal refuse to enter any plea. What's the reason for this seeming conspiracy?

Pogi, Sexy and Tanda have all been arraigned for plunder by the relevant divisions of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan and each one has refused to enter any plea. What's the reason for this seeming conspiracy?

The long answer is conspiracy this is not; each one, however, has interjected before his arraignment various proceedings, all of which essentially question the Sandiganbayan's authority to proceed. Hence, they each argue the need to resolve those proceedings first before they can be arraigned.

The short answer: showbiz; all for show.

For lawyers, especially those who appear in criminal cases, arraignment is better over and done with, although in fact, it is a serious and solemn stage in the court proceedings that by nature requires respect.

Arraignment occurs only in criminal cases, even if the crime charged is only petty theft. It is not done in a civil case, irrespective of how valuable the property being fought over might be, and also no matter how high in the social ladder or money tree the contending parties might be perched.

In a criminal case itself, arraignment is one of the very few stages that cannot be dispensed with. And it is among the fewer still instances that need to be conducted in the personal presence of the accused and with his or her personal participation.

The most that the accused lawyers can do for the accused is, like lay ministers giving out the Host, tell the one person involved, the accused, exactly what is just about to happen and what is expected of him or her. It is for the recipient to say, "Amen."

At the heart of the process of arraignment is the right of the accused "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him." This right has always been recognized in the Bill of Rights of all our fundamental laws, despite sweeping changes in the form of our government: from the 1935 Constitution (Art. IV, Sec. 17) to the Marcos Constitution of 1973 (Art. IV, Sec. 19) to Cory Aquino's Provisional Constitution of 1986 (by reference in Art. I, Sec. 1) and to the present Constitution of 1987 (Art III, Sec. 14(2)).

The accused is so informed not to satisfy his intellectual curiosity as to why the forces of the State had been mustered against him to the extent of temporarily restricting his right to go about his business undisturbed. Much less is its purpose to sadistically put the accused in a state of emotional aggravation so as to make him or her need medical attention.

The real purpose of telling the accused what he is charged of is to give him an opportunity to either admit as true the accusations against him or to deny them as false.

This process is what lawyers call "entering a plea"; the accused enters a plea of "guilty" if he admits the crime charged; or of "not guilty" if he denies.

To enable him to make an informed and honest plea, he must be arraigned in court and in the open ("in open court"), i.e. publicly. This is to remove any opportunity at that point for the State or its agents to intimidate him into accepting his guilt when, in fact, he is not guilty.

Clearly, Pogi, Sexy and Tanda each wanted to convey to PNoy that they each have no intention of making it easy for the prosecutors to demonstrate to the people that they stole their money. The prosecutors will have to drag them through every step to the gallows.

But Pogi, Sexy and Tanda, just as they were not the inventors of thievery, were not the originators of that tactic; Adam tried the same trick in Paradise to escape his stealing of the fruit. And the 3 divisions of the Sandiganbayan, well-seasoned as they are, were attuned to that. They simply entered for each of the 3 who had shown them no respect the plea of "not guilty."

So let the plunder cases now go on to trial. Let the cases take their course, no matter how meandering the routes may be to the wide and enfolding sea called Justice. – Rappler.com

       (Reynaldo "Gerry" Geronimo is a partner at the Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura Sayoc & De los Angeles law office. He is known as The Trust Guru and maintains a website, www.thetrustguru.com.)

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