napoles scandal
Image source: philstar.com
CHICAGO – Philippine senators should not feel bad if Janet Napoles keeps her mouth shut when she finally shows up before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

If she chooses not to open her mouth, the “Queen of Pork Barrel” would just be exercising her right against self-incrimination. This right is enshrined in Section 17 of Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which declares, “No person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.”

Although the senators, who were linked to the P10-billion (US$238 million) scam masterminded by Napoles, may hate her for opting to remain silent, they would not be able to do anything to make her talk because she would be merely exercising a right available to everybody, including the senators themselves.

The senators may invoke Section 7 of Article III of the Constitution which vests in the people with the “right to information on matters of public concern” to compel Napoles to testify, this civil right plays second fiddle to Napoles’s civil right found in Section 14 (1) of Article III of the Constitution which provides, “No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.”

In the landmark Sheppard v. Maxwell case reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the court ruled that Sheppard’s conviction was the result of a trial in which he was denied due process.

The decision noted, among others, that a “carnival atmosphere” had permeated the trial, and that Trial Judge Edward J. Blythin had refused to sequester the jury, had not ordered the jury to ignore and disregard media reports of the case, and when speaking to newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen shortly before the trial started said, “Well, he’s guilty as hell. There’s no question about it.”

By choosing to be silent, Napoles is just following the Biblical message in Eccleiastes 3:1-15 which states, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.”

I would support the senators’ bid to compel Napoles to testify if she is not yet charged before a prosecuting body like the Ombudsman. With charges already filed against her by the Department of Justice, the senators will now have to defer to the authority of the Office of the Ombudsman which is tasked to find probable cause against her.

If the camp of Napoles does not object, I would suggest that the senators ask the Sandiganbayan to televise the trial against her like the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. But if Napoles objects, any motion to have her trial televised live would be dead in the water.

In preventing the Maguindanao massacre trial from having live media broadcast coverage, the Supreme Court held that “allowing the public trial will deprive him (defendant Andal Ampatuan) of his rights to due process, equal protection, presumption of innocence, and to be shielded from degrading psychological punishment.”

The Supreme Court also stated, “While this court recognizes the freedom of the press and the right to public information, which by the way are rights that belong to non-direct parties to the case, the rights of the direct parties should not be forgotten. In a clash among these competing interests and in terms of the values the Constitution recognizes, jurisprudence makes it clear that the balance should always be weighed in favor of the accused.”

Any violation of one’s civil and human rights could lead to the weakening of some of our basic independent institutions, like the judiciary, and this could only result in chaos.

Even corruption at high levels could spark a revolution. Remember the case of my friend, former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who was accused of plunder before the outbreak of the EDSA II Revolution which ousted him?

A birdie told me the unfolding corruption trial of the senators and congressmen could trigger a bloody EDSA III Revolution.

But I am telling this prophet of doom that as long as the senators let the system of checks and balances hold the three branches of government together, any talk of a bloody EDSA III Revolution by disgruntled Philippine military officers is premature and a mere figment of the imagination.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A native of Sorsogon, Philippines, he and his family now live in Chicago. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.

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