HOWIE SEE IT: Truth Versus Trial By Publicity

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

Is a trial by publicity an aid or an impediment to justice? While one could understand the need of the family, and even the public, to receive immediate and swift accountability due to the initial reports detailing horrendous crimes, a competent investigation cannot be completed if distorted truths run amok. Neither should our collective anger, however righteous, blind us from protecting the constitutional rights of the accused. In lieu of a mob rule, I ask that we continue to follow the rule of law – not when it is only convenient for us. The persons of interest should indeed be interrogated, but we would be doing Christine Dacera a grave disservice if we call for the punishment of the wrong individuals. It is only through a proper investigation that the guilty will be exposed. Cases are solved, and justice achieved, by evidence and not by conjectures. Judgments are not passed by social media, but rather competent courts of law. Sadly, a trial by publicity adds to the confusion.

As we begin to establish the facts, we must remember to not be quick to accuse. Though reports are now coming to light determining “healed lacerations”, social media is, again, all too conclusive of their own determination of the facts. It must be noted that the absence of semen and healed lacerations is not conclusive of the non-occurrence of rape. The Court has previously held in People v. Rodolfo Bato that “the presence or absence of spermatozoa is immaterial in a prosecution for rape. The important consideration in rape cases is not the emission of semen but the unlawful penetration of the female genitalia by the male organ.” Neither are the presence of bruises definitive of rape. The public’s involvement in this case has led to a multitude of speculations, including the sexual orientation of some of the persons of interest; it must be emphasized that rape is not about sexual orientation, rather an abuse of power. While we refrain from making a judgment of guilt, we must also refrain from making an absolute judgment of innocence. It is unfair to both parties to draw conclusions this early on, as justice is obtained by the truth – not by persecuting the innocent.

As the facts begin to be brought to light, we must remain vigilent; even cctv footage cannot tell a whole story. Whatever videos released are only a snapshot of the moment. and not the whole picture of the events that day. Without the facts and explanations from people present, it can be inconclusive. For all the conclusions being made in the media, it is also noteworthy that, since there is no actual evidence of what occurred in the hotel rooms, the factual and evidence gathering is far from over. The independent investigations must continue, outride of the influence of the trial by publicity, in order for the prosecution to fully lay out all facts and determine what the case -and crime- is.

What’s incredibly distressing is seeing how determined the PNP was to declare the case as “solved”, without any autopsy or verified reports. How can the persons of interests already be in jail based on “provisional” charges when the crime or cause of death has not been determined and thus, there is no obligation for the persons of interest to surrender? Has there already been a determination that the crime is murder, having some inclination that there was intent done by the perpetrator/s? Or are the facts still coming to light. It is worth mentioning that murder without intent boils down to homicide and, when charging the suspects, we should ensure it is founded on truth and scientific evidence rather than the PNP’s gossip-mongering.

The witch-hunt -by the very man who consistently breaks quarantine regulations with his mañanitas and family parties- only shows how weak the PNP’s grasp of our laws and procedures is. No one is above the rule of law in the pursuit of justice, and neither should the constitutional rights of the persons of interest be disregarded. Without a warrant, and without an established crime, there is no need to give reward money for persons of interests, as it only adds confusion to an already frustrated public.

Though it is true that the suspects will, in court, have the initial advantage of the presumption of innocence, it is not the public or media’s duty to try the facts. Having handled many sensational cases myself, on both ends of the spectrum, I’ve seen that the perception of the media is only an additional obstacle to justice. The truth always unravels, and justice does prevail, but unverified reports never benefits either party. Though there is a chance that the suspects named in this case are guilty, until it is proven in court we must give them the due process that every Filipino is granted through our Constitution.

As we advocate against those that produce, and embolden, fake news, we too must do our part by refusing to call for punishment based on unverified and sensationalized reports. The nefarious circumstances of this case, and our subsequent anger and frustration, is all too easy for agents of injustice to take advantage of. It is now that we must pray for truth, not for publicity.

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