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Anarchy and the rule of law

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of the Supreme Court spelled out the role of the judiciary in our democratic government at the Meet the Press forum of the court last Thursday. That role, she said, is to “keep the social fabric intact, address the people’s cry for justice, and thereby prevent society’s descent to anarchy.”

Her words are a welcome reminder to all of us that we have this third pillar of government that we can turn to, during times when the two other pillars – the executive and the legislative – may seem prone to excesses in their pursuit of some great national goal.

The judiciary, she said, provides justice to the state and to victims of crime when there is evidence of guilt, and to those accused when there is none. It is the stronghold of the rule of law without which, she said, we will not survive as a nation.

The chief justice went into specifics on the trial of drug cases in the country. There are now a total of 128,368 drug cases pending in lower courts, she said; they make up about a fourth of the 439,606 total cases of all kinds pending in courts al over the country.

There have been delays in the trial of drug cases, she said, for three main reasons – the absence of police witnesses, the dearth of public prosecutors , and weak evidence. She said she had been informed by Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II that the department has vacancies for around 500 prosecutors and it may have to hire about 2,000 more. For its part, she said, the Supreme Court has already added 240 courts to those now trying drug cases.

The chief justice must have made special mention of drug cases in view of the ongoing anti-drugs campaign of the Duerte administration. At last count, it was brought out at the recent Senate inquiry, 1,160 suspects had been killed in police operations, 756 in probable vigilante actions, 11,784 had been arrested, and 673,978 pushers and users had surrendered.

The arrests and surrenders will certainly go to our courts which are already overloaded. As for the killings, it was probably with them in mind that Chief Justice Sereno stressed the “need to respect human dignity” and avert our descent to anarchy. “What will allow us to survive as a nation is the rule of law,” she stressed.

The next day, President Duterte repeated his earlier comment that warrantless arrests are allowed in some cases. But he assured: “There will be no anarchy under my watch.” On this issue, there should be no disagreement and the nation welcomes these declarations from two of the highest officials in the land.