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IN A lecture to law students of the University of Baguio, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen reportedly said that the Supreme Court is “not perfect… if you knew who we are, you will cease calling us gods” (“Leonen: SC not perfect,” News, 9/14/15). He added: It is “certainly your right as citizens and academics to religiously call attention to the fallibility of the courts… The Supreme Court should not be immune to public scrutiny. It should thrive on it.”
In other words, the good justice was saying, everyone should feel free to criticize their decisions as they certainly are not infallible—implying that the Court has an open mind. It was precisely in that spirit that I once “called attention” to a case involving a friend, a UP Diliman student then in his 20s, who, by the ponencia of Justice Leonen himself, was sentenced to life imprisonment on the sole testimony of a flip-flopping witness (“Court decision goes against common sense,” Opinion, 2/9/15). I emphasize “sole testimony” because no one else testified they saw my friend at the scene of the crime. Now in his late 40s, my friend continues to rot in jail.
Common sense tells us, non-lawyers, that when a witness says one thing moments after an incident and then says another days after (with all the time in the world to make up a story, assisted by lawyers prone to fabricating), his testimony is suspect and should hardly be the basis of “proof beyond reasonable doubt.” In the absence of any corroborative evidence, that testimony is worthless. In my friend’s case, that witness said right after the incident that he could not recognize any of the assailants; then five days later and after consulting with lawyers, he said he did recognize my friend as one of them!
“Jurisprudence” clearly holds that the sheer spontaneity of an utterance made right after the commission of a crime (i.e., without reflection on its consequence and without an opportunity to make up a different account) is regarded, “with a great deal of reason, as a guarantee of its truth” (People vs Sanchez, 1992), as against an account made after a clear opportunity to lie.
A classic example is given: The testimony of a police officer as to what a victim told him minutes after the alleged assault is more trustworthy than what the latter told the court to the contrary months later.
Loss of property or fortune by an unjust decision is something anyone can endure. But loss of life itself is something else. How can any judge or justice with a conscience just sweep that under the rug and sleep soundly? And this has to be asked: How comfortable is Justice Leonen with the thought that he may have sent an innocent man to jail for the rest of his life?
Chances are, he may have already forgotten about that case as just part of a day’s work, but let it be known that the man’s family continues to grieve to this very day. Which brings up the question again: Are the justices, although surely not “gods,” really not feeling like “gods” who cannot make mistakes or just cannot admit that they do?
—MARIUS V. CANONOY, email@example.com
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