More on the injustice at the DoJ

Every Filipino enjoys the constitutional right to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. Jurisprudence on this constitutional right states that the prosecution has the burden of proving the guilt of the accused, and the latter need not establish his innocence. Moreover, the prosecution must rely on the strength of its own evidence, and cannot rely on the weakness of the evidence of the defense.

Law students are taught that when a person commits a felony, the offense is committed not so much against the individual complainant, but against the State. In other words, the State is the real offended party and, as such, it has the duty of prosecuting the offender.

That is why a complainant cannot file a criminal complaint against a respondent directly in court; it has to be submitted to an investigating prosecutor of the Department of Justice first. If the investigator finds probable cause to charge the respondent, then the DoJ files the corresponding criminal case in court in the name of the People of the Philippines.

Law students are also taught that the nominal parties to a criminal investigation complainant and respondent�are entitled to justice because justice is for everyone regardless of social, financial, or educational status. It is such a fundamental need, at times even more important than food and shelter.

Under the law, the DoJ is expected to make justice accessible to everybody. Unfortunately, the DoJ under Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II seems unaware of the constitutional right to be presumed innocent, and the jurisprudence that defines it. The DoJ likewise appears oblivious to the role of the State and the private offended party in a criminal case, and to the concept of justice itself. This is confirmed by the excessive fees being charged by the DoJ from people who seek the justice the DoJ is obligated under the law to deliver in the first place.

As discussed in this column last week, the fees are not only excessive; they are anomalous. A victim of large-scale swindling will naturally want justice. To do so, he must file the corresponding complaint with the DoJ office where the crime was committed. For his complaint to be entertained by the DoJ, he must pay a fee. Good grief! That’s a price tag on justice!

Revoltingly, the fee depends on how much was embezzled. In short, the more money embezzled, the higher the fee. This arrangement favors big-time swindlers because when the amount involved is, for example, P100 million, the fee for justice is a whopping P1 million! It also means that if a swindler does not want to be sued, he should steal big to make the fee for prosecuting him very prohibitive. If that does not prevent his prosecution, the bigtime swindler has enough stolen money to bribe his way with corrupt officials.

To repeat, the real offended party in a criminal case is the State, and the State has the duty to prosecute criminals. By requiring a fee for a complaint, the DoJ in effect requires payment from the public before it will perform its duty. That’s justice for a fee! What are taxes for if justice from the DoJ has a price tag?

Fees are imposed by the DoJ on just about anything in the investigation process. There are fees for filing a motion for reconsideration, a motion for reinvestigation, and a motion for the inhibition of an investigating prosecutor.

Why should a fee be paid to undo administrative incompetence? When a finding made by the investigating prosecutor against the respondent is erroneous, why should the respondent be required to pay a fee to correct the error of the investigating prosecutor? What happened to his constitutional right to be presumed innocent? Evidently, the DoJ has made the payment of the fee a prerequisite to the enjoyment of the constitutional right to be presumed innocent. That’s a price tag on a constitutional right.

Pleadings filed in DoJ cases have to be under oath, to be administered by the investigating prosecutor. A fee is charged for that. Why should a party be required to pay to attest to the truth of his statements submitted to a government investigator? Isn’t administering the oath his duty in the first place?

The import of the requirement is that if the fee is not paid, then the pleading will not be accepted. That arrangement is manifestly unjust, because the quest for truth is made to depend, once again, on the payment of a fee. Worse, a respondent who does not pay the fee may end up facing a criminal prosecution, not because he is guilty, but because he did not pay the fee demanded by the DoJ. Where is the justice there?

As expected, the excuse tendered by the DoJ is that paupers are exempted from the fee. That’s beside the point. The justice system must operate equally on everybody, pauper or otherwise. Just because one can afford a fee is not enough reason to require him to pay one especially if what is involved is the quest for justice.

For example, one who wishes to transfer the title to real estate to one’s name, or one who wishes to obtain a driver’s license, ought to pay a fee for those transactions. The desire for justice, however, is something else. Putting a price tag on it is unthinkable because it reduces justice to a commodity sold in the marketplace.

Even if a pauper is exempted from the payment requirement, the documentary requirements a pauper must satisfy to avail of the exemption are so difficult and expensive to acquire, and thus renders the exemption illusory.

To repeat, President Duterte must put an end to this anomaly in the DoJ. It’s bad enough that many people believe that justice is for sale in this country. Sadly, the fees imposed by the DoJ encourage that belief.

Source: The Standard