Yesterday, at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation of corruption in the military, husband and wife Jacinto and Erlinda Ligot repeatedly invoked their right against self incrimination when asked questions about their unexplained wealth. Exasperated in not having been able to elicit expected answers from the couple, the senators threatened them with contempt citation. Media interview of people who followed the investigation on radio or TV expressed their frustration at the refusal of the couple to directly answer the questions. The right against self incrimination became a villain in this drama as much as the couple themselves have been.
While it is important that corruption of this magnitude be exposed and investigated relentlessly, the Blue Ribbon committee, likewise, should be careful in coming up with its decision on the contempt charge against the Ligots. What has been unexpectedly dragged into the corruption investigation is the constitutionally guaranteed right of an individual against being compelled to be a witness against himself or herself (see Section 17 Article 3 of the Constitution). It is not the intention of this constitutionally granted right to weaken corruption investigation or to subvert efforts to hold accountable those who might have committed reprehensible crimes; its purpose is to make sure that a suspect, a respondent or an accused, will be held accountable based on evidence amassed by the prosecution, other than what the suspect or accused was forced to cough out. The State can use its vast power and resources to make sure that criminals are held to answer for their crimes, but it can not convict anyone principally on the basis of a forced incriminating statement from him. It is safe to assume that quite a number of poor suspects and accused have been convicted on the basis of forced confessions (which later on are remedied with after the fact paper works). If only they knew their rights, like the Ligots. If only they were advised by counsels, like those the Ligots can afford.
Just like the right to remain silent and the right to counsel, the right of individuals against self- incrimination is a basic feature of any society governed by rule of law. The limitations on the power of the State outlined in the Bill of Rights under the Constitution are so fundamental to civil liberties that they should not be violated in favor of another so-called public good. If these rights are taken lightly, then our society can retrogress into one ruled by self-righteous but misguided government rather than one by rule of law
To fight corruption, anti-corruption institutions, like the Ombudsman, the Sandiganbayan, the judiciary, and the Commission on Audit, should be supported and strengthened. These institutions should be peopled with those possessing integrity and proven competence – those who can work competently enough and with the necessary zeal for the conviction of criminals, without violating due process and the basic requirements of the constitution touching on civil liberties. Let’s look at improving institutions, rather than adopt a lynch mob mentality against corrupt individuals hoping to secure their incarceration at any and all cost, even at the cost of weakening constitutional guaranteed rights.
The Blue Ribbon committee may already have all the data and information for it to come up with policies and legislations to improve the anti-corruption structure of the country. Its time to get back to real work, for the right institutions to perform their rightful functions. The Ombudsman, expectedly to be Merci-less soon, can hopefully do a better job at making our government less corrupt. Henceforth, Filipinos can say with pride and dignity that their institutions work as they should.