‘Organized chaos’

June 16, 2020

Civil rights and liberties are guaranteed constitutional protection.

And yet mistaken identities, wrongful arrests, and unjust detention

still happen or are allowed to happen by authorities who have other motives besides enforcing the law.

How to put an end to this unscrupulous practice?

By ensuring speed in the processing identities of persons and documents for accuracy, authenticity or veracity.    

Indeed, justice delayed is justice denied; but justice stampeded or, worse, disfigured is justice disposed altogether.     

Thus, government should rush the establishment of "its own Google search-like app for arrest warrants" to spare namesakes of fugitives from being denied security clearances, held at ports or harassed by unscrupulous public officers.

This was the call of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, who said an operational "online database" of persons with arrest warrants would have led to the instantaneous verification of the pending warrants against the two arrested protesting drivers in Caloocan City recently.

"Mabilis pa nga iyon. If it was not a high profile case, baka mas lalong natagalan ang verification. By today's standards, it was something that proceeded at warp speed," Recto said.

"Another way to view it is that it is emblematic of the hassles thousands of Filipinos who share the same names with those in trouble with the law have to go through," he said.

"In this land of popular surnames like Reyes, Cruz, Rosario and Santos, naku, ang hirap kumuha ng police o NBI clearance. Marami kang kapangalan. At dadaan ka minsan sa butas ng karayom para patunayan mong hindi ikaw 'yun," he said.

Aggravating the problem, the senior lawmaker said, "is that these dispersed databases independently maintained by law-enforcement agencies do not have the complete details of the persons with outstanding warrants".

"Kadalasan, pangalan lang. Walang edad o litrato. Minsan wala pang middle name. Kaya kung kapangalan mo ang isang taong may kaso, you have to go through the hoops by submitting many documents to prove that it is not you," he said.

"The burden of proof lies with the person and not with the law- enforcement agency. Ang daming ganitong kaso sa airport na na-block ng Immigration na sumakay ng eroplano, often based on sparse details," he said.

Recto said "the organized chaos" would only end if the multi-agency National Justice Information System or NJIS would come into operation.

Led by the Departments of Justice and Information and Communication Technology, and participated in by the Deaprtment of the Interior and Local Government and the Supreme Court, "this is the web that will facilitate data exchange among agencies".

He said "the failure to interconnect and digitize the antiquated record system has led to jail congestion, a police force clueless on the identity of wanted persons, and border control that inconveniences many innocents".

"The notorious manual carpeta system in the Bureau of Corrections was the culprit for the anomalous release of many prisoners," he noted.

Without a database that runs through all the pillars of the justice system, we do not know the number of detainees who have been in jail longer than the maximum time if they had been convicted, Recto said.

"O kung ordinary citizen ka, malalaman mo na mayroon ka palang kaso na hindi mo alam na ilang dekada nang nakabinbin," he added.

True and updated information is not only an instrument of justice but also of good financial management, the former Socio-economic Planning chief  said, citing the huge taxpayer burden of running prisons.

The Senate official said the annual cost of housing, feeding, guarding, and transporting one BJMP detainee would be about P101,887 this year, based on the agency's proposed 2020 budget.

For the BuCor, the expense per prisoner would be around P91,407 per year, based on their original budget submissions.

This year, the creation of the NJIS has a budget of P5 billion under the DoJ, Recto said.

"This will eradicate the use of guesses, discretion and overreach in tagging persons in trouble with the law."

"Basta ang importante, hindi ito maha-hack, hindi mako-corrupt, data privacy laws are upheld at walang 'pindot gang' na magdadagdag-bawas ng pangalan, kasama na ang mga inosente," he said.