Ampatuan and the Presumption of Innocence

Ours is a country whose judicial system rests on the principle that it is better to acquit a criminal than to sentence an innocent man. According to the case of American Com. vs. Douds (339, U.S. 383, 421) in a democracy, the preservation and enhancement of the dignity and worth of the human personality is the central core as well as the cardinal article of faith of our civilization. The inviolable character of man as an individual must be  protected to the largest possible extent in his thoughts and in his beliefs as the citadel of his person.

Hence following the Mindanao massacre, although certain indicators lead to the conclusion that the Ampatuans are behind the gruesome plot, they are still protected by no less than the fundamental law of the land.

Article III- Bill of Rights, Section 1 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states, ‘No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.’ This provision confers the right to every person, including the Ampatuans, the due process of law or the law which hears before it condemns, which proceeds upon inquiry and renders judgment only after trial. Due process calls for ‘responsiveness to the supremacy of reason (and) obedience to the dictates of justice’ (Ermita-Malate Hotel and Motel Operators Association vs. City of Manila, 20 SCRA 849) and ‘the embodiment of the sporting idea of fair play’ (Justice Holmes).

This concept is not exclusive in the Philippines and is actually shared by most democratic countries. Its origin can be traced to the 39th chapter of the Magna Carta wrung by the barons from King John where the despot promised that ‘no man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseized or outlawed, or in any manner destroyed; nor shall we go upon him, nor send upon him, but by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land’.

Thus, every circumstance favoring the innocence of the Ampatuans in the Mindanao massacre must be taken into account. The proof against them must survive the test of reason; the strongest suspicion must not be permitted to sway judgment.

And although there is a prima facie presumption of accountability on the part of the Ampatuans, it does not shatter the presumption of their innocence, because even if prima facie evidence arises, certain facts still have to be proved, and the court must be satisfied that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

On a non-legal note, what if the massacre is part and parcel of a bigger political plot- to destroy the Ampatuans, create more chaos in Mindanao and generate a delusion that we need to cling to the present administration?

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