How does it feel being accused of a crime or fault you have not done at all and worse as a consequence thereof being put behind bars and subjected to the “ordeal” relative to such involuntary confinement? It is so gross and, to some people, extremely unimaginable. Nonetheless, the same is true in few cases, especially in situation called “malicious prosecution.” Whether or not the accusation is true and the judicial verdict is one of conviction, the detention prisoner deserves equal respect once released from incarceration.
Being falsely accused is one of the nightmares of any law-abiding citizen. To be charged in court of an offense he could not defend himself from for various reasons, including absence of credible witness and having legal counsel who is too busy to intelligently study and more seriously handle his case in litigation, this on top of having a jury or judge who has pre-empted his judgment by prejudices, is most deplorable. Thanks to church workers who are volunteering to provide the inmates spiritual counseling through prison ministry and prayer meetings in correctional and detention facilities. They ease the pain of such test in their life.
On the other hand, justice is sweet to one who achieves it in fair and judicious manner, whether it favors the accused or the private offended party. Well of course where conviction is handed by the court, the winner-loser situation exists and not both parties are glad with it. The only remedy left with the accused who is convicted of the crime charged against him is motion for reconsideration and appeal. Probation, parole, pardon by the President and amnesty could also be availed of by the convicted prisoner if allowed and qualified. However, in spite of any of these recourses, if indeed the accused is naïve of the crime charged against him and his defenses of alibi and denial to prove such innocence failed to overcome the allegations of the prosecution during trial and the conviction is finally promulgated, the stigma remains.
In case of acquittal, it is expected that the complainant frowns upon the judgment rendered. If only he could, he will question the trial court’s decision of acquittal to a higher tribunal on hope of a reversal or simply to be sure that the acquittal handed down was a judicious verdict. However, under the Philippine legal system, a decision of acquittal in a criminal case cannot be elevated on appeal, except at the instance of the Solicitor-General who is protecting the interest of the State and on question of grave abuse of discretion rendering the decision null and void. The private offended party can only raise on appeal the decision of acquittal purely on the aspect of civil liability. Still, the emotion prevails – that of frustration and dismay, on the part of the private offended party.
A win-win situation in criminal cases happens only when the accuser and the accused come into “terms” that will lead the offended party to execute and file before the court an affidavit of desistance. Unless the prosecutor or the court does not agree to the dismissal, the case proceeds in spite of such desistance. Conversely, should the court allow the dismissal of the case by reason of a compromise agreement between the parties and the consequential execution of affidavit of desistance by the private complainant, the accused then goes back to his place of abode a clean man and the accusation against him obliterated.
This stigma is one that the church and the government endeavor to wipe out from a detention prisoner once he goes back to the mainstream of society. This mark of shame and dishonor that attaches to one who is put behind bars and needled with indelible ink called tattoo is the very factor that discriminates the detention prisoners from the other denizens who live normal life. Wherefore both the church, particularly the Roman Catholic through Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines, and the national government through the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology join hands in an effort to eradicate this stigma and save the dignity left of the prisoners and help build a new life for them.
Calling the undertaking “restorative justice”, both sectors are encouraging the people to “participate in the re-socialization and reintegration of prisoners, probationers, and parolees into society as productive and law-abiding citizens.” This program on “restorative justice” does not only concern the accused because the victims are equally in need of the people’s cooperation to welcome them back as normal citizens, especially those who suffered torment in the hands of the perpetrators.
Tomorrow the church observes the 25th Prison Awareness Sunday, coinciding with the culmination of the celebration of the National Correctional Consciousness Week that was decreed in 1995 by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos. Bearing this year’s theme “Lord That I May See… (Panginoon, Makakita Nawa Ako…)”, the observance of the Prison Awareness Sunday as the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care suggested would bear witness to the community’s care for the inmates through various activities in line with the celebration of the NCCW. The same are in consonance with the church advocacy towards “justice that heals.”
In the manuscripts posted on the website of BJMP Regional Office VIII, this exhortation could be read in the copy of the liturgy in connection with the Prison Awareness Sunday:
“There is darkness when there is no freedom; when you are abandoned and separated from your loved ones; when you are suffering from loneliness, condemnation and injustices. Brothers and sisters, it is this kind of darkness that the prisoners and the victims of crimes are suffering from. The prisoners need to see the light; the victims need to be in the light and the community needs to see their role as light bearers – instrument of creating a healthier and safe community. There is darkness when we remain indifferent and refuse to respond the sad plight of our brothers and sisters who are in need. Today as we celebrate Prison Awareness Sunday, the challenge to bring this light is before us. Are we ready to respond?”
Whether falsely accused or not, all those in detention for fractions of the law, be it with or without private offended parties, need to be accepted in the society once more to help them live their life to the fullest and with God’s guidance once more. They, like the victims of criminalities, are no less than creations of God who deserve equal care and respect like any other well-meaning citizen in the community. In them remains that kind of goodness that came from their creator – the Just and Kind God. Thus they should not be condemned.
By: Eileen Nazareno-Ballesteros
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