I’m not much of a fan of what passes for “justice” in this country. And I’m not alone. I may even be part of a majority. Because justice here is often neither swift nor certain.
Quite apart from “swift and certain” being essential for the people to have faith in the system, as well as for criminals to fear the system, I personally like swift and certain…particularly when I’m the victim. Justice delayed is justice denied.
I grew up in a country with a different approach….
When I lived in the Philippines, my family regularly took a trip to Clark Air Force base, about 50 miles from where we lived. Clark had a much larger post exchange (PX) than the one at the small naval station across Manila Bay, which we could get to easily using a small ferry from the U.S. Embassy. So a trip to Clark for shopping at the PX was an opportunity to get all sorts of goodies. Tax free.
During one trip when I was in about 5th or 6th grade, I had an interesting experience with Philippine justice which left a lasting impression on me. I think it will leave an impression on you too, although it will likely be different from mine. I’ll chalk that up to “cultural difference.”
The road to Clark AFB back then was a two lane highway. Many portions of it crossed rice paddies. In these areas, the road was elevated above the rice paddies and had little shoulder. Just enough for maybe half a car to pull into.
While we were in one such area, I heard my father mutter about two buses that were racing. I looked up to see a bus coming toward us. It was in our lane and trying to pass another bus which would not allow the pass. My father began slowing down and getting as far into the shoulder as possible but half the car was still in the lane.
Both buses continued speeding towards us and at the last moment the bus coming at us was allowed to pass. But as it swerved to get into the proper lane, it sideswiped us hard.
Somehow, my father managed to keep the car on the road instead of rolling over into the rice paddies. Had it not been a solid, heavy car (Galaxy 500 XL convertible), we‘d possibly have been seriously injured or killed.
My mother hit her head against the passenger window. I was thrown from the middle of the back seat to the right and was pretty shook up but not injured. After regaining composure, I looked back and could see the highway littered for about 150 yards with debris from our vehicle. There was very little metal left on the passenger side and I could see light coming through in some spots.
I was a bit surprised that the bus did not keep going (hit and run is SOP over there) but I guess the driver figured there was no way he would not be tracked down. He did not come over to check on us.
Since we were in the boonies, and this was in the days before cell phones, we had to wait until a passing vehicle arrived at a small town up the road and notified the authorities.
About a half hour later, a jeep arrived from the direction we were headed. It was the Philippine Constabulary (PC), a paramilitary national police force which was often the only law in rural areas. They wore military uniforms and carried automatic rifles as well as 45s and often batons.
The jeep pulled up in front of us and the two PC came over. My mother began talking to them in what I presumed was the local dialect because I did not recognize it as Tagalog, the national language. (We were in the region of the country close to where she was born, so she spoke the local dialect. A wise decision since it showed she was a “native” to the area.)
After talking with my mother for about 10 minutes, the PC then walked over to the bus, a good portion of which was in the highway. The “in charge” motioned to the bus driver to come into the highway next to the bus, where we had a clear view of them. This seemed strange to me because now they were completely blocking traffic in that lane. I quickly learned why they wanted the driver out there and in view to us.
We were too far away to hear anything but I could see the “in charge” jabbing his finger into the bus driver’s chest so I figured he was giving him a dressing down. Then, without warning, the “in charge” leaned back and violently shoved the driver, causing him to stagger back, hit the bus and sorta “bounce” off it.
Before the driver could recover from the bounce, the other PC rushed him and forced him back against the bus. While this second PC held the driver’s arms up, the “in charge” delivered two or three blows to the driver’s abdomen, causing his legs to buckle and his body to slump down. The other PC let the driver crumple to the ground and then began handcuffing him while the “in charge” boarded the bus.
After about a minute, he came back out of the bus and so did many of its passengers, most of whom milled around the shoulder but a few began walking in the direction the bus was heading. The PC came back to us and said a few words to my mother. She asked for their names, which they provided on a piece of paper. They put the bus driver in the jeep and headed back to where they came from.
I asked my mother what she had told them. She said she explained the accident to them. She also mentioned that she knew the wife of the Governor in this province. Now, I’m not sure that was true; maybe she knew someone who knew the wife.
Of course, the PC could not know whether my mother knew the Governor’s wife. But they knew that the bus driver certainly was not connected and my mother might very well be connected. Her brothers owned the largest rice plantation in her nearby birth province and their bus company’s buses came through this area on their way to Manila. They possibly recognized her maiden name.
So, better to be safe than sorry. They showed her the appropriate “courtesy” by roughing up the bus driver for his recklessness. Yes, the driver would be fined and probably be fired from his job. But that was not justice; justice demanded a pound of flesh observed by the victims and, for deterrence, by others.
We saw justice – delivered swiftly and certainly. Every bus passenger would tell others about that justice.
If my mother was connected to the Governor, here’s how it would come down. The wife would learn of the “courtesy” provided to us, including names (which is one reason why my mother asked for them). The wife would mention it to the Governor, who would pass it on down the line. So now everyone will know that these two PC are “team players.” Important information for when bonuses and promotions come around.
Also, I’m sure each of the two PC received from my mother a “special delivery” package, hand delivered by one of her family’s bus company drivers on a trip through the town. In that package would be a carton of American cigarettes and/or a bottle of American liquor, often Johnny Walker. In a Manila store, those items were very expensive because of import duties. For us, they were dirt cheap at the tax free (both U.S. and Philippine) military base PX.
As this example shows, in the Philippines it literally pays government officials to be “courteous” to those who are “somebody.” That’s one reason government jobs are highly sought after. At every level, there is an opportunity for… “tips”… when special service is provided.
The “justice” was proportionate to the crime. No one was seriously injured, so the driver was only roughed up. If there had been serious injury, he may have been badly beaten while “resisting arrest.” No one will question the PC. Any “witness” saying otherwise could expect a late night visit.
There was of course a lawsuit against the bus company. When I left the country some five to six years later, the lawsuit was still “pending.” Seems the bus company was better connected than we were, so the lawsuit was continually postponed. But that was just about money; we received the “justice” that really mattered within an hour of the accident.
You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that, at the time, what happened to the bus driver pleased me. You may be surprised to hear that even today I have no problem with happened.
I just wish I could enjoy such “courtesy” in this country. But here the price of “courtesy” is much more than in the Philippines. Too bad for me… unless I’m interested in the DIY approach.
I suspect there’s a lot of Americans who have the Philippine justice gene in their DNA. Because if there’s no doubt about guilt, “due process” is a formality which can pervert justice.
And every perversion of justice undermines the public’s faith in the system. I think that loss of faith is expressed in the many films about a good man working outside the system to achieve justice.
I was partially motivated to write on this topic of “extra-judicial” justice by reading about China’s cyberposse. They hunt down folks who they believe have “crossed the line” by first identifying them and then publicizing their identities in hopes of getting them fired or otherwise held accountable, outside the judicial system, for their behavior. I applaud them.