I couldn’t agree more with Chief Justice Reynato Puno when he said poverty hampers poor peoples’ access to justice.
Speaking at a forum recently, the Chief Justice said poverty threatens to overwhelm poor Filipinos rights, and this, according to him, could be the reason why efforts to protect them from the “arrogance of the strong who are few are oftentimes met with a brick wall of skepticism.”
A friend of mine, Loyd Castañeda, was rudely awakened by armed men one night more than three years ago inside his family’s rundown shanty in Manila’s North Cemetery. The men told him he was being arrested allegedly for his role in stealing iron bars from a mausoleum inside the cemetery.
Despite Loyd’s protestations that he’s got nothing to do with the crime being leveled against him, the armed men persisted on picking him up. He was slapped with fabricated charges of theft and has been incarcerated up until now inside Manila City Jail.
More than three years since, Loyd maintains he has nothing to do with the felony, and I firmly believe him. I have known him for more than seven years and prior to his unjust arrest and detention, Loyd and I worked for the same non-governmental organization (NGO).
Though poor and living inside a cemetery, Loyd and his family managed to eke out an honest living by cleaning and attending to the tombs of the departed. His only crime, I suppose, is that he was poor.
Loyd’s case is a testament to how slow the wheels of justice are in the country. For more than three long years of incarceration, he still has yet to relish his day in court because his scheduled hearings have been repeatedly postponed for reasons, Loyd says, he couldn’t comprehend.
I believe the Chief Justice’s explanation hit the nail right in the head – Loyd was poor that he couldn’t even afford to raise money for his meager bail unlike the filthy rich criminals who can buy their way out of accountability and imprisonment.
I long for the day when Loyd is finally freed from his unjust detention. I hope the Chief Justice does well in his promise to make justice more accessible to the poor.
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