In the News: Selective Prosecution

One of the issues highlighted by the recent charges of corruption leveled against former AFP Chief of Staff and Cabinet Secretary Angelo T. Reyes (following which he chose to end his life by his own hand) is the risk of being subjected to selective and malicious prosecution by one’s political enemies.  Some quarters have taken the view that it was manifestly unfair for Secretary Reyes to have been subjected to intense and hostile questioning by his political opponents before the Senate (with full media coverage or “trial by publicity”).  Based on what are reported to be some of Secretary Reyes’ final words on this issue (see link to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism here), it appears that the assailed systems and “traditions” within the AFP were extant at the time he joined the service.  Some have theorized that there are other, more powerful persons behind the scenes who are far more deserving of punishment, but have managed to evade prosecution due to their political connections.

Is selective prosecution a valid defense under Philippine law?

The case of Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 119322, 4 June 1996) is of some guidance.  In that case, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue filed a complaint against Fortune Tobacco Corporation and several of its officers for tax evasion.  One of the defenses raised was that the accused were being singled out for criminal prosecution in a discriminatory fashion, thus violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

The Court found that the prosecutors had excluded certain evidence that would have shown that other tobacco companies had paid the taxes on the same basis and in the same manner as had Fortune (and yet, according to the accused, were not similarly charged with tax evasion).  According to the Court, this indicated that only Fortune was singled out for prosecution.  However, the Court stopped short of making a categorical statement that selective prosecution is a valid defense, as there were other grounds on which the Court based its acquittal of Fortune and the other accused.

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