When ‘public service’ goes awry

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

It was with alacrity that I made a slow right-turn at a popular mall as I found a vacant and shaded parking spot one Saturday morning. Beside the slot was an armored-vehicle with camouflage paint. But then one of two men in uniform stopped me from parking. So I had to back-up and park elsewhere.

Troubled by what I just experienced, I wanted to get to the bottom of it so I approached a mall guard and asked him if the spot was reserved for law enforcement. The guard confirmed that management has not reserved that spot for any law enforcement officers. I approached the two men in uniform one of whom stopped me from parking and confronted them by asking: “Why did you stop me from parking? I asked the mall guard and he said this was not reserved for you at all”. The reply came: “We were asked by our buddies to reserve the slot for them”. I retorted: “You know that this isn’t right. I am a lawyer and I know that what you’re doing is against the law because this is a private mall and only its management can dictate as to who can and who cannot park at certain areas”.

Jolted by my declaration, one of the two men in uniform then told me that I can park on the vacant slot beside their armored-van!

This may be a mundane experience but that is exactly what makes it all the more disturbing.  This is symptomatic of an ill in our society which must be given utmost attention.

When one’s position in government is used abstrusely to prejudice one and favor another, then something is very wrong. It is worse when one public officer cajoles, induces or persuades another to perform an act which is not germane to the functions of public office.

In People v. Enojo, G.R. No. 252258, which was handed down on April 6, 2022, a public officer was charged with violation of the Anti-Graft law specifically Section 3(a) of RA 3019 for inducing a police officer to summon some people that the former had some issues with.   

The elements of the offense had been laid down as follows:

“Section 3(a) of RA 3019 provides:

Section 3. Corrupt practices of public officers. – In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful: (a) Persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority or an offense in connection with the official duties of the latter, or allowing himself to be persuaded, induced, or influenced to commit such violation or offense.

Based on the foregoing, the elements of the crime are the following: (1) the offender is a public officer; (2) the offender persuades, induces, or influences another public officer to perform an act, or the offender allows himself to be persuaded, induced, or influenced to commit an act; and (3) the act performed by the other public officer, or committed by the offender, constitutes a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority, or an offense in connection with the official duty of the latter.”

People v. Enojo concluded that “X x x Moreover, jurisprudence provides that Section 3(a) requires a deliberate intent on the part of the public official concerned to violate those rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority, or to commit an offense in connection with official duties”.

The act of parking on a vacant slot in a private mall is embraced within one’s Constitutional right to travel, freedom of movement, and due process. So, when a person in uniform prevents a citizen from the exercise of the legitimate right to park, then the former commits a violation of the Anti-Graft Law.

Too, it constitutes as grave coercion under the Penal Code for preventing a person from performing an act which is not unlawful.

The badge and camouflage uniform, as they are, already evince authority if not fear of authority.  Flaunting that authority further by favoring a colleague, a buddy, or anyone, for some obscure reason by trammeling on the civil liberties of the citizen is an unforgivable wrong.

The incident reminded of what the great lawyer Clarence Darrow once said:  “You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You are only free if I am free”.

(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates- a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).