Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fiddling with the truth

The wrongdoings of the past administration under former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are almost public knowledge that a Truth Commission set up to ferret out the truth becomes totally unnecessary. Conversations in barbershops, chat groups and blogs on the Internet and even among people on the streets have been glued on the Arroyo corrupt government for a long time that the jokes have become stale by now.

Yes, they are just allegations or perhaps mere gossip going around town. But the people are tired of all this talk about prosecuting the former president for her involvement in some of the biggest corruption and election cheating scandals in government since the Ferdinand Marcos era.

President Noynoy Aquino made a promise during the election that he will prosecute those guilty of corruption in the past government. For starters, he could have ordered an investigation through the Office of the Ombudsman, except that the current Ombudsman is an appointee of former President Arroyo. Not a logical choice.

Congress could be the most legitimate venue to conduct a full-scale inquiry. After all, members of Congress are elected representatives of the people and the truth being a public good, they would be doing a great service for the country. But then Gloria Arroyo and her two sons, Mikey and Diosdado, her in-laws, Maria Lourdes Tuazon-Arroyo and Iggy Arroyo, including her former allies during the last administration, are all sitting members of Congress and an inquiry would have to pass approval through the proverbial needle in the haystack. So, fat chance.

Why not go directly to court?

Yes, why not, instead of creating a Truth Commission that sounds grand in scale and invokes comparison to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) that emerged from civil strife during the 1970s in South America, Africa and Asia. These TRCs, however, were born from a period of repression, and closure was necessary in order to move on to a new peaceful future. Not because the previous government was so heavy-laden with corruption. If it were the modus operandi of every new government, there will be no end to backward-looking investigations and witchhunts. This is why we have elections so corrupt governments can be booted out.

Most commissions or panels of inquiry to investigate prior misconduct in government are initiated by the legislature, not by executive fiat. A mere presidential order revives the old ways of the dictatorship under the Marcos era. The Philippine Congress has created commissions before to inquire on the conduct of government or its officials. Passing the responsibility of the Noynoy Aquino Truth Commission to a bipartisan panel, for example, of elected senators and Congressional representatives, does not seem odd or illogical.

A Truth Commission or a TRC is most suitable and the ideal body to set up when investigating widespread human rights violations or abuses emerging from periods of internal unrest, civil war or a dictatorship like that of the Marcos regime. Was a TRC created to investigate the Marcos dictatorial regime in order to record its crimes and human rights abuses and punish those who were responsible?

Upon assuming the presidency after the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, former President Cory Aquino immediately granted immunity from prosecution to all Marcos officials and generals involved in human rights violations. That was a self-defeatist decision. Investigations were rendered pointless as those responsible were already granted amnesty. No record of human rights abuses was ever documented. And if one relies simply on government reports, we see plenty of revisionism in historical accounts of the Marcos era. No wonder, his surviving wife, Imelda Marcos, and children, Imee and Bongbong, are still around and elected to powerful positions in government.

The present Aquino government seems indifferent to investigating continuing human rights violations and abuses of the military, especially disappearances and extra-judicial killings. For one thing, there are more photo-ops and self-serving media coverage in going after corrupt officials, especially the Big Kahuna in Gloria Arroyo. So, the widows and mothers of those who have disappeared will continue to grieve for not knowing where their children are buried. Those detained will continue to be in jail for mere suspicion of being members or supporters of the NPA or the communist insurgency. All murdered journalists, workers, peasants and students for vigorously protesting against the government will continue to remain as cold statistics. Truth and justice for these people will be set aside; for how long, no one knows.

President Aquino’s Truth Commission pays lip service to the search for truth. The president is playing around with the insular notion that flushing out the truth about corruption during the Arroyo administration is sufficient for Filipinos to deal with their recent past, that is, to establish a historical confirmation that the Arroyo government was corrupt, and to deter government officials from committing the same violations and abuses. Let us remember that it is still hazy and unclear at this stage whether this Truth Commission has the power to impose criminal fines or sentences. Suffice it to say that most commissions of inquiry have no such power, so where’s the justice after all?

Or is this part of the Noynoy Aquino mantra that without corruption, there is no poverty? That public revelation of corruption and the shaming that accompanies it are more than enough to deter further acts of corruption. Therefore, it will be good for the country in the long run because there will be no more poverty.

Either President Noynoy Aquino should have his head re-examined (his opponents during the last election had hinted about his competence to lead) or he fires his adviser who’s been feeding him with this entire gobbledegook about the linear correlation between corruption and poverty.

The U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, said that establishing an authoritative record of Nazi atrocities is one of the most important legacies of the international war crimes trials following the Second World War. Jackson further said, with “such authenticity and in such detail there can be no responsible denial of these crimes in the future and no tradition of martyrdom of the Nazi leaders can arise among informed people.”

In the case of President Noynoy Aquino, he has chosen the wrong path to find the truth. He could be gambling against the odds of even beatifying Gloria Arroyo into a martyr. Or, perhaps, the idea behind the Truth Commission was really to exonerate Arroyo and her minions, and thereby confirm in the process that corruption is a way of life and an integral part of the Filipino political culture. But didn’t we know this already?

To lull the republic that as a country we have moved beyond years of repression, the Truth Commission becomes a clever subterfuge to make the people believe that corruption is our real conundrum. The truth could be that President Aquino is trying to avoid making a public admission of the gross and systematic abuses of human rights in the country by the government and its military from the Marcos era up until today. This includes the killing of innocent farmers during their peaceful picket at Hacienda Luisita on November 16, 2006, a place very close to the new president’s heart.

If President Noynoy Aquino is dead serious about the truth, he should start by digging in his own backyard.

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