Pres. Aquino’s Truth Commission

  • NOTE: This article was first posted on my old site on June 30, 2010. 

We must not forgive. We must not forget.

When a leader of a nation abused and desecrated the presidential power bestowed on him by the people and the constitution by virtue of his/her election as the highest executive official of the land, the next regime must see to it that justice is served in order to punish the guilty and deter future violation of oath of office and individual rights. Any form of presidential disregard or violation of the Constitution is worse than treason or any kind of ordinary heinous crime. As the highest elected official of the land, the president must uphold the rule of law, respect and always be faithful to his oath of office, and consecrate all his energies to the protection of individual rights. This is for the very reason that the president is constitutionally granted a vast depository of powers that can only be exercised by him and his alter egos or presidential appointees.

There is no doubt that former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo abused her presidential powers during her 9-year term as commander-in-chief of the Philippine military. In her desperate efforts to cling on to political power by whatever means possible, Mrs. Arroyo issued a number of unconstitutional executive orders and utilized the power of the state and the military to silence dissent, to bribe the lawmakers in Congress, and to hunt down her political opponents. Her attempt to dissipate corruption scandals and to save herself from constitutional, legal and public condemnation led to the violation of individual rights.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution enumerates the grounds for impeachment. These grounds are are culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, and betrayal of public trust. These offenses are considered “high crimes and misdemeanors” under the Philippine Constitution. The President, Vice President, Supreme Court justices, and members of the Constitutional Commission and Ombudsman are all considered impeachable officials under the Constitution. However, all these constitutional grounds for impeachments mean one thing- they constitute violations of oath of office, of the rule of law and of individual rights.

Unknown to many, the Constitution is the limitation of the powers of the state. It neither grants powers to the state nor provides additional mandate to state representatives other than what is being provided for in the charter. In order words, it limits state powers. Thus, when Mrs. Arroyo and her minions issued the infamous Presidential Proclamation 1020 that put the entire country under state of emergency, the Executive Order 464 that barred executive officials from exposing the sins of the appointing power, among other unconstitutional executive edicts, they were acting in contravention of the fundamental purpose of the Constitution- the protection of individual rights. This constitutional protection is founded on a philosophy that recognizes the nature of man as a living entity. Since we borrowed the fundamental concept of our Constitution from the American Constitution, ours is somehow founded on the philosophy of Aristotle who discovered the laws of identity and causality. His philosophy states that man is entitled to his inalienable rights in order to live as a freeman and as a human being. Every individual is entitled to his rights to life, liberty, property, and his pursuit of happiness, and no man- not even the king or the highest elected official of this nation- has the power or the right to deny any man of his inalienable rights.

Former President Arroyo must and ought to be investigated whether she has knowledge of the violation of individual rights by her and his appointees or whether she herself and some members of her family and close allies engaged in corruption activities during her stay in office. Every public official must always be accountable to the people. This is the essence of a free society, not democracy. This country, in order to be truly free, must adopt Republicanism and not democracy, and must be based on the right philosophy.

Now newly elected President Noynoy Aquino set up what is called the Truth Commission to investigate the former president and her allies. Aquino then appointed retired Supreme Court Justice Hilario Davide Jr. to head the despite the latter’s deep ties with Ms Arroyo.

The truth commission, Aquino said, would “provide closure” to such controversies as the “Hello Garci” election scandal and the corruption-tainted National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with the Chinese ZTE Corp., and make sure that the guilty are “made to pay.”

“This … is the commission I promised the people we will set up to put closure to so many issues,” he told the press.

Its members, the president said, “will be collators of data, evidence and proof as to who committed what, and what transgression of laws was committed.”

“In turn, with the active assistance of all agencies of the state, especially the DoJ (Department of Justice), they will as necessary prepare and prosecute the cases to make sure those who committed crimes against the people will be made to pay,” he added.

There is indeed a need to investigate the high crimes of Mrs. Arroyo and her minions in order to establish transparency, integrity, and honesty in the public service. However, only time can tell whether President Aquino and the members of the commission are willing to establish these values in the government sector.

Here’s a good description of the nature and history of the commission from Inquirer.net.

The Philippines is not the first country to set up such body. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed after Nelson Mandela and his party, the African National Congress (ANC), won the elections in 1994 to heal the wounds caused by apartheid, under which South Africans were segregated according to race.

Apartheid was an official state policy from 1948 to 1992. Under this system, nonwhite South Africans were denied basic political rights, freedom of movement and assembly, and access to education and health care.

Mandela, leader of the ANC, the most powerful antiapartheid group, was released in 1990 after being imprisoned for 27 years. Following that, negotiations regarding apartheid between the ANC and the ruling National Party (NP) ensued. An interim constitution was produced in December 1993, which paved the way for a general election in April 1994, the first where all South Africans could participate.

One of the pressing issues at the time was whether the past government should be granted amnesty for crimes committed during the apartheid era. The NP insisted on general amnesty, while the ANC pushed for accountability for all crimes.

Mandela and his party went on to win that election, and his new government introduced the “Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Bill” in parliament, which provided for amnesty for politically motivated offenses but required that it be granted to those who had fully disclosed their crimes and proved that they were indeed politically motivated.

Hence, a truth commission headed by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu was formed. It had three components—an amnesty committee, a human rights committee, and a rehabilitation and reparations committee.

The work of the commission lasted for nearly three years. The human rights committee alone received testimony from some 20,000 individuals. In the end, the commission’s final report had 250 separate recommendations, which included financial reparation to victims and construction of public memorials commemorating their sufferings, among others.

In October 1998, the final report of the commission was delivered to Mandela, who apologized to the victims on behalf of the South African government in a moving speech.

However, according to the TruthCommission.org website, a collaboration by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, Search For Common Ground and the European Center for Common Ground, there has been “lack of political support” for the commission’s final report and recommendations, and that none of the recommendations have been translated into legislation to date.

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