‘The Citizens’ Congress Has the Highest Moral Authority’

The citizens’ congress that will try President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is an alternative forum that has become necessary because of the impotence of traditional institutions and processes to address the serious charges being levied against the president.

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA

A citizens’ congress will try beleaguered President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the killings of 486 political dissenters and the enforced disappearances of 153 others since she assumed the presidency in January 2001.

The cases include the recent killing of five persons in less than 24 hours in Central Luzon (CL) region. At around 8 p.m. of Oct. 25, Central Azucarrera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) president Ric Ramos was shot dead inside a hut beside his house in Barangay (village) Mapalacsiao, San Miguel, Tarlac City. At around 8 a.m. the next day, party-list group Bayan Muna (people first) member Francisco Rivera was shot nine times in front of his house in Angeles City, Pampanga killing him instantly. His two friends, Dr. Angel David and Von John Maniti who dropped by to chat with David were also killed. Later in the afternoon, Federico de Leon, transport group leader and provincial chair of the party-list group Anakpawis, was shot twice while on board his tricycle in Malolos City, Bulacan. He died on the spot.

The amended impeachment complaint filed against Macapagal-Arroyo by opposition congressmen on July 25 said the spate of killings under the present administration violates the Constitution and constitutes betrayal of public thrust.

Citizens’ congress

Since the impeachment case against the president was junked by pro-administration congressmen on Sept. 6, pro-impeachment legislators turned over the complaint to the Bukluran para sa Katotohanan (Coalition for Truth), an alliance of 50 organizations seeking the ouster of Macapagal-Arroyo.

Bukluran created the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA) which aims to help ferret out the truth on the scandals hounding the president.

In a press conference Oct 25, CCTA convenor Atty. Luis Sison said the congress also aims to recommend proper accountability measures on Macapagal-Arroyo who has been accused of electoral fraud, violations of human rights and graft and corruption.

The Amended Impeachment Complaint will serve as basis for the CCTA’s cases against the president.

Betrayal of public thrust

The Amended Impeachment Complaint states that as Commander in Chief of the armed forces and Chief Executive with the power of control and supervision over her subordinates, Macapagal-Arroyo violated her duty and oath under the Constitution and its provisions requiring protection of human rights when she acquiesced in and provided impunity to the killings of political dissenters, or infringe their freedoms of expression and assembly.

The complaint said her act of promoting military officers with record of human rights abuses such as Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan and her failure to investigate their reported abuses further violates provisions on accountability of public officials, as well as her oath under Section 5, Article VII to “preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws and do justice to every man.”

Palaparan has been charged before the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for human rights abuses committed while he was commanding officer of the 204th Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (IB PA) in the province of Oriental Mindoro and the 8th Infantry Division (ID PA) in the Eastern Visayas region.

And in less than two months as head of the 7th (ID PA) based in CL, the general has been accused of spearheading a terror campaign against political activists in the region that has so far killed 19 individuals.

Despite the charges, Palparan was promoted by the president from colonel to brigadier general just before he was sent to Iraq to head the Philippine mission in 2004. He has also been nominated for promotion to major general which is now pending at the Commission on Appointments (CA) and opposed by progressive Party-list groups in Congress and human rights groups.

The complaint charged that “the promotion the president granted to Palparan is a clear act of ratification and approval of his actions, including those which constitute human rights abuses.”

Constitutional

The administration has criticized the citizens’ congress with Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye calling it no less than a “kangaroo court.”

The CCTA convenors maintained that the president shall be assured of her rights as an accused and would be given the opportunity to air her side.

In fact, the prosecution team headed by United Nations ad litem Judge Romeo Capulong handed the Notice of Proceedings to Malacañang on Oct. 26.

However, Bunye’s consultant, Emilio Magdangal, tore the documents in front of the media and said it had no legal basis and should therefore be trashed.

But another copy of the summon was forwarded and formally received by the Palace’ Record Section, with an official barcode of R00321718.

Capulong, on the other hand, said the CCTA has the mandate, authority and legitimacy to undertake this difficult task. He stated as constitutional basis Article XIII, Section 15 which recognizes “the role of the independent people’s organizations to pursue and protect within the democratic framework their legitimate and collective interest and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.”

“It is an alternative forum which has become necessary because of the impotence and failure of the traditional institutions and processes of constitutional democracy to address and redress the serious charges …, which, if shown to be true, would make Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unfit, disqualified and illegitimate,” Capulong said in a statement.

“But over and above this constitutional basis,” Capulong said, “the Citizens’ Congress has the highest moral authority that emanate from the powerful voices and accumulated grievances of the great majority of the Filipino people crying for truth and justice not only on the Garci tapes, the political killings and other human rights violations and plunder and corruption that are the subject-matter of the Amended Impeachment Complaint but more seriously the unabated misgovernance and continued exploitation and oppression of the overwhelming majority of poor Filipinos under the prevailing system.”

Composition

The CCTA is made up of about 400 delegates coming from various sectors of society. It is headed by a set of presiding officers – or Presidium – led by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona.

Members of the Presidium are: Nasser Marahomsalic, formerly with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Regional Consultative Commission for Muslim Mindanao (RCCMM); Atty. Victoria Avena, formerly with the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG); Bishop Alberto Ramiento, co-chair of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum; Sharon Rose Joy Duremdes, secretary general of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (UCCP); Bishop Dan Balais of the Jesus is Lord (JIL) Movement; and Menchie Caragdag of Peace for Life.

The prosecution team is headed by Capulong who has served in the United Nation’s International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia and is the current chair of the Committee of Filipino Migrant Workers’ Rights. Other prosecutors are Neri Colmenares of the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL); and Glenda Litong of the Alternative Law Group (ALG).

Congress convenors include Sr. Mary John Manazan, OSB; Bro. Armin Luistro, FSB; Maria Serena Diokno, history professor at UP; Atty. Luis Sison of JIL; and Bien Lumbera, Ramon Magsaysay awardee and University of the Philippines professor.

Hearings will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 8 and 9 at the University of the Philippines (UP) and on Nov. 15 and 16 at the University of Makati (UM).

Macapagal-Arroyo had earlier been indicted by the International People’s Tribunal that convened in Quezon City last Aug. 19. She was found guilty of violations of human rights by the jurors composed of delegates from foreign countries.

She is the second president indicted before a people’s tribunal. The late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was tried by the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) Session on the Philippines in October 1980 in Antwerp, Belgium. (Bulatlat.com)

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