With the dismissal of the impeachment complaints against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the House of Representatives last September, the people have no recourse left but to take over the search for truth. This is the rationale behind the formation and recent opening of the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA), say its convenors and members, which has proceeded with its business in an orderly fashion despite threats and disruptions from the Macapagal-Arroyo camp.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
With the dismissal of the impeachment complaints against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the House of Representatives last September, the people have no recourse left but to take over the search for truth. This is the rationale behind the formation and recent opening of the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA), say its convenors and members.
The CCTA was initiated by various groups which have called for Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation or removal from office because of the “brazen killing” of the impeachment process which “has denied the public the chance to know the truth and demand accountability of the President for the various crimes and misdemeanors for which she is being accused,” say the CCTA convenors, who include Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera – 1993 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts – and Dr. Maria Serena Diokno, professor of history at the University of the Philippines (UP). Other convenors are: Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, prioress, Missionary Benedictine Sisters, St. Scholastica’s College; Bro. Edmundo Fernandez of the De La Salle Brothers; and Bp. Solito Tuquero of the United Methodist Church of the Philippines.
The concept paper for the CCTA describes it as “an alternative venue to present, examine and perpetuate the body of evidence against the President and determine her accountability as well as that of other public officials.”
“This people’s congress does not render a verdict,” said former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr., who chairs the CCTA’s presidium. “It seeks to ferret out in an orderly proceeding the presentation of facts. It is not unjust. It gives notice and opportunity to all who may feel aggrieved.”
Other members of the presidium are: Merlin Magallona, former dean of the UP College of Law; UP law professor Victoria Avena, who is also a former commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG); lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic, a former human rights commissioner; Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or Philippine Independent Church); Dr. Sixto Roxas of the Maximo Kalaw Institute for Sustainable Development; Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes of the Ecumenical Women’s Forum; and Carmencita Karagdag of the World Council of Churches. The presidium also has members from the various sectors – urban poor, women, workers, peasants, and youth sitting alternately.
In the CCTA’s second session, held on Nov. 9 at the College of Social Work and Community Development, University of the Philippines (UP CSWCD), the public got a glimpse of its workings. As in a regular trial, there are witnesses testifying under oath who are questioned by lawyers and there are presentations of documentary evidence.
There is also opportunity for the Macapagal-Arroyo to present its side of the issues raised against it. A summons had in fact been brought to Malacañang weeks before the opening of the CCTA.
During the first session of the CCTA, the office of Environment Secretary Mike Defensor – a staunch Macapagal-Arroyo ally – sent a representative, lawyer Cybill Uytiepo, to attend as an observer. The CCTA members have been inviting her to attend the sessions also as a participant. There are seats reserved for representatives of Macapagal-Arroyo in the venues.
The CCTA will gather and study the evidences to be presented to it, with assistance from select members of the House of Representatives impeachment team and private lawyers serving as lawyer-delegates.
The difference between the CCTA and a regular court, as Guingona stated, is that it will not render a verdict, but will only formulate recommendations. Its findings will be presented to the public and, in particular, to religious institutions like the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), the media, schools, as well as public institutions like Congress, the Office of the Ombudsman, and appropriate international bodies.
Macapagal-Arroyo faced three impeachment complaints in Congress earlier this year, following the surfacing of tapes containing conversations between her and an election official, widely believed to be Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. The conversations appeared to deal with the rigging of the 2004 presidential election.
The first complaint was filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano on the basis of the taped conversations, now known by the moniker “Hello Garci” tapes, under the impeachable offense of betraying the public trust. A second complaint, filed by lawyer Jose Rizaldo Lopez, was reportedly very similar to the Lozano complaint. Cause-oriented groups and concerned citizens filed an amended version of the Lozano complaint, expanding its scope to include bribery, graft and corruption, and culpable violation of the Constitution, with complicity in human rights violations by state forces under her watch falling under culpable violation of the Constitution. All three complaints were dismissed at the House of Representatives last September.
The charges being taken up by the CCTA are:
* Under electoral fraud, issues related to the “Hello Garci” tapes, the use of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (rich golden harvest) or fertilizer funds, the transfer of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) trust fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and the use of the road users’ tax fund all for “electioneering purposes, and other instances of fraud in the 2004 election;
*Under political killings and other human rights violations, the summary executions or extrajudicial killings as well as abductions and involuntary disappearances of activists and others critical of the policies of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, as well as violent dispersals of protest actions under the calibrated preemptive response policy; and
* Graft and corruption, which covers issues related to the NorthRail and Venable contracts among others.
The CCTA took up election fraud on its second session, held Nov. 9 at the UP College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD).
In the Nov. 9 session, Segundo Tabayoyong, former chief of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)’s questioned documents division testified that Macapagal-Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro engaged in what he called “second-generation electoral fraud,” which he said involves the tampering of election returns. “First-generation electoral fraud,” he said, involves “ballot-switching, ballot box-snatching, fake ballots and dagdag-bawas (vote-padding and vote-shaving).”
During the counting period after the 2004 presidential election, the church-based election monitoring group Patriots acquired copies of discrepant election returns and certificates of canvass from several provinces. Abdullah Dalidig, chair of the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) in Lanao del Sur, a province in southern Philippines, corroborated Tabayoyong’s testimony by presenting election documents from the said province. He said, “This is the dirtiest election in Lanao del Sur”.
Meanwhile, former Solicitor-General Frank Chavez and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement) chair Danilo Ramos testified on the use of the fertilizer funds for electioneering purposes. Chavez presented documents from the Department of Budget and management (DBM) on the release of P728 million and P1.1 billion in fertilizer funds immediately before and during the campaign period.
The money, Chavez said, never reached farmers but was diverted to fund Macapagal-Arroyo’s campaign. Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza corroborated Chavez’s testimony, saying his district did not receive any money from the fertilizer funds even as his name had appeared in the list of recipients.
Ramos, meanwhile, said the supposed release of the fertilizer funds during harvest time, when farmers do not use fertilizers, was questionable.
The CCTA has been able to proceed so far with its business in an orderly fashion, even as its members have been facing daily threats of sedition cases and the proceedings have been met with disruption attempts from Malacañang allies.
“The organizers of the People’s Court may be held liable for Inciting to Sedition under Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita stated in a Nov. 9 memorandum.
Guingona had pointed out the day before that the CCTA “does not usurp” any public office or function. “It only exercises acts in accordance with the Constitution, specifically Article XI, Section 15 of the same,” Guingona said.
Article XI, Section 15 of the Constitution provides that: “The State shall respect the role of independent people’s organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.
“People’s organizations are bona fide associations of citizens with demonstrated capacity to promote the public interest and with identifiable leadership, membership, and structure.”
A day before, members of the party-list group Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (ANAD), known to be supportive of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, had interrupted the proceedings by standing up and shouting derogatory remarks against the CCTA organizers. After ignoring instructions that they take the seats intended for representatives of President Arroyo, they were led out of the venue of the first session, the UP Theater, and were beaten by outraged delegates.
On Nov. 9, ANAD members staged a picket outside the UP CSWCD just as the proceedings were about to begin. One of the group’s leaders, Jun Alamo, who claimed to be a former member of both the legal organization Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement) and the clandestine New People’s Army (NPA), branded the CCTA as a “communist congress” in an interview with reporters.
Asked whether all the members of the CCTA were communists, Alamo said: “Not all. There are some who are ignorant and are being deceived by the communists.”
When asked who among the CCTA members were communists, he identified Bayan Muna (People First) Reps. Teddy Casiño and Satur Ocampo, as well as others whom he described merely as “incumbent congressmen.” When asked if that included Reps. Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, Alamo did not answer. Asked again who among the CCTA members were communists, Alamo told a reporter: “You are putting me in a very difficult position.”
The ANAD is a group of Macapagal-Arroyo allies based in Cebu province, central Philippines. It has run twice for the party-list elections but lost in both instances. It is led by Pastor Jun Alcover, who claims to be a former member of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
The second session at the UP CSWCD ended without incident. The CCTA will resume its sessions on November 15 and 16 at the University of Makati. According to UN Judge ad litem Atty. Romeo Capulong people have been calling the CCTA secretariat asking to be allowed to present testimony and evidence against the President. “The proceedings have encouraged other potential witnesses to come out,” he said. (Bulatlat.com)