Truth Commissions, a Failure in the Country, Successful in Other Countries


MANILA – President Benigno S. Aquino III issued his first executive order creating the Truth Commission to investigate cases of corruption during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s nine-year rule. What have the previous commissions created by the government achieved so far? How do these compare to the truth commissions in other countries?

During the height of extrajudicial killings, then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was compelled, by public pressure, to create the Melo Commission, through Administrative Order No. 157 in 2006, to investigate the killings of media and activists.

“The Melo Commission was formed two weeks before Arroyo left for a European tour in September 2006. To dodge criticisms from foreign governments and institutions, Arroyo created the commission and gave it four months to complete its investigation. Curiously enough, the submission [of the report] was timed for Arroyo’s trip to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan wrote in an article.

While the Melo report named retired Major General Jovito Palparan as responsible for the killings based on the principle of command responsibility, it “does not go beyond Palparan in terms of explaining why these killings occur,” Bayan said. “There was no mention of any national policy or the involvement of high government officials such as Arroyo who many believe to be sanctioning the killings through the all-out war policy,” the group said.

After the release of the Melo Commission’s initial report, extrajudicial killings continued claiming the lives of 1,200 victims by the end of Arroyo’s term.

In an interview with Bulatlat, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares said the Truth Commission may end up like the Melo Commission and other commissions formed by the Arroyo administration. “The Melo Commission was formed just to show that Arroyo was doing something about the massive killings of activists in 2006. But until now the commission has yet to produce its final report. No one has been brought before the courts to be prosecuted,” he said.

In December 2009, in the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre that claimed the lives of 57 people, majority of whom are journalists, the Arroyo administration created the Zenarosa Commission to investigate and dismantle private armed groups being maintained by warlords and politicians. But up to now, the commission has yet to submit its final report and recommendations.

“We haven’t heard any developments from the commission to investigate private armies. On the other hand, the Mayuga commission has its report but it was kept in secret,” Colmenares said.

The Mayuga Commission was formed earlier to investigate the involvement of military generals in the electoral fraud committed during the 2004 presidential elections. The former Arroyo administration and the Armed Forces of the Philippines refused to release the report of the commission.

Even the Agrava commission, created in 1984 by Ferdinand Marcos to investigate the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. is a failure, Colmenares pointed out.

The Agrava Commission’s findings revealed a military conspiracy and named 26 persons including Gen. Fabian Ver as suspects in the Aquino assassination. The report was referred to a special court and a trial was conducted in 1985. Gen. Ver and 25 others were acquitted of any involvement in the assassination. When then president Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino Jr’s widow, was installed through a popular uprising, another investigation was conducted resulting in a retrial. In 1990, 16 military personnel were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

“Ten soldiers of the Aviation Security Command were convicted but until now, nobody knows who ordered the killing of Ninoy Aquino. And that was supposedly the function of that commission,” Colmenares said.

“All these commissions so far have further enshrined impunity,” he added.

Success Stories of Truth Commission in Other Countries

Colmenares pointed out that historically, the truth commissions that were created in other countries focused on human rights violations committed by former dictatorial governments.

“Past dictators in other countries who committed massive violations of human rights are corrupt as well. But notice that post-dictatorial governments focus its investigations on cases of human rights violations not corruption. There is no worldwide campaign against corruption, unlike human rights which the whole world agreed to respect,” Colmenares told Bulatlat.

Countries like Argentina, South Africa and Chile to name a few, also created truth commissions that investigated cases of human rights abuses and later on prosecuted the perpetrators and compensated the victims.

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