CenPEG | The Truth Commission: Will Justice Be Served?

By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
Posted by Bulatlat.com

President Aquino III’s move to form a Truth Commission that will investigate Gloria M. Arroyo’s alleged wrongdoings committed in nine years of her presidency raises public expectations way above government’s ability to meet. Right now, there are courses of action that can be taken by independent groups serious with the prosecution of the discredited former president without even waiting for Aquino to fulfill his campaign promises in putting closure to Arroyo’s accountability for the alleged public crimes.

Under her 9-year watch (January 2001 – June 2010), Arroyo along with many top officials were implicated in election fraud, major cases of corruption, plunder, and gross and systematic human rights violations. These allegations led to the filing of four successive impeachment complaints against her and – in the case of the rights violations – in the holding of a number of independent tribunals that found the former president guilty. Although Arroyo was the alleged principal perpetrator these cases could not have happened without the complicity of her political allies, Cabinet members, generals, business cronies, and others. Justice has been denied owing to the inaction if not the complicit role of top officials of the Ombudsman, prosecutors, and state investigators.

At this point, nothing is clear about the task of the Truth Commission. This early, however, the independence of the commission is being questioned given that it will be headed by a former Arroyo appointee. Former Supreme Court chief justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. Davide, who once headed the fact-finding commission on the coup attempts staged against President Corazon C. Aquino in the late 1980s, served as permanent representative of the Philippine mission to the United Nations and had sworn Arroyo to the presidency in 2001 upon the ouster of then President Joseph E. Estrada.

The proposed presidential commission is not without precedent. There was the Agrava Commission that probed into the assassination of opposition figure Benigno Aquino, Jr. in 1983. Others were the Davide Commission, Feliciano Commission (Oakwood mutiny, 2003), and the Melo Commission (2006) that looked into political killings. Although the Agrava commission linked military men to the 1983 assassination its mastermind remains unknown to this day. The Davide commission only resulted in a “kid’s gloves” approach to the coup plotters. Leaders of the Oakwood mutiny were detained and tried but the issues they had raised including corruption in the armed forces remain unheeded to this day. The Melo commission became just a political ploy to neutralize the growing international outrage over the political killings.

Specific investigations

What is common among these past commissions is their investigation of specific cases, whether incidents of political assassination, coup attempts, or the summary execution of activists. The proposed Truth Commission is more than this: It is expected to look into cases of corruption, plunder, electoral fraud, and human rights violations. Similar to the past commissions, the new Davide-led body will investigate but can only recommend the prosecution of perpetrators. What happens after that is an entirely different story.

Even if it is formed as a superbody with powers to summon both alleged perpetrators, co-conspirators, and witnesses the proposed commission’s mandate will likely be so vast that fulfilling its mission would be agonizingly long if not nearly impossible. Theoretically, a truth commission should only look into a specific incidence of inter-related crimes. Thus it has the choice of probing into corruption, electoral fraud, plunder, or human rights cases. Among others, the professed goal is to put an end to a heinous crime committed over a period of time, deliver its perpetrators to justice, and bring about a major transformation. The prosecution of Arroyo and other officials for corruption, for instance, can be a definitive step toward fulfilling Aquino III’s campaign pledge to end the culture of corruption in government.

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