By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The impeachment and eventual resignation of former ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, and the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona last year, which resulted in his removal this year, would surely banner the enumeration of accomplishments of President Benigno Aquino III. The removal of Gutierrez and Corona, the principal protectors of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the biggest stumbling blocks to holding her to account for her crimes against the people, are laudable accomplishments.
However, these would lose its significance if the process falls short of bringing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her family and top officials to account for all their crimes against the people, to include plunder, electoral fraud and sabotage, and most especially extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations. It is a bad enough deed for a president and his or her family to dip their hands into the nation’s coffers; it becomes worse, if they also deny from the people, their only means of democratic participation: voting. Add these to the most terrible crimes of all: killing 1,026 people, and making 206 others disappear.
As of the present, the Aquino government has been able to file a case of electoral sabotage against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This, it did shortly after Arroyo tried to sneak out of the country but was held at the departure area. The bail hearings have just been concluded – with Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay Regional Trial Court about to issue a decision on the petition – and the pre-trial has been set on August 23.
Also graft charges have been filed before the Sandiganbayan against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband Miguel and 20 Philippine National Police (PNP) officials for the fraudulent sale of second-hand helicopters to the PNP, which were misrepresented as brand new. However, the wheels of justice in these cases have been grinding so slowly.
Thus, after the frantic pace of the two impeachment proceedings last year, the process to put the Arroyos before the bar of justice has considerably slowed down. The question is why?
With two of the biggest obstacles – Gutierrez and Corona – out of the way, why has the process slowed down? Why is it that the Aquino government seems content with the electoral sabotage case? With the numerous corruption scandals involving the Arroyos, why hasn’t a plunder charge been filed? Surely, there are a lot of evidences that have been gathered as these have been the subject of numerous Congressional investigations. Aren’t two years enough to build a case? It took only three months for a plunder charge to be filed against former president Joseph Estrada when he was ousted in 2001. Added to this, a plunder case is non-bailableso it could provide the basis for the continued detention of former president Arroyo.
Why has the Aquino government been ignoring the cries for justice of the relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances? Surely these had been the most virulent and worst crimes of the previous Arroyo administration. Moreover, holding Arroyo and her top military and police officials accountable for these abhorrent crimes against the people would have been a major step in confronting impunity. It could have spared the lives of Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, Willem Geertman, councilor and Bayan Muna Fernando Baldomero of Aklan, farmer Guillermo Castillo of Mindoro, urban poor leader Antonio Homo, Rodel Estrellado of Bicol, B’laan tribal chief Rudy Yalon-Dejos and his son Rody Rick, and more than 80 others.
Has the Aquino government run out of momentum?
“To those who are talking about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice.”
These are tough words uttered by President Benigno Aquino III during his inaugural address. But these need to be matched by action. And so far, the actions of the Aquino government for justice have come far in-between, and have fallen short of what is expected of it.