Now that President Noynoy Aquino has signed Executive Order No 1, creating the 2010 Truth Commission that will attempt to ferret out the truth behind corruption scandals that mired the Arroyo administration, the public, pundits, legal luminaries and media have swarmed with their thoughts about it.
In this post, I will try my best to curate and present these various thoughts and insights, both pro and critical, about the 2010 Truth Commission as can be found on the interwebs.
First: What is EO No 1?
Ellen Tordesillas has given a handy-dandy answer:
- Truth Commission will just investigate, not prosecute
- Powers limited to recommendation for prosecution
- It will have a life-span of two and half years. Up to Dec. 2012
- Scope of work: reports of graft and corruption during the previous administration . Meaning the administration of Gloria Arroyo.
- The Commission will decide which cases to investigate
The full text of EO No 1 can be read on the Official Gazette.
Second: Legal Challenges
Even before PNoy had signed EO No 1, lawyers and legislators allied with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had started to ‘cry wolf’ and downplay it with legal criticisms.
Sen Joker Arroyo who said that the Truth Commission is doomed like a ‘toothless tiger’ because having been created by Presidential fiat:
it cannot compel attendance, it cannot compel anything, it can only invite. It will have no subpoena powers.
To illustrate his point further he compared how the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) was created by President Cory Aquino with her son President Noynoy Aquino’s 2010 Truth Commission:
The best example is the PCGG. That was EO (Executive Order) No. 1 enacted by President Cory. Attorney Jovito Salonga drafted it, submitted it, and President Aquino signed it without corrections. It was challenged in the Supreme Court, [which] sustained it. That is the kind of an investigative body that will ensure success.
It was sustained by the Supreme Court because back then, President Cory Aquino, under the Freedom Constitution were both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Every official act she did or order she issued had the full effect of the law.
Now, under the 1987 Constitution, those powers are now separately held by two branches of the governemnt: the Executive, which is headed by Presideny Noynoy Aquino is tasked to enforce the laws and the Legislative which is Congress imbued with the power to create laws.
Minority leader Rep Edcel Lagman of Lakas-KAMPI-CMD agreed and clarified this point further:
the establishment of the Truth Commission may be constitutionally infirm for the following reasons — the creation and funding of offices and commissions is a legislative power of Congress and, consequently, the Truth Commission cannot be constituted by mere executive fiat; the equal protection clause of the Constitution may be violated by targeting a specific group of officials for investigation; and the Truth Commission duplicates the constitutional mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman as well as the statutory jurisdiction of the Department of Justice.
Arroyo allies in the House are contemplating of going to the Supreme Court and challenge EO No 1.
Third: Flawed, but still necessary
Prominent lawyer, Harry Roque has eloquently described why the 2010 Truth Commission with all the legal defects is still a necessary body, to which I quote generously:
In transitional societies like South Africa where convictions for the gravest human rights violation has become impossible because of the passage of time and the dearth of witnesses, truth commissions have at least accorded these societies an opportunity to heal. While justice was not completely served in the absence of criminals actually being meted sentences for crimes that they committed, the truth would at least give the victims an opportunity to move on. There is solace in knowing, for instance, that a loved one who has disappeared has conclusively been found to have been killed. These kinds of confirmations at least accorded mothers to grieve, rather than hope that their loved ones could still be alive.
The Truth Commission to be established by P-Noy should not, however, follow the pattern of the South African model. In truth and in fact, the Commission should meanwhile perform the fact-finding function that the Ombudsman has opted not to perform. With Merceditas Gutierrez appointed precisely to protect the Arroyos, the intention should be not to accord the latter impunity, but to engage in fact finding while there is paralysis, nay dereliction of duty, in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Truth Commission should thus be supported precisely because the evidence against the Arroyos should be gathered and preserved while the merciless Mercy is still in office. It should never be considered as a substitute for the vast powers granted by the Constitution to the Ombudsman. It is, hence, a stop-gap measure intended to send the message that at no time should the Arroyos think that they can get away with their crimes.
These are how things stand as of now. But there’s still a lot more. The Chairman of the 2010 Truth Commission has also raised some eyebrows from pundits, journalists, and myself; former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. Again I borrow the words of Ellen Tordesillas which expresses the apprehension about Davide’s appointment to head the commission, spot on:
Ang inaala-ala ko lang talaga ay ang pagpili ni P-Noy kay dating Chief Justice Hilario Davide para mamuno ng Commission. Wala talaga kasi akong bilib kay Davide. Paano mo naman respetuhin ang isang taong nagpasumpa sa pekeng presendente. Hindi lang yun. Nang nag-retire na siya sa Supreme Court, nagiging tagapatanggol pa siya ni Arroyo sa United Nations.
Nang binabatikos ang pamahalaan ni Arroyo sa extra-judicial killings, si Davide ang kanyang tagapagtanggol kasama ang isa pang sipsip kay Arroyo na nasa gabinete ngayon ni P-Noy: si Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.
And Ellen is right, the public should be very watchful of the Truth Commission, whether it survives a challenge in the Supreme Court or not, the Marcoses may still be along way from paying for their crimes, we cannot allow the Arroyos to get away with theirs just because President Noynoy Aquino may have started off on the wrong foot. After all, we are all in this together for our nation and for our future.