Truths the Truth Commission revealed

IN ITS brief five-month existence, President Aquino’s Truth Commission managed to show us three truths. The first is that the current administration is in a time-warp of sorts. It believes that June 2010 was another Edsa Revolt. The make-believe world of administration officials is that just as his mother toppled a dictator in 1986, the son had overthrown Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in May 2010.

What Mr. Aquino and his inner circle don’t seem to know is that Arroyo wasn’t kicked out as Marcos and Estrada were; she stepped down when her term ended and even ran for a lower post as a member of Congress. Her candidate lost in the elections, but so did the respected President Fidel Ramos’ anointed lose to a popular actor.

Because of that kind of mentality, Executive Order No. 1 that created the commission was nearly a plagiarism of his mother’s Executive Order No. 1 issued on Feb. 28, 1986. “Whereas, there is an urgent need…,” the mother said in his order in 1986. “Whereas there is an urgent call…,” the son said in his 2010 order.

The mother’s EO No. 1 ran after the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the president she overthrew. The son’s EO No. 1 will investigate “the reported cases of graft and corruption during the previous administration.”

What Mr. Aquino’s advisers could not have thought of, since they are living in a make-believe world, is that the mother’s EO was made 24 years ago when she headed a revolutionary government. She both carried executive, legislative and judicial powers and she could create any government body, even a judicial one. Her son can’t do that. It’s 2010 now, and our system of check and balance with the Congress and the judicial system is firmly in place.

It is exactly the same mind-set—that Aquino III led the 21st century-version of a People Power uprising—that made his advisers forget that there is a Congress that has to authorize the grant of amnesty to rebels. Cory didn’t have a Congress when she pardoned military and communist rebels.
The second truth the short-lived Truth Commission tells us is that this is an administration in which a dominant faction are made up of NGO types, epitomized by Dinky Soliman whose passports are filled up with visas from countries all around the world, attending conferences where they pick up the NGO world’s latest interest and buzzwords (like “closure” and “conjuncture”).

What was a favorite topic in these conferences last year was the concept and experience of “truth commissions,” especially as the country which invented it, post-apartheid South Africa, went on the international stage with its hosting of the World Cup 2010.

So Truth Commission it should also be for the Philippines, Dinky and Associates probably lobbied, even if it was a ridiculous idea. But truth commissions were set up in other countries after murderous dictatorships were overthrown, as in Argentina and Chile, in order to investigate human rights abuses. However, even the most rabid of Arroyo’s critics cannot reasonably claim that she was a dictator.

If ever a Truth Commission were a sane idea for our country, it would have been right after martial law to investigate human rights violations of the Marcos dictatorship. But Cory’s Presidential Commission on Good Government was set up instead to run after Marcos’ money, and not to go after those who committed human rights abuses. (The police general who tortured us during martial law, for instance, has the comfortable life of a retiree in Daley City, California. He visits the country every quarter on golf tours.)

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz pointed out the third truth shown in the brief life of the Truth Commission: “They’re very incompetent.”

Indeed, the post-mortems have been flooding in on how Mr. Aquino should have proceeded if he wanted to prosecute Arroyo and other allegedly corrupt officials, such as setting up a multi-agency task force. His most trusted officials after all are in control of key institutions where the paper trail could be found, and where bureaucrats are just too willing to cooperate to advance their careers.

The view that the Supreme Court justices vote in favor of Arroyo because she appointed them is hogwash. The justices have fixed terms of office, and since they are at the apex of their legal careers, they won’t risk tainting their reputations. In my experience in government, most appointees immediately forget the appointing power, or the people who lobbied for them, as soon as they assume their posts.

This issue in fact was studied with scientific rigor in a paper, “The Role of the Supreme Court in Unstable Democracies: The Case of the Philippine Supreme Court, An Empirical Analysis 1986-2010,” by two academics from Germany and the United States. They compiled the Court’s decisions from 2004 and 2008 affecting the administration and studied the 294 votes of the 21 justices involved, 14 of whom were appointed by Arroyo. It used regression analysis, a rigorous statistical tool in the social sciences, that included not only the variable of being appointed by Arroyo or not but also a host of other variables such as age, sex, judicial experience, being a law professor or not, whether the case is a constitutional one or not.

The study’s conclusion: “Being appointed by President Arroyo does not seem to strongly determine judicial voting.”

The study even noted: “There is also some evidence of the defection model.” This model states: “When the appointer is no longer in office, the justices are loyal to the new President (and are likely to be disloyal to the interests of the appointer) due to opportunism, survival and the possibility of personal gains.” After all, an ambassadorship or a board directorship isn’t a bad post for a retired justice.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer