The Falsehood Commission

Opinion & Analysis Philippines Aug 16, 2005 at 10:16 am

By the Center for People Empowerment in Governance

THE ARROYO government, as Archbishop Oscar Cruz so aptly describes it, is without values, morals and principles, and one of the values it least respects is truth. The bribery and harassment of witnesses implicating Mrs. Arroyo and her family in the jueteng pay-offs scandal and in electoral fraud which Archbishop Cruz alleges is in fact not the only way to keep the truth from the public to which Mrs. Arroyo and her gang have resorted. They have themselves taken liberties with the truth at various times, and from all appearances are prepared to keep doing so.

When the “Hello Garci” scandal was about to break out last June, Malacañang tried to discredit whatever recordings the opposition would make public by claiming that these had been doctored, and that, indeed, it had the original ones—in which a woman who sounded like Mrs. Arroyo was talking to someone Malacañang said was a “Gary” who was other than “Garci” (former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcellano).

In making this claim, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye initially said the woman was definitely Mrs. Arroyo, only to declare later that he wasn’t sure, and that, in any case, he was only expressing an opinion. Later Mrs. Arroyo herself admitted to a mere “lapse in judgment” in talking to the man in the tapes—whom she would neither confirm nor deny was Garcillano—supposedly to “protect” her votes.
The list goes on and on, and not only in connection with the “Hello Garci” and jueteng scandals. Mrs. Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address, for example, was replete with claims, such as her having supposedly generated four million jobs in four years, and her government’s providing the homeless with shelter, that in other cultures would have been dismissed as outright lies.

But as long as the Arroyo government’s list of lies already is, it is likely to lengthen further, ironically through, among other vehicles, the so-called “Truth Commission” Mrs. Arroyo said last July 19 she would organize, and whose membership she said she would announce by July 25.

Mrs. Arroyo has so far done neither, primarily because no one with an ounce of self-respect would like to be identified with it. Mrs. Arroyo, however, will not be deterred, and is determined to create the Commission, since, it was clear from the very moment she announced her willingness to create it, that it is the means through which she plans to exonerate herself.

She has thus announced that (1) the commission would have no power other than that of fact-finding, and (2) its mandate would include not only the investigation of the charges of electoral fraud leveled against her, but also the “destabilization conspiracy” that Malacañang claims was behind the allegations.
Although an outrage from the very beginning—not only would the accused create a body to investigate herself, much like a murderer’s selecting the judge and jury in his own trial—that she should also turn the tables on her accusers by investigating them, which is roughly equivalent to the same murderer’s ordering the judge to investigate the prosecutor was expected.

The alacrity with which Mrs. Arroyo grabbed at the suggestion of the University of Santo Tomas, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference to create the commission was a clear indication that their suggestion was exactly what she wanted. Her inclusion of the so-called “destabilization conspiracy” against her in the yet-to-be-created commission is now saying that she intends to use the commission not only to conceal rather than find the truth, but also to blame the crisis on her accusers.

Mrs. Arroyo will first of all create the commission through an executive order. She will define its functions. She will decide its responsibilities. She will specify its objectives, membership, and organization. She will assign it a budget. She will name the members herself. And, as she announced last July 27, she will include in its mandate not only that of looking into the allegations that she cheated in the May 2004 elections with the connivance of key Commission on Elections as well as police, military and civilian bureaucracy officials, but also that of looking into the “conspiracy” supposedly behind the allegations against her.

Under these circumstances the commission Mrs. Arroyo plans to create might as well be called The Falsehood Commission. It is obvious why. Truth commissions—only five were created in the last two decades in testimony of the fact they are not to be taken lightly—are first of all premised on the assumption that a wrong has been committed.

In Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Peru and El Salvador, the wrong-doing of the previous government was a given and well established. The mission of the truth commissions in each of these countries was to determine the causes of such state-sponsored crimes as arbitrary arrests, torture, kidnapping, force disappearances and murder so that they may never again be repeated. In addition, they were meant to identify and punish the guilty, as well as compensate the victims as preconditions for the healing and reconciliation that was needed.

Especially critical in the credibility and integrity of truth commissions is who creates them—a fact obvious to anyone except Mrs. Arroyo and company. The truth commission of Chile was thus created by the successor of General Augusto Pinochet; that of South Africa by Nelson Mandela after the collapse of apartheid; Argentina’s by Raul Alfonsin; El Salvador’s by the United Nations; and Peru’s by Alejandro Toledo to investigate the regime of his predecessor Alberto Fujimori.

The “Truth Commission” is an idea whose time has not yet come in the Philippines. It is best left for the successor to the Arroyo government to create. A bad idea from the start if created and implemented by the very officials accused of conspiracy and other high crimes against the Constitution, in the hands of Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of liars it is likely to turn into a total war against truth, first because the very government accused of wrong-doing will in effect investigate itself; second because it is likely to be used to exonerate its creator; and third because it will be used to persecute Mrs. Arroyo’s accusers. Truth can only be the Arroyo commission’s first casualty, as well as its last.

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