FERRETING OUT THE TRUTH
By Solita Collas-Monsod
P-Noy Aquino’s decision to establish a Truth Commission, judging from the crowd’s reaction when he broached it during his inaugural speech, struck a very responsive chord in the Filipino people. So I am willing to go along with it, particularly since former Chief Justice Hilarion Davide, Jr. is chairing it.
But a lot of issues have to be cleared up first: is this going to be a truth/fact-finding body, or will it be prosecutorial in nature as well? What “unresolved issues” are involved in this commission? Because if these include graft and corruption in the previous administration, particularly those attributed to former President Arroyo and her family, then surely there exist agencies which already (at least in principle) have the mandate to do it: the Office of the Ombudsman, the PCGG, maybe even the Department of Justice.
It must be noted that most, if not all of the Truth/Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) — or at least those I looked into, including the South African TRC which Justice Leila de Lima says we will model ours after — were set up to uncover the truth about past abuses — human rights abuses. The South African TRC was unique, because it had the power to grant amnesty (and did — to some 12% of petitioners) to perpetrators who admitted their guilt and asked for forgiveness. This, by the way, did not sit well with a lot of the victims, who wanted “justice,” i.e., that the abusers should all be punished — not just the truth. It is also noteworthy that the South African TRC not only condemned the apartheid government for its abuses, but also the African National Congress (ANC) as well, because indeed both sides were guilty.
And this evenhandedness is probably one of the reasons the African TRC is being used as a model. On the other hand, I have the feeling that a lot of Filipinos, including some of the original advocates of a Philippine TRC, are actually thinking more of Nuremberg-type trials (and other star-chamber proceedings) — and may be very disappointed at the results of a TRC, and may then take their ire out on the Aquino government. This whole thing is a double-edged sword.
One of the interesting results of my (admittedly superficial) research is that some of the TRCs were set up by the United Nations. East Timor, in 2001, and El Salvador in 1992 are examples. In the latter case, the TC was established to investigate and report on human rights abuses during their civil war (1980-1992), saying that “acts of this nature, regardless of the sector to which their perpetrators belong, must be the object of exemplary action by the law courts so that the punishment prescribed by law is meted out to those found responsible.” Sounds like what we want, right?
The UN Secretary General, appointed former Colombian President Belisario Betancur (How much more impartial can you get?) as chair, together with a Venezuelan and an American. Its report, finished after eight months of investigation was about as hardhitting as they come: 85% of all acts of violence were attributed to “state agents,” 5% to the rebel group FMLN, and the rest to the death squads. The assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero was laid at the door of the death squads, and the killing of six Jesuit priests at the door of the Armed Forces. Interestingly, TC did NOT call for prosecution of incriminated perpetrators — because it saw the Salvadoran legal system as incapable of executing such prosecutions effectively! Instead, it recommended dismissal of culpable army officers and civil servants from government employment and disqualifications of other persons implicated in the wrongdoings from public office. Talk about being realistic.
But the report was rejected by the country’s civilian government and the armed forces — in any case, five days after the release of the final report (after rumored threats of a military coup), the legislature granted amnesty covering all crimes related to the civil war.
Another interesting result: in Liberia, the TRC included in its list of 50 names of people who should be barred from holding public office, elective or appointive for 30 years for being associated with former warring factions, the name of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the head of government who created the TRC in the first place. Closer to home, South Korea has its own Truth and R Sirleaf in a list of 50 names of people that should be “specifically barred from holding public offices; elected or appointed for a period of thirty (30) years” for “being associated with former warring factions.” The Liberian parliament, in August of last year, decided to have a year’s consultations with their constituents, before deciding to implement the TRC’s report or not.
We could also learn something from Peru’s experience: the TRC there was chaired by Salomon Lerner, who was then the rector of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru (the equivalent of our UST). Its report pointed to the Shining Path as the major violator — torture, kidnapping, assassinations — with the military coming in second and the MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) third. But it also criticized the performance of the Catholic Church, specifically the Archbishop of Ayacucho, Juan Luis Cipriani, an Opus Dei. Presumably, when Lerner said that “The report we hand in contains a double outrage: that of massive murder, disappearance and torture; and that of indolence, incompetence and indifference of those who could have stopped this humanitarian catastrophe but didn’t,” he was referring, in the latter case, to people like Cipriani.
South Korea’s TRC, charged in 2005 with examining human rights violations from 1910 (by Japanese occupation forces) to the end of authoritarian regimes — including civilian massacres by US military forces — is supposed to come out with its report anytime now (it was given an annual budget of about $19million a year). That should be interesting too.
Given all these country experiences, perhaps CJ Davide and his TRC, in tackling “unresolved issues,” should focus on the media killings first. Arguably, these have given the Philippines as much of a black eye as corruption. And certainly, if the killings continue, the enthusiasm of media to blow the whistle on corrupt practices will be even more impaired.