truth commission

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.


  1. @ GabbyD: That would be the best, to get somebody neutral who’s respected by many.

    But Davide, I believe, isn’t neutral. He is pro-Gloria. Winnie Monsod isn’t neutral either. She is pro-Gloria. She stuck with Gloria till the end.

  2. @ teo: actually duda na rin ako kay davide, and i’m never sure where mareng winnie really stands, kasi nga u.p. school of economics siya no, and where are we after all their advice to one president after another; and she’s married to a guy who lawyers for big business. pero i like the way she details out what we can hope for, and where we might be in for disappointment, relative to truth-commission experiences of other countries.

  3. @gabbyD : from kenneth guda on facebook: “Sino kaya ang kukumpronta sa dominasyon ng mga neoliberal academic enclaves sa Pilipinas (tulad ng UP School of Economics) sa diskurso at pagtakda ng mga polisiyang pang-ekonomiya sa bansa? For all the talk about “change,” wala rin namang pinagbago ang Aquino administration sa economic policies ng nakaraang mga administrasyon. At ano ang napala natin sa walang humpay na pagpasok ng dayuhang kapital, ng liberalisasyon, deregulasyon at pagsasapribado? Yumaman ba tayo, Winnie Monsod? Nabawasan ba ang mahihirap, Cesar Purisima at Cayetano Paderanga? Umunlad ba ang bansa, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?”

  4. GabbyD

    @angela on July 2nd, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    “where are we after all their advice to one president…”

    thats an unfair demand. not all of their advice is heard. not all of the advice that is heard is followed. there are details in the implementation, which requires politics.

  5. GabbyD

    another question:

    how do we know davide is pro-gloria?

    is 100% of the evidence:
    1) appointing pgma back in edsa 2
    2) silence over the next few years?

    what i dont understand is
    1) lots of people was in favor of pgma back then
    2) silence, esp by a judge!, is a good thing.

  6. buko nut & halo-halo

    @gabbyD-{:=) another question: wasnt it Cory who initially appointed Ex-CJ Davide to govt service? and Pres. Erap appointed him CJ on the lobby of taipan L. Tan????? Wasnt it the Makati Business Club and the CBCP who exerted moral(pressure) suasion for the Davide to exercise extra-Constitutional judicial power to unilaterally and one-sided interpretation of “constructive resignation” as legally binding. ergo, he was forced to support GMA’s illegal ascendancy against the will of the eleven million who legitimaely voted Erap as our president.

  7. “… he was forced to support GMA’s illegal ascendancy…”

    “Force” is defined as something like “… such display of physical power as is calculated to inspire fear of physical harm to those opposing possession of premises by trespassers.” (In re: Cocamas.)

    So if former CJ Davide was “forced,” someone must have had such power that inspired fear of physical harm.

    I don’t buy it. More reasonable to think that like most humans, he did what he did voluntarily. Otherwise, there will be no end to such excuses like “the dog ate my homework,” etc.

  8. The Patriot

    i oppose the appointment of CJ Davide to head President Aquino’s Truth Commission.

    The body should rather be headed by a more independent and trustworthy person than Davide. It can’t be hidden that Davide has always been a favorite CJ of GMA and Davide himself used to be a loyal ally of the Arroyos.

    Finding truth and culpability of GMA on a variety of corruption crimes can be a total failure should President Aquino firmly pursues to keep CJ Davide on top of that body.

    I am convinced that naming CJ Davide to head the Truth Commission was not a well-thought of idea.

    Look for others guys. There are a lot better in our midst.

  9. Primer Pagunuran

    The Filipino people find themselves in a fix, if not a state of polarization has already infested the High Court.

    Those who have read the decision of the Supreme Court may find it traditionally if not by intellectual tradition, chronically mainstream. There is nothing in its line of thinking that is not already known by any ordinary man in the street. True, there should be an equal protection of law, nothing arbitrary. True, the Truth Commissions created in other country models or similar local commissions created in the past differ in “context as in content” with this Executive Order No. 1.

    We have been seeing more of the same. “Crimes” we would have been interested to know, more objectively, are again to be hidden from public view. They block P-Noy, they hide the facts, they don’t want anything more said about “Hello Garci”, “Hello Benjie”, and all that.

    Some more truths have been hidden. We all must be interested to find out and by refusal to delve on this ‘reopening to a reawakening’ will find themselves unbenefiting from a new intellectual environment being introduced by P-Noy in our body polity.

    Later, I shall critic more thoroughly on the Truth Commission in a separate piece.