HARVARD management professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, writing on the challenge of restoring “respect for government,” laments: “We have plenty of law but not enough inquiry.” She warned of a system where “no one asks and no one tells.”
In the Philippines, I want to tell professor Kanter, our despair is the opposite. We have plenty of inquiry, but we have not produced enough law to enforce accountability and professionalism in government.
At any given time, a committee of the Senate or the House is conducting here an inquiry on a matter of public interest; sometimes the investigation is on something trivial; sometimes it receives live TV coverage. All that is needed for a local inquiry to take place is for a senator or congressman to be agitated enough to press for it. The catch is that our hearings, more often than not, produce nothing. Not even the required committee report.
Take the Senate hearing last Monday on the hair-raising allegations of former Davao City police officer Arthur Lascañas.
At the end of a proceeding that tried its damndest to be sensational, the senator-probers were as befuddled and lost, as I (a mere observer) was. They did not know what they had reaped, or had an idea of what to do next.
Testimony with no probative value
The most conclusive finding of the hearing was the discovery of its own worthlessness.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs who steered the hearing, declared at the end that the inquiry was over for good. Lascañas would not be returning for another chance to stretch his tale. Lacson said the Lascañas testimony had “no probative value.”
In the legal dictionary, “probative value” means: “evidence which is sufficiently useful to prove something important in a trial.”
Lacson cited the lack of independent evidence to back Lascañas’ claims and recantation in which he repeatedly implicated President Duterte in alleged summary executions of criminals and even non-criminals in Davao City.
Oddly, before the hearing began, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III declared in a TV interview that Lascañas’s already publicized claims may not have “probative value.” Sotto would say afterwards that the testimony had publicity and entertainment value.
Knowing therefore what was to come, why did the Senate press on with the hearing? Why did the chamber not array other witnesses who would substantiate the Lascañas claims, or prove that the Davao Death Squad (DDS) did exist? At the mention of the name of Edgar Matobato, the chamber ran away.
Like an inning in a baseball game
In reviewing the results of the inquiry, it startled me that the proceeding looked like an inning in a baseball game (“no runs, no hits, no errors, no nothing”). All the talking produced no facts. This is why I shifted my attention toward a different direction, and started asking the following questions:
1. Were there summary killings in Davao City? What facts has the government or the Philippine National Police (PNP)
established on this matter? Can anyone or any agency attest to a single case?
2. Since the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has been investigating alleged human rights abuses in Davao since 1989, has the commission confirmed cases or any facts? What does it know? Will the CHR state for the record or under oath that the DDS existed?
3. Who are the human rights victims?
What is the status of their cases?
4. Who are the drug lords and traffickers who were killed or apprehended in Davao? Are they in detention today?
5. What does the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) know about the drug situation and history in Davao City? Shouldn’t the Senate secure its records and findings?
I was also curious about the Laud quarry where many of the DDS victims are supposed to have been buried. If there is any place where people should scream “hukayin”(exhume), this may be the place.
But Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre says the quarry was used as a gravesite for guerrillas killed by the Japanese during World War II, so any human bones discovered there may point to other victims.
Prior to the hearing, there was big talk about a journal that Lascañas claimed to have written about his activities in the Davao squad.
Why didn’t the Senate demand a copy of the journal as a condition for letting him testify at the hearing?
When Lascañas was asked about the journal and requested to furnish a copy to the Senate, he claimed that he had given the journal to certain priests and he has no copy of his supposed masterpiece. The Senate did not press him on the identity of the priests in league with him? Why no questioning about the priestly interest in this affair?
The reality of the journal is important, because its authorship would tend either to support or belie Lascañas’s confession.
For all their eagerness to give their two cents at the inquiry, the neophyte senators did nothing to advance the probe.
The new senators were incurious about the possibility that they were playing parts in an elaborate hoax. They just wanted to look good. When the hearing was over, some senators attested to Lascañas’s reliability as a witness; others challenged his credibility.
Democracy needs facts
My disappointment with the inquiry is that it did not produce facts regarding Lascañas’ story. It was lazy in its inquisition, and appeared to find satisfaction in every embellishment that the witness added to his tale.
I harp on this point because an inquiry by its very name is designed to establish or elicit facts.
Monday’s inquiry did not quench the public’s interest in knowing whether there was a Davao death squad or not.
After the expense of so much time and money in inquiry, the DDS remains neither fact nor fiction. Senators may need publicity, but our democracy needs facts more.