(First of two parts)
IN the struggle to rid the nation of corruption, we need a Truth Commission. Not the unconstitutional variety created by President Benigno Aquino 3rd with his very first Executive Order, issued the day he took office on June 30, 2010, but voided by the Supreme Court six months later for unfairly targeting the past administration.
No, the body needed would be akin to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established by South Africa in 1996, after the white racist regime ended apartheid two years earlier and gave way to a multi-racial government under Nelson Mandela. The TRC gathered voluminous testimonies on rights abuses and violence committed by contending forces in the nearly half-century conflict over racial segregation.
Under its legal mandate, the commission granted amnesty to those admitting unlawful acts. Besides encouraging people to tell the whole truth, the policy promoted the healing of wounds from decades of repression and rebellion. And most important for national security and harmony, the TRC reassured forces of the past apartheid government that they need not fear or fight the new dispensation just to protect themselves from reprisal.
Today, in addressing the gargantuan scourge of corruption, especially in the loftiest halls of power, the Philippines would do well to aim for the same goals of truthful, unabridged information; national reconciliation, security and stability; and most of all, the drastic reduction, if not eradication of top-level sleaze.
But hang on, aren’t those that the very same objectives of every corruption crackdown, including the latest investigation and prosecution of pork barrel schemers? Sadly, no.
Much as there are many well-meaning officials and investigators in every anti-graft probe and prosecution, too often the powers that be exert pressure and maneuver evidence to target opponents and spare allies.
Take the current purported exposes on the Priority Development Assistance Fund. Secretary Florencio Abad’s Department of Budget and Management gave the independent Commission on Audit only the PDAF documents for 2007-09, and just one-third of the fund releases for those pre-Aquino years. Thus, the COA report skipped the present administration, when pork barrel tripled from recent years, and focused on mostly opposition projects, sparing then Senator Aquino and his current allies.
Nor is the administration’s custody of alleged pork barrel operator Janet Lim-Napoles and the self-styled whistleblowers who used to work for her, any assurance of non-partisan inquiry by the so-called “Three Furies,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and COA Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan—all handpicked by Aquino. Indeed, with their total dependence on his clout, Napoles and her former staff would be careful not to give testimony that may displease or worse, implicate him.
Nor would the current selective crackdown strengthen and clean up government. Those fearful of prosecution will have three choices—all unhelpful for the country: become Aquino allies to win protection or leniency, plot to bring him down, or flee the country. After all, they have seen how Aquino, time and again, protects shooting buddies, allied lawmakers, and lately, appointees in state corporations giving themselves fat bonuses.
So, join Aquino was exactly what hundreds of erstwhile allies of then President Gloria Arroyo did when his star began rising, lifted by his mother’s death. With those legislators and other politicians switching sides en masse, the present regime not only hid DBM papers for two-thirds of the 2007-09 PDAF. The P700-million fertilizer scam has also been all but forgotten; many congressmen implicated in it are now in the Aquino camp.
For opposition stalwarts and other politicos targeted by pork probes, departure or destabilization are the options. During his plunder trial, deposed President Joseph Estrada allegedly backed agitation and even uprisings against Arroyo. He also supported the presidential bid by the late superstar actor Fernando Poe Jr. in the hope of getting off the judicial hook.
This time, there will again be accused leaders eyeing escape or plotting putsch. Administration grafters, too (they’re not all clean, for sure). They will work doubly hard to keep their protectors in power, and that includes raising political funds by smuggling, jueteng and other anomalies still flourishing. And if it looks like their days in power would end by 2016, there will be escape plans put in place to put the schemers and their ill-gotten gains out of reach by the next regime.
In sum, the current partisan anti-graft crackdown looks set to only intensify the toxic, fractious and graft-ridden politics which has bedeviled this nation forever, with all its corruption, deception, destabilization, and violence. Another campaign against sleaze targeting opponents while sparing friends, will bring neither justice and good governance, nor stability and harmony.
Instead, there will be just the umpteenth round of opportunist politicians picking likely winners in 2016 or sooner, and joining the victorious side to protect themselves and preserve or expand their perks, privileges, proclivities, prestige and power. As the nation has seen even under an avowed anti-graft crusader like Aquino.
Hence, rather than the proven failure of partisan crackdowns and the corrupting power struggles they engender, the nation should explore the option of a Truth Commission led by national figures of unquestioned integrity and moral authority, backed by competent legal and investigative prowess, including retired experts and officials, granting amnesty for truthful and complete testimonies. It will report to the nation on this national enormity, and use the information to reform government, set up citizens monitoring, and launch a fresh start for the Philippines, as will be further explained in the final part of this article on Friday.