Monday, February 9, 2015

The nation must choose: Truth commission or inquiry

ONE is grandiose, even Biblical (“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, John 8-32). The other is plainspoken and to the point.
Some senators and congressmen. with Sen. Teofisto Guingona in the lead, are batting loudly for the creation of a truth commission by Congress. They are so sure of the soundness of their idea, they are already nominating names for the commission before it is created. In a signal to President Aquino that he need not worry, the proposed probers are all known Aquino supporters and associates, who have served at one time or another in the Aquino administration.
At the House of Representatives, congressmen led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte are batting for a joint inquiry by the House and the Senate. They don’t want an independent body; they want legislators to take the lead in questioning probable witnesses on live television.
Meanwhile, there are two or three other investigations of the Mamasapano massacre already ongoing. Citizens are exasperated. Foreign observers are bewildered.
This must not go on further. We’re not fun to look at at all.
The nation must come to a decision, whether to pursue the truth commission scheme, or instead create an independent fact-finding body that will conduct a comprehensive inquiry.
Country goes berserk with truth commisssion
Whenever this country tries to create a truth commission, we are plunged into confusion and darkness.
President Aquino made the creation of a truth commission his first order of business upon his inauguration on June 30, 2010. He wanted to put his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, behind bars. His commission by executive order was ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
In retaliation, Aquino moved heaven and earth to impeach then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
This new attempt to establish a truth panel will be similarly debated no end. The Palace and Liberal party officials are for it because President Aquino will choose and appoint the members of the commission.
To avert public suspicion and skepticism, and to ensure the body’s independence, Vice President Jejomar Binay, who appears to have finally found his voice, has opined that President Aquino should not appoint and choose the commission members.
This paper was the first to take the position that Congress should create by law “a national commission to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the killing of 44 commandos and other persons in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.” We said that the body should be fully independent and invested with full powers to investigate and call anyone to give testimony.
The Times suggested the 9/11 commisssion as a model for the law and the body’s work. It heard the testimonies of no less than two presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
We are in confusion here because Aquino’s cohorts in Congress are worried for the President. They want to make sure that the commission’s investigation will go soft on him. That is why they want to load the panel with partisans and allies. That is also why Drilon jumped the gun by declaring Aquino innocent of any wrongdoing.
This will grate on public opinion, so badly, that it will incense the populace and the police-military into even more open denunciation of the president, as the one responsible for the deaths of the SAF 44.
Diplomats puzzled by truth panel
Members of the diplomatic corps and foreign observers are puzzled why our legislators are so gung ho about the truth commission, if the proposed commission will be patterned after the seminal truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa.
The truth commission in that country inaugurated a process for truth and reconciliation among all South Africans, black as well as white, so that the country could emerge from the dark history of apartheid.
The South African process involved amnesty and forgiving offenses committed under apartheid. It was successful up to a point, enough to enable South Africa to move forward and stabilize its democracy. But up to now there are still questions and misgivings whether forgiveness was the way forward.
If the proposed Mamasapano commission envisions amnesty and forgiveness for those who perpetrated the killings in Maguindanao, we could have a new explosion of violence to deal with.
And it will truly be the end of Aquino’s treasured peace process and Bangsasmoro Basic Law.
The clamor for truth and justice will not be muted.
Inquiry usually the way to go
It is seldom, I have learned, for governments to choose the truth commission formula in investigating a major incident or controversy.
In England, the mother of parliaments, they choose to conduct an inquiry, under which the investigating magistrate is fully empowered to investigate and submit a report to parliament for action.
They launch an inquiry whether the issue is a major controversy, like the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which caused the UK to join the invasion of Iraq. Or whether the issue is a humdrum one, like abuse of media freedom in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
No less than prime minister Tony Blair was subjected to intensive questioning.
When the Hutton inquiry submitted its report, the brouhaha settled down. Her Majesty’s realm got back to being the sceptered isle and the throne of kings.
Inquiry will produce facts, not platitudes
To conclude, a no-nonsense inquiry directed at getting to the bottom of the Mamasapano massacre is, in my view, the rational and right way to go. It is the one that will produce the facts, hear the testimony, and arrive at the correct conclusions that will enable us to move beyond this tragedy and our grief.
Congress should create an independent fact-finding body, and invest it with full powers to investigate. And there should be no doubt that President Aquino himself will be among those whose testimony should be heard.
The law may not include grandiose calls for truth and other platitudes. But this is the way a serious democracy tackles a tragedy as gruesome, heartbreaking and crushing as Mamasapano.
Recovery from this affair must start here.

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