The Truth Commission: An Easy Way Out?

The Truth Commission is now open for business.

Among its stated objectives are “to promote reconciliation and reduce conflict over the past”. I am not sure ex-President Gloria agrees.

The Administration is toying with the idea of bringing GMA to justice,  “toying” being the operative word. The Commission is the platform of choice.

Gloria has not helped her cause. She should not have emptied the cookie jar. She should not have landmined the bureaucracy with her midnight appointments. She should not have as her first act in Congress filed a bill for Charter Change.  What was she thinking, that these would endear her to the people?

She perhaps is not aware of the extent of her unpopularity. Maybe nine years in Malacanang does that to you, makes you clueless.

Or maybe she does not give a hoot.

The President’s opening salvo was his revelations in the SONA of the indiscretions if not of GMA, at least of her people. Apparently he does not yet have the goods on her hence the tactic to unclothe her staff hoping this will lead to the top. The MO: Nail the subalterns, then  get them to squeal on their bosses with a promise of immunity.

The reasonings for the Commission are it will be politically impartial, will pressure the Ombudsman, Ms. Gutierrez, to come around and will keep her honest.

I am not convinced of the strategy.

One, the Commission is acknowledged even by the Administration to be a legal eunuch. The Commission is to the Ombudsman what Namfrel is to the COMELEC, a toothless watchdog, a second opinion, a reinvention of the wheel. It has the moral aura of the Mandela Commission from which it borrows its name; without the muscle.

For the Commission is really an end-run around the Ombudsman. The theory is if we cannot get the Ombudsman to play, we will make our own game. What happens if and when the Ombudsman resigns or has an epiphany? Does one collapse the Commission or will it just parallel the work of the Ombudsman’s office?

Two, who are we kidding, the Commission is partial. To be truly impartial, the Commission would have to investigate all previous Presidents for potential wrongdoing and not by alphabetical order. Singling out Arroyo for enquiry is about as partial as you can get.

But so what?

Political impartiality is not only an overrated virtue, it is an oxymoron. Politics is by definition partial. The act of voting is alone the most extreme form of political partiality.

I suspect what this nation wants is not so much a Truth Commission as a lynch mob.

So, if serious, let us dispense with the niceties and take out the gloves.

If the obstacle to truth and justice is the Ombudsman then let us put the fear of God in her. Check Ms. Gutierrez’ assets, her tax returns, her lifestyle, audit every case previously put before her for anomalies. To the NGOs, file impeachment proceedings against her till she is blue in the face, picket her home, shame her publicly.

If one cannot get the culprits on the big stuff, get them on the small stuff. Al Capone was jailed not for all the nefarious crimes that he was known to have committed. He was jailed for tax evasion.

The power of the President is so awesome, his rating so high he must be able to do something.

I have this notion that, despite the bravado, Filipino leaders are in their hearts loath to put their predecessors in jail. For all the supposed evidence against him, Estrada got an easy out. Must be a kind of protocol among Presidents, an alumni thing. As Congressman Pacquiao said, one should treat former Presidents with respect. Putting them in the slammer does not do that.

It is acceptable to expose their misdeeds, to sentence them in the court of public opinion to a life of shame, even to freeze their assets. But to put them behind bars? That is not, apparently, politically correct.

And so perhaps the Truth Commission is the way to go. It is a convenient exit for the Administration.The periodic unveilings of malfeasance should provide enough fodder to the public, a bread and circus to keep them entertained, a means to keep the approval ratings up and keep GMA at bay.

As for true redemption, that is for another time and place.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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