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Now the work to achieve closure De Lima acknowledged criticisms that the

commission might duplicate the functions of


begins. the justice department.

Efforts to make ex-president Gloria Arroyo “At first glance, it seems to be a


and her allies accountable for duplication of the DOJ and even of the
irregularities under her watch, including Ombudsman,” she said. “But no, because the
the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal, reason we have this particular mechanism is
have officially started with the formal because the President wants a more focused
creation of the Philippine Truth Commission and expeditious disposition of cases to
of 2010. really put a closure to these very important
issues hounding our society.”
President Aquino signed Friday Executive
Order No. 1 creating the commission that The commission will specifically investigate
will “investigate reports of graft and cases involving “third-level public officers
corruption of such scale and magnitude that and higher, their co-principals, accomplices
shock and offend the moral and ethical and accessories from the private sector.”
sensibilities of the people”.

The “independent collegial body” chaired by


Powers
retired chief justice Hilario Davide Jr.
will have four more commissioners. It has In seeking closure to controversies that
until Dec 31, 2012, to complete its work, occurred from 2001 to 2009, Aquino clothed
with formal hearings most likely to begin the truth commission with the power to
next year, justice secretary Leila de Lima subpoena respondents and documents.
said at a press briefing in Malacañang.
De Lima said public officials and employees
Reading from the order, De Lima said the ignoring summonses would be “subjected to
hearings would be open to the public but appropriate administrative and disciplinary
that closed-door sessions would be conducted proceedings”.
for “matters of national security or public
safety”, including the safety of witnesses. Those in the private sector would be “dealt
with in accordance with law … (and) can also
In a statement read by his spokesperson, be criminally prosecuted for, let’s say,
Edwin Lacierda, the President said: “The obstruction of justice or perjury,” she said.
process of bringing a necessary closure to
the allegations of official wrongdoing and The commission is empowered to “collect,
impunity has begun.” receive, review and evaluate evidence
related to or regarding the cases of large-
He added in Filipino: “(The commission’s) scale corruption which it has chosen to
job is to investigate and seek the truth in investigate, and to this end, require any
the grave allegations of graft and agency, official or employee of the
corruption during the past nine years that executive branch, including government-owned
allegedly involved government officials and and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), to
their conspirators in the private sector.” produce documents, books, records, and other
papers.”
Shortly before signing the order, Aquino
observed that critics were “already It can “obtain information and documents
commenting” on the commission although it from the Senate and the House of
had yet to begin its work. “A lot of the Representatives’ records of investigations
people who are complaining about it seem to conducted by committees,” as well as those
be the people who might be part of the from the “courts, including the
process,” he said. Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Court
Administrator”, in connection with
corruption cases filed before them.
Broad scope
The commission can also “call upon any
De Lima said EO No. 1 was crafted in such a government investigative or prosecutorial
way that it would be “broad enough” to agency such as the DOJ or any of the
include cases such as Arroyo’s purported agencies under it, and the Presidential
manipulation of the 2004 presidential Anti-Graft Commission, for such assistance
election. and cooperation as it may require in the
discharge of its functions and duties”.
“This has something to do with the (phone)
call, with the rigging of the 2004 election. To ensure that witnesses will be encouraged
You cannot quantify that so we made it this to come forward, the commission is empowered
way,” she said. to seek protection for them, mainly through
the Philippine National Police.
Presidential legal counsel Ed de Mesa
expressed confidence that the Supreme Court Section 10 of EO No. 1 directs all
would sustain the validity of the truth government departments, including GOCCs, to
commission should the matter be raised “extend such assistance and cooperation as
before it. the commission may need.”
Recommendatory have been at the forefront of investigating
Arroyo since 2004?”
But despite these powers, the commission’s
findings will ultimately be “recommendatory” ‘Tons of evidence’
and will be submitted to the President,
Congress, and the Office of the Ombudsman. Reyes said Bayan and other groups had
compiled “tons of evidence” but that these
Asked about perceptions that Ombudsman gathered dust after the impeachment
Merceditas Gutierrez is biased in favour of complaints filed against Arroyo in the House
Arroyo, now the representative of Pampanga’s of Representatives failed to prosper.
second district, De Mesa said: “The
commission will complete its course “We’d like to know if this (evidence) would
regardless of the Ombudsman … and submit its be put to good use by the truth commission,”
findings to the Ombudsman or other he said.
appropriate bodies (to) take charge of
prosecution.”

EO No. 1 contains a provision allowing the


President to “expand the mandate of the
commission … to include the investigation of
cases and instances of graft and corruption
during the prior administrations”, meaning
those that had taken place before Arroyo
assumed office in 2001.

But De Lima ruled out the possibility of


such expanded coverage to look into graft
and corruption cases that might also take
place under the present administration.

“We have existing laws (to deal with such


cases). We have existing mechanisms,” she
said.

Reminder
In an interview with the Inquirer, Renato
Reyes Jr., secretary general of the militant
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said the
criticism aired regarding the truth
commission was intended “to remind the
(Aquino administration) that the people are
expecting accountability and justice to
happen”.

“They shouldn’t take it the wrong way or be


defensive about it,” he said.

Reyes expressed concern that only graft and


corruption and election fraud were being
mentioned as the issues that the commission
would investigate. He said its mandate
should include cases of human rights
violations and the killings of journalists
and leftist activists.

“The executive order should clarify the


scope (of investigation)... It shouldn’t
avoid extrajudicial killings and human
rights abuses because these are essential,”
he said.

Reyes also said it would be interesting to


know if the commission would “interact with
other groups to make Arroyo liable (for the
irregularities)”.

“Or will it be independent and work alone,


and not receive evidence from other groups?”
he said, adding:

“Will it be open to suggestions and


cooperation from cause-oriented groups that