Truth commissioned

In the debate surrounding the proposal to create a “Truth Commission,” no one has raised the basic question:  Who wants the truth and why?  It is Ms Arroyo who is commissioning the truth, and we all know why – she wants affirmation of her victory in 2004, nothing more.

If we wanted to know who really won in the 2004 presidential election, we had every opportunity to do so in a constitutional way in the national canvass in Congress and in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).  Why did our legislators waste this chance by responding to every challenge to the certificates of canvass with the perfunctory word “noted”? And why did the Supreme Court justices, sitting as PET, dismiss the quest for truth behind Fernando Poe Jr’s formal election protest after he died?  Why would they not allow his widow to substitute for him, not as candidate but as petitioner, a seeker after the truth? Why were they content to deal with the divisive issue of a presidential election protest by invoking a technicality?

The answer may lie in the fact that people don’t mind permitting lies when they have beneficial consequences. “Suppose we want truth,” Nietzsche writes, “why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance?” Ms Arroyo’s victory in 2004 may be a lie, but to those who believed that an FPJ presidency would be disastrous, it can only be a beneficial lie. Therefore, nothing is to be gained from inquiring into the truth of electoral fraud.

Today, however, the tables are turned. The revealing conversations in the “Hello Garci” tapes are swaying a growing number of people into believing that the winner in the last presidential election was the late Fernando Poe Jr.  This is a harmful truth.  Not only does it expose the spurious nature of our elections and the illusory character of our democracy; it also cancels the last basis of legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency.  In her now famous June 27 apology, Ms Arroyo sought to belie the impression that she cheated in the last election.

There is no question, she said, that she won the presidency fair and square.  To confirm this, a Truth Commission will be formed to show the “real” score once and for all.

From the way it is shaping up, this is going to be, literally, a commissioned work, not the autonomous open-ended truth-seeking process that the bishops hope it would be.  Its goal is specifically to gather solid proof of Ms Arroyo’s victory, rather than to understand what happened in the 2004 election.  Appointed by Ms Arroyo herself, funded and cloaked with the powers of the office she occupies, the Commission will be little more than a fact-finding body designed to help solve Ms Arroyo’s political problems.  Its goal will not be the search for truth at any cost, but the search for information that will confirm and legitimize the Arroyo presidency.

Ms Arroyo’s interest in the truth has nothing to do with ascertaining how billions in public funds were used to promote her electoral campaign, or how the facilities and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were deployed in support of her election, or how key officials in the Commission on Elections betrayed the mandate of their positions by manipulating the elections to favor Ms Arroyo.

In contrast, a Truth Commission created independently is bound to raise questions beyond the scope of the 2004 elections.  It may ask why running for public office in our country has become more expensive over the years, what role drug and gambling syndicates play in elections, and how campaign funds are sourced, accumulated, and spent.  It may look into the way political favors incurred during elections are repaid with cushy appointments and promotions, with juicy contracts and tax breaks.

Such a comprehensive inquiry into the workings of our political system may yield truths about the intimate connection between patronage politics and mass poverty, between corruption and underdevelopment.  It may reveal to us that the crisis of Ms. Arroyo’s presidency is only a symptom of the larger crisis of an obsolescent political system that refuses to die.

Truths like these are not so much discovered as they are made by people who regain the use of their language in order to ask questions that confront the lies on which the whole social order stands.  Why are so many of our children dying from malnutrition?  Why do so many of them fail to finish basic education?  Why are there a growing number of families living in the streets of our cities?  Why has our economy become so dependent on the earnings of our exported workers?  Why are our government corporations losing so much money every year?  Why is debt service the biggest item in the government’s annual budget? Why do we import so many of our basic necessities? If the economy is growing, why are so many of our people jobless ? If ours is a rich country, why are so many of our people poor and hungry?

We may need a truth commission when Ms Arroyo is finally gone. In South Africa, President Nelson Mandela established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a first step towards healing the wounds left behind by the apartheid era.  It took seven years to complete this cathartic exercise.  The kind of truth that Ms Arroyo is commissioning will neither heal nor reconcile the nation.  It will only prolong the conflict.

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