The promise of closure

The much-awaited executive order creating a special body to investigate scandalous cases of graft and corruption committed during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is finally out.  Last July 30, a full month after he took office, President Noynoy Aquino issued Executive Order No. 1 establishing “The Truth Commission of 2010.”  In an instant, Ms Arroyo’s allies reacted by questioning the legality of the order, calling it a usurpation of institutional functions. They charged that an investigative body like this cannot be created by mere executive fiat. The president, they warned, should ask Congress to pass a law.

I find it odd that these critics found nothing constitutionally objectionable in Administrative Order No. 78, issued by then President Arroyo on July 30, 2003, creating the “Feliciano Fact-Finding Commission” to investigate the so-called Oakwood Mutiny and the causes of military grievances.  Or Administrative Order No. 157, issued on August 21, 2006, creating the “Melo Fact-Finding Commission” to look into the killings of media workers and activists.  Not one of them accused Ms Arroyo of usurping a legislative function or of creating a redundant body.

Just to drive home the point: don’t both houses of Congress routinely launch investigations and hearings “in aid of legislation,” which quite often are already being investigated by other government agencies? In all such instances, they do not seem to mind that precious public funds and resources are consumed in these investigations.

In fact, Executive Order No. 1 springs no surprises. I don’t understand what took so long to write it. Cutting through the verbiage, one finds that the socalled “Truth Commission of 2010” is basically a fact-finding body that is no different from other special commissions created by past administrations.  Its primary task is “to conduct a thorough fact-finding investigation of reported cases of graft and corruption… during the previous administration and thereafter recommend the appropriate action or measure to be taken…”  I find nothing illegal, or extraordinary, or so complex in this order that would warrant judicial intervention.  The only difference I can see is that whereas the Feliciano and Melo commissions were created by an administrative order (AO), it took an executive order (EO) to create the Truth Commission of 2010.  I’ve read the Administrative Code, but, I have to admit, I don’t understand where the substantial distinction between an AO and an EO lies.

It goes without saying that such a commission can be created by Congress as well. The first Davide Commission of 1987, mandated to investigate the failed coup of December 1989 and to recommend measures to prevent military adventurism, was initially authorized by AO 146.  An act of Congress, RA 6832, subsequently affirmed its creation. Nothing stops Congress, if it is minded, from doing the same with respect to the Truth Commission of 2010.

But, President Noynoy has opted not to rely on Congress to pass such a law.  People who have watched how Congress operates would easily understand why.  Given the present state of our political system, perhaps the best way to kill any reform initiative is to submit it to Congress.

Do we need a truth commission to find out what really happened in the many controversial cases involving the Arroyo presidency that were left unresolved because political power was used to suppress the necessary information?  That is the main question.  The decision to create one is certainly political, but that is not something to apologize for.  It is one of the campaign promises of the new president, and many are happy to see that seems determined to keep his promises.  President Noynoy is clearly prepared to stake the legitimacy of his presidency on the correctness of this decision. Let those who oppose him on this also challenge it in Congress and in the public arena.

Is the President reading the public pulse correctly? Or is this move nothing but a manifestation of a divisive triumphalist streak? As a student of politics, I am fully aware that a president is expected to be the source and focal point of political integration. In this role, he must leave behind the antagonism of the electoral campaign and begin to harness the collective will and power of the nation in order to achieve long-term national prosperity and stability. But, the reality is that, to be able to do this, he must help our people overcome their skepticism about government so they can be active partners in the country’s development.  Over the years, our people have become indifferent to the demands of citizenship. They demand answers to questions that their leaders tend to bury once they are in power. That is what a truth commission is for.

The commission will have fulfilled its mission if, at the end of its work, it is able to provide straightforward accounts of what happened in at least three crucial cases: (1) the “Hello Garci” scandal and allegations of cheating in the 2004 presidential election, (2) the use of fertilizer funds in Arroyo’s 2004 campaign, and (3) the NBN-ZTE deal.

Such accounts, I think, will go a long way in producing what Filipinos call “closure.” The sense we give to this word is not very far from what it means in psychology: “the state of experiencing an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event.” For us, closure is being able to gain enough understanding of what really happened under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency, so we may regain the capacity to trust our leaders and thus, to hope once more.