America is now an ex-superpower. First, it ceased to be the biggest economy in the world. It is now only the second-biggest economy. China has long overtaken it and the tables have been turned. Communist China has not only become an economic tiger; it has also become the biggest creditor of capitalist America.
And the decline of superpower America goes beyond economics. With China’s recent foray into bullyism (yes, I invented that word) in the West Philippines Sea, it has allowed China to challenge its pre-eminence in the Pacific front. This used to be its bastion since World War II. This was why despite granting the Philippines nominal independence, it insisted on utilizing the country as an unsinkable military carrier with take-off points at Clark and Subic. These were bases that used to be its biggest military installations outside the mainland US.
Today, it is longer the US Navy that is feared in this part of the world. It is now the Chinese Navy that lords it over in these waters. First it took possession of Mischief Reef in the disputed Kalayaan groups of islands from Filipino soldiers then assigned in the island. Today, it has effectively driven away all Filipino presence in Panatag Shoal, an area that is literally the backwaters of the province of Zambales. And if the respected journalist Chito Santamaria is correct, China is not just interested in the fishing waters around Panatag. The real battleground, according to Chito, is Recto Bank where Manny Pangilinan is about to drill for oil.
Amidst this newfound Chinese expansionism, where is America? Well, at the first sign of a conflict, Hilary Clinton declared that it would take a neutral stance and urged a peaceful settlement of the dispute. Later, when the standoff persisted, she declared during a US Senate concurrence hearing on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that China’s claims to the vast waters of the West Philippine Sea exceeded what is allowed under international law. And recently, when President Noynoy Aquino went to the US begging anew for help, no less than President Barack Obama was clearly non-committal. This is apparent in a White House release after the meeting between Obama and PNoy stating, among others, that the two leaders merely agreed on “firm support for a collaborative diplomatic process among claimants to resolve territorial disputes in a manner consistent with international law and without coercion or the use of force.”
Make no mistake about it. Uncle Joe can’t be counted upon to deal with China- the bully.
Central to American foreign policy is that as the lone superpower of the world, it can be counted upon to maintain peace and order in this planet. At the very least, if its economic woes have become so bad that it can no longer play the role of superman, it should have sufficient resources to stand by its long-standing ally when needed. But no, nowadays, the American position is for its allies to swim or sink. Full stop.
This is not to say that the American position is wrong. I for one have never believed that mother America will ever come to our rescue solely to defend our interests. This is why I have been a long supporter of the likes of Claro M. Recto and Jovito R. Salonga, who believed no one can be counted to uphold Philippine interest but us -Filipinos.
Still, this lackadaisical manner by which America seems to regard the recent threat of Chinese expansionism is a major change in its foreign policy.
Make no mistake about it. While America couldn’t care less about the West Philippine Sea, it will come back to Subic and Clark not to defend us; but to uphold its own national interest. This is why it is in the process of sending 60 percent of its navy forces to Asia. Malacañang, I’m sure would want to take credit for this. But nope, this has been in the offing even before our recent controversy with China. At most, perhaps, the actual deployment of these forces to Asia was hastened by the dispute. They will come though not because Scarborough and the Spratly islands are ours. They will come because China’s claims to these territories may precisely hinder deployment of their ships into these waters.
We, unfortunately, are irrelevant to their policy.
NOY’S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
Geneva, Switzerland. The Philippines will be the object of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May of this year by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Council is a body composed of 47 states tasked with the protection and promotion of human rights. The Council seeks to achieve its purpose through this periodic review, where states are asked by other states on the level of their compliance with human rights norms. This in turn is premised on the assumption that no state would want to be declared to be in breach of its human rights obligations. It also works through expert rapporteurs, both thematic and country specific, whose function is to conduct investigations to determine states’ compliance with their obligations.
As an adherent of humanitarian law that utilizes penology as an enforcement mechanism, I have been critical of how the UN implements human rights through this shaming machinery. But I had a different insight into the human rights mechanism when I saw it up close. To begin with, the world’s civil society is active here to ensure that non-compliant states are in fact shamed to the fullest. Further, one certainly gets the sense that with all states dutifully attending the many meeting of the UN here in Geneva, states do abhor the prospect of being branded as a violator. Judge Rosalynn Higgins said it succinctly: while violations of the rights of human beings are rampant, states will opt to deny that their conduct violate these rights and will instead argue that their conduct is either compliant or justified. She cited the case of torture. Amnesty International, who together with the German Action Network Human Rights-Philippines, are my hosts here- has once declared that almost all states commit torture. And yet, not one state will acknowledge this and all will still maintain that torture is illegal.
Why am I here? To participate in a side event to discuss human rights under P Noy and to lobby states to question the Philippines why extralegal killings (ELK’s), torture, and enforced disappearances (ED’s) persist.
I argued that extralegal killings, torture and enforced disappearances continue even now because their perpetrators have not been investigated, prosecuted and punished for their acts. Here, I traced the problem to a breakdown in the country’s pillars of its criminal justice system. First, the police do not know how to investigate. A recent study revealed that 8 out of 10 policemen are not trained and are hence incompetent to investigate crimes. There too is the PNP procedure that seeks first to identify the perpetrator of a crime before gathering and processing of physical evidence. Worse, in almost all the heinous crimes that I have been involved as a private prosecutor: the Maguindanao massacre, the Evangelista torture case, the Tanauan massacre, the Bicutan siege, to name only a few, policemen are the perpetrators of these crimes. How can they investigate themselves?
Second, the National Prosecution Service has failed to prosecute. The Perreño report commissioned by the Asia Foundation revealed that their conviction rate for Elk’s and ED’s is a measly 1% . Over-all, no less than the President has said that their conviction is a low of 14%. There may be many reasons for this -including lack of resources and manpower. But what appears to be obvious for now is their adamant refusal to be involved in the investigation of these crimes is responsible for their low conviction rate. Under human rights law, it is the state, acting through the police and the prosecutors, who must investigate and hence gather the evidence to meet the minimum threshold of evidence.
The Courts have at least, through former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, acknowledged that it is also in breach of their duty to protect and promote the right to life. This is due to the perennial problem of court delays and even the incompetence and lack of integrity of some of our Judges.
The decision to make the presentation here was not easy to make. I have been supportive of the administration of P Noy and make no apologies for it. But I opted to attend and am currently even lobbying the international community to confront the Philippines with the issues of ELK’s, torture, and ED’s for two reasons: one, a belief that true friend of an administration should not just sing odes of praise. A friend should commend when it is deserved, and should criticize, when necessary. This is not to overthrow it, but for it to become better. Secondly, I am here because you and I could be the next victims of these crimes.
So it happened. A few days after my column last week where I exhorted the impeachment of both Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, the President, weary of yet another TRO from the Arroyo court -asked his allies in Congress to impeach the Chief Justice. And while I have maintained that this should have been done since day 1 of his administration, its certainly better late than never, as the saying goes.
Critics though have claimed that the impeachment will undermine the independence of our courts. Far from it. In the first place, it was Corona who did it to himself. He agreed to become an unconstitutional Chief Justice when he assumed the office knowing fully well that both the language and the spirit of the Constitution barred his appointment. You cannot undermine the judiciary when you remove an unconstitutional appointee. On the contrary, you uphold the supremacy of the Constitution by doing so.
True, the Constitution defines judicial power as including the power to declare any act of any branch or instrumentality of government as null and void where there is grave abuse of discretion resulting in lack of or excess of jurisdiction. Included in this function is the duty to declare as illegal any act that is contrary to the constitution. But this is not a monopoly of the Courts. All public officers are required to uphold the constitution and the laws of the land. Surely, when it is the Supreme Court that makes a mockery of the Constitution, as it did in the case of De Castro v. JBC where the midnight appointment of Corona was upheld, the executive is duty bound to resort to the constitutional tool of impeachment to uphold the constitution and accountability of public officers.
It must be underscored that while the Constitution refers to the Senate as an “impeachment court”, the language of the organic act should not deceive the Senate. They are a court only for the purpose of determining whether the impeached official should be removed from office. This does not make them a court of law. They are still policy makers who must formulate policy on whether one should continue in public office. They should not make the mistake, as argued by Estelito Mendoza during the Erap impeachment, of acting like a court hearing a criminal case. Public office is still a privilege and not a right. When the Constitution vested in elective representatives of the people the power to remove impeachable officers, it was their will to include the issue of fitness for a public office as a policy issue and not a criminal inquiry. The standard is hence not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, nor any of the standards recognized by our rule of evidence. The sole criterion is fitness to remain in office from a policy point of view. While the grounds for impeachment should still be proven, the Senate though is free to decide on the basis of other considerations considered relevant in formulating policy. Otherwise, the power to impeach and sit as an impeachment court should have been vested in the judiciary.
So how will the Senators possibly vote on the Corona impeachment case? Well, while it is still too early to tell, my crystal ball shows the following: all four LP Senators: Drilon, Recto, Pangilinan, and Guingona will vote for impeachment. They have to. When we say impeachment is a political process, it also means that political parties, at least in the United States from whom we copied our constitution, vote along party lines. Expect the four to be joined by Senators Trillianes, Estrada , and Lacson, all of whom have proven to be staunch political nemesis of Corona’s boss, CGMA. Add to the list Senate President Enrile who should know that voting in favor of Malacanang’s wish would be the surest way of safeguarding his post as head of the Senate. Voting with JPE would be his majority floor leader Sotto and his prodigee, Honasan. That’s a sure 10 votes for impeachment.
Those who will most likely cast negative votes would be Senators allied with or sympathetic to CGMA. This would include Senators Revilla , Lapid , Arroyo, and Marcos. That’s a sure 4 votes against impeachment.
The rest, 9 in all , I think, are undecided: Santiago , in my mind, is undecided because while she appreciates Malacanang’s support for her ICC candidacy, still, she has been very clear that she does not think Corona should be impeached. Angara, as a veteran politician, should be open to offers. The same goes for Legarda. Villar and his block, including the two Cayetanos, have been rabid anti-Malacanang Senators. Palace operators may have to strike a deal first with the Villar block, if they want to have the numbers to remove Corona. Osmena is undecided because he has been maverick lately, opposing even the nomination of P Noy’s Tito, Domingo Lee, as Ambassador to China. This means that Osmena does not believe in voting along party lines. And finally, Escudero is an undecided because he normally defers to his elders in his own fraternity. One of his esteemed senior brod, former Chief Justice Renaldo Puno, is seen as being sympathetic to Corona as in fact- he even resigned earlier than his 70th birthday to facilitate Corona;s appointment. Pimentel is an undecided because he has been quoted as saying he will decide on the basis of evidence.
We need 16 Senators to remove Corona. But anything can happen. As we have known all along: never underestimate the vast powers of the President
At long last, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was finally charged in Court. While it took P Noy more than 500 days to do so, it took just the possibility of her flight to get P Noy’s people moving to charge her. Absent this Information in the Regional Trial Court of Pasay, GMA would have been able to leave the country what with the highest court of the and ignoring pending preliminary investigations against her as basis for the issuance of a Watch Order List, the means by which to prevent her from leaving the country. Is the worse over? Well certainly without it, GMA would certainly have fled.
So what next? Well aside from counsel being temporarily being spared from castration, the filing of this recent case may or may not lead to GMA finally being declared a criminal. While election fraud, the crime for which she has been charged with is a non-bailable offense; still, the Constitution says that bail -even in such cases -may still be granted where “evidence of guilt” is not strong. For purposes hence of being the legal basis for preventing GMA from leaving the country, the merit of recent Information would have to evaluated by the Judge. If he finds that the evidence of guilt is weak, and I certainly hope that these would go beyond Zaldy Ampatuan’s clearly hearsay testimony that he heard someone say that his father was told to cheat for GMA, or even beyond Unas testifying that he actually heard the old man Ampatuan say that he was ordered by GMA to cheat; the Judge may yet allow her to post bail and even to go abroad for alleged medical reasons. Sure, there could be evidence of the cheating itself, as Senator Koko Pimentel had already proven in the Senate Electoral Tribunal. But the question is: is there evidence that GMA was indeed the principal who ordered the cheating.
The problem with using the 2007 as the basis to hold GMA criminally liable is the reality that she was not a candidate in the said elections. Unlike in the 2004 elections where cheating could be proven to have been committed to make her win, what exactly did she personally gain by cheating Koko Pimentel of four years of his term? Seems to me that it was the fake Senator Migs Zubiri whose criminal liability should be established, rather than GMA.
But P Noy’s legal advisers knew that the fraud of 2004, even if it was responsible for installing a fake President, is basis only for the filing of cases for election fraud, which unlike election sabotage, is bailable. Certainly, if GMA would be charged, it should be for something that would be, as she herself did to President Erap, non-bailable. Furthermore, the reality is that to establish GMA’s culpability for depriving da “King” FPJ of the Presidency would be to acknowledge that P Noy, like his ladies in waiting, Dinky and Ging, supported a cheat in 2004. That should hurt.
We do not know the extent of the evidence that the COMELEC intends to offer against GMA. But already, aside from the evidence emanating from Zaldy and Unas, I do not recall any further evidence proving GMA’s liability. Not that she did not actually order the cheating to be done. The issue now is whether these evidence are strong enough to deny her bail or even to deny her the privilege of being allowed to travel abroad supposedly for medical reasons?
Other questions linger. Why was the complaint filed in the Regional Trial Court? If it is proven that GMA indeed ordered the fraud in 2007 to be perpetrated, she did so when she was President. The law establishing the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan says that officials such as a President should be tried in the Sandiganbayan. And yes, why was it filed in the RTC of Pasay City. Was the fraud committed in the jurisdiction of Pasay? Presumably, the only basis for filing it in Pasay is that it was where the Senate Electoral Tribunal then temporarily conducted its canvass of votes for Senators in PICC? Lack of jurisdiction, among others, is a ground to dismiss a criminal Information.
What is clear is that like many other policies shaped by P Noy’s advisers, this latest case in the Pasay RTC was an ad hoc remedy to keep GMA from leaving the country. Already, the delay in filing a case against GMA in court attest to the fact that PNOY’s administration is lacking in the capacity to hold individuals liable for their criminal acts. Whether this ad hoc remedy will lead to justice remains to be seen. Certainly, the Maguindanao massacre victims, the Evangelista family, the Ortega family, and all the rest who have fallen victims to the worse crimes involving the violation of the right to life – all know that it may not be forthcoming soon.
But meanwhile, let’s give credit where it is due. Good job!, even if many of us would have wanted the little thing of someone subject to the guillotine.
Of course I agree with Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. The bigger national interest dictates that Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her husband should not be allowed to leave the country. As attested to by no less than the Secretary of Health, her illness is not one that cannot be addressed by Filipino doctors. The decision hence not to allow her to leave is not inhumane because she is not deprived of her right to health. Arroyo and I share the same hospital under the most competent medical professional, Dr. Cuanang. She can get her medical treatment from a world-class hospital right here in the Philippines
Despite my agreement with De Lima, the fact remains that this decision will inevitably be challenged before our courts. The possibility of this order being declared illegal looms. In a judicial system governed by stare decisis or precedents, the Court cannot deviate from its established rulings unless there are “drastic change in circumstances”. It cannot be denied that the Supreme Court in a very recently issued temporary restraining order in a case filed by Mike Arroyo already declared: “a restriction on rights should at least have the imprimatur of a court of justice; otherwise, an official of the Executive Department will have the power to determine who will or will not be allowed to exercise his constitutional right to travel.” It was the allegation of the former FG that the Justice Secretary could not restrict his to travel since he has no pending cases in court.
The weakness in the De Lima position is her own making. Unlike Arroyo who put President Joseph Estrada behind bars months after she, to quote Susan Roces, “stole” the presidency, De Lima and President Noynoy Aquino have waited all this time to even charge Arroyo with something. Eighteen months after occupying Malacañang, they have not filed any case against Arroyo and her husband in court. Worse, they have absorbed all the very close cronies of Arroyo even in the Cabinet. How could you expect the former President then to be brought to justice?
In favor of the De Lima position though is the case of Marcos vs. Manglapus. There, the former despot challenged then-President Cory Aquino’s refusal to allow him to return. In upholding the ban, the Supreme Court distinguished the right to travel, which is limited to travel within the country’s territory; to the right to leave and return to the country, which the court underscored was different and distinct from the right to travel. According to the court, the right to leave a country, including one’s own, “may be restricted (when) necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, I disagree hence with Father Joaquin Bernas when he opined that Arroyo has the right to travel abroad. This right only applies to those with no pending legal investigation in their home countries.
But then again, the weakness in the current De Lima position is whether the restriction may be by virtue only of a pending preliminary investigation or whether it should be in court. We will soon find out
I am in Jakarta, Indonesia to attend the Asia Civil Society Consultation on National Security and the Right to Information Principles. On my way here, I met a Filipino who happened to be one of our sports coordinator for the Southeast Asian Games. He deplored the fact that despite PNoy’s “daang matuwid”, the crocodiles in Philippine sports, like Arroyo’s cronies in Aquino’s Cabinet, continue to lord it over. He called my attention to the fact that each of the 500 members of the Philippine delegation to the games were given plane tickets that cost 80,000 pesos each. My ticket on board the region’s most expensive airline amounts to less than 20,000 pesos. By golly, our delegation’s tickets cost 300 percent more! Mind you, these are economy seats, not first class!
Paging newly appointed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales: Please help the cause of Philippine sports by charging these crocodiles in Philippine sports with graft and jail then together with Arroyo, her husband, and the singing handmaids of Arroyo who are now in PNoy’s cabinet.
Anent the right to information, I am in the minority on the need for a Freedom to Information law. Unlike other jurisdictions, the Right to Information is granted by the 1987 Constitution and not just by a statute. In fact, the Constitution says that legislation is required only to provide for the limitations to the right. Ergo, without the FOI bill, there are no limitations on the right, save for those recognized under jurisprudence.
The remedy for a denial of the right has also been provided by the Court in the cases of Chavez vs. PCGG and Chavez vs. PEA-Amari. According to the Court, the remedy is for journalists and citizens to resort to the filing of petitions for mandamus. In this regard, the civil society groups Concerned Citizens Movement and the Center for International Law will soon launch a legal clinic to serve as a one-stop center for journalists and citizens who want to exercise their right to information.
Let’s prepare for an even bigger typhoon than Pedring that hit us this week. This one promises to be even bigger than Ondoy. In fact, it threatens to be as disastrous as the tsunami that hit Japan. But unlike typhoons or tsunamis, this one is not to be brought upon us by nature. It is rather a result of uncontrolled greed of capitalists whose misdeeds caused us a near depression in 2008.
George Soros argues that the impending worldwide financial meltdown is still a consequence of the 2008 crisis. It was only recently that I finally understood what caused it, thanks to a documentary with Matt Damon in it. At a time when credit was cheap and cash in abundance, Wall Street traders devised a scheme by which home mortgages, secured by insurance companies, could be traded. This became known as collaterized debt instruments. It turned out that these debt instruments were worthless since many American borrowers had no ability to repay their loans. This then led to the bankruptcy of Lehmann Brothers, an investment giant that had dealt with these instruments, and the near bankruptcy of another giant of a company that secured such instruments, AIG. In fact, many other banks and companies would have gone under in 2008 had not the US federal government made the policy decision to rescue similar companies in distress. The ultimate enemy was panic. As bank and other financial intermediaries go under, depositors panic, interest rates rise, cost of manufacturing becomes more expensive, and consequently, economic activity slowed down.
Today, the cause of the panic may be the debt crisis in Europe. This time around, it is not just private financial companies that may go under. Even developed states such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland face the possibility of bankruptcy.
What complicates the financial woes in Europe is that the European Union established a common currency for a continent with diverse economic conditions. The traditional powerhouse in the continent has been Germany with a solid manufacturing base and a proven export record. But part also of the Union are countries such as Greece whose economy, and hence, local currency, was at least 30 percent less than that of Germany. Consequently, when countries such as Greece became part of the Euro, their governments have to rely on government borrowings through sovereign bonds to shore up their fiscal position relative to the rest of Europe. These are the bonds that the Greek government is now unable to pay.
Soros warned that the situation is more perilous than in 2008 because unlike the US, Europe does not have a Central Bank that can intervene to calm the nerves of edgy investors. The matter is made worse by the fact that as much as Germany would like to intervene, its Constitutional Court has ruled that it cannot do so without the consent of its Congress, the Bundestag. Soros then advised that the best recourse would be to allow Greece and other European states similarly situated to exit from the Euro zone rather than face the possibility of a full-blown meltdown. Soros writes: ” The fact that arrangements are made for the possible default or defection of three small countries does not mean that those countries would be abandoned. On the contrary, the possibility of an orderly default—paid for by the other eurozone countries and the IMF—would offer Greece and Portugal policy choices. Moreover, it would end the vicious cycle now threatening all of the eurozone’s deficit countries whereby austerity weakens their growth prospects, leading investors to demand prohibitively high interest rates and thus forcing their governments to cut spending further”.
The last time Soros wrote about a financial disaster, the 2008 crisis occurred. At the time he wrote his warning, leading financial policy planners belittled his words as being unduly “alarmist”. Well, Soros was proven right and the rest is history. If only because of his proven track record, his latest warning as published by the New York Times should be heeded by policy makers.
The question in my mind is this: What steps has our own government taken to prepare us for this meltdown? Sure, we should be not as affected as our neighbors who have successfully developed their economies through exports. But as a country almost wholly dependent on the export of manpower—with our seamen deployed in Greek vessels and an army of domestic helpers employed in countries that have benefitted from surplus capital which is expected to dry up—the Philippines should take steps now to minimize the impact of this looming crisis.
In the past three months, what has been apparent is that after a year in office, President Benigno Aquino III has finally realized that the way to the Filipinos heart is to hit the past administration for its many sins against the people. This explains why he has recovered the public trust as reflected in his improved standing in surveys conducted by Pulse Asia and SWS. But with this looming disaster in the horizon, I would hope that all efforts should now be focused on minimizing the dire effects of this impending financial twister.
It’s a relief to have a President who is standing up to a bully. Whereas GMA sought to give away Philippine territory in exchange for anomalous Chinese deals, PNoy, even with absolutely no military firepower, has advanced the Philippine claim to the Kalayaan group of islands and the West Philippine seas firmly and without hesitation. This group of islands in the West of the country was described in maps merely as “hazards to navigation” until the 70’s. That was when we discovered oil in the area. The science is since oil and natural gas products are found in the continental shelf, the soil and sub-soil constituting the prolonged landmass of the Palawan archipelago, it may be that further petroleum resources are located in the other portions of the continental shelf beneath the rocks and islets constituting the Spratlys group of islands. This explains why China, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia all proceeded to lay claim to part or the entirety of the Spratlys. The title of the Philippines to the islands is because of discovery coupled with effective occupation. While it was a fact that many of the disputed islands, including Spratlys Island itself, which Taiwan has referred to as “Itu Iba”; were then under Japanese control during World War II, Japan nonetheless renounced its title to them without specifying to whom it was relinquishing the title. This prompted Thomas Cloma, a Merchant Marine school owner, to claim title to the islands by way of discovery of islands that were “terra nullius”, or without an owner. This claim to discovery was then espoused by Diosdado Macapagal. We have since by law, created the Municipality of Kalayaan as the local government for the area, and appended it to the Province of Palawan. We have also since performed acts indicating the exercise of sovereignty, referred to as “effectivities”. These would include the building of military installations on islands under our control and the award of concessions to explore for further mineral deposits in the area. While our mode of claiming title to the Spratlys may not be iron-clad, as in fact, it is hinged exclusively on the assumption that it was rendered “terra nullius” with the Japanese renunciation, still, the Philippines is the only country which has scientific evidence to prove that bulk of the contested area constitute its extended continental shelf. This much we have proven in the UP Law Center’s Institute of International Legal Studies Project on the Extended Continental Shelf. Further, as we are the closest claimant to the disputed islands, we are the only one that can claim a presumption of ownership over them. And as the only archipelagic claimant country, we have a monopoly to the claim that the islands, rocks, islets and waters surrounding them form part of our archipelago. The claim to title of China and Vietnam appear to be even more porous than ours. To begin with, both countries rely on ancient historical title, which of late, has been ruled by international tribunals as almost impossible to prove. China for instance, cannot prove an intent to possess the islands in the concept of an owner because sovereignty was foreign and unknown under its Confucian legal system. Likewise, Vietnam’s claim to historical title is impossible to prove using modern day rules of evidence given that very old records cannot be authenticated precisely because the persons who executed them are no longer around to identify them. Malaysia and Brunei, on the other hand, lay claim to portions of the area solely as part of their respective continental shelves. Of course, it is still our wish that the Spratlys controversy is resolved peacefully and preferably through negotiations, binding mediation, arbitration, or even through judicial means, either before the International Court of Justice or the United Nations Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (UNTLOS). Meanwhile, it imperative that other than showing political will, that this reform-minded PNoy Administration undo GMA’s machinations which collectively, weaken our claim to the disputed area. First, there is the Joint Seismic and Exploration Agreement with China. As far as I know, the only way to prospect for oil in the continental shelf is through seismic testing. As such, these tests can only be conducted by Filipinos or through FTAA’s, if foreigners are involved. The Joint Seismic agreement, apart form violating the Constitution, will weaken our claim in the same way that an owner of disputed property weakens his claim when he agrees to use and exploit the disputed property with his adversary. Second, there is an urgent need to repeal the 2009 archipelagic baselines law, which my good friend and ally, Senator Sonny Trillanes, authored while behind bars. This law incorporates the Spratlys under the so-called “regime of islands”. A state only adopts this regime for offshore islands, or islands located so far away from its mainland. Obviously, by resorting to this method, we undermine what could be our strongest claim to the islands: that is, that not only are they proximate to us; but more importantly, they form part of our archipelago. Third, there is need to annul all the anomalous Chinese deals that were given to the past administration as consideration for our national territory. To those who have been asking how the “tongpats” could be recovered by the project proponent of the National Broadband Network, the answer is now clear: it is the Spratlys, Diwalwal, North Davao and Northrail, all of which were granted by the past administration to Chinese companies. Tongpats for national territory: unforgiveable!
Much has been said about the Truth Commission. While it is true that this body promised by President Noynoy Aquino as a means of ferreting out the truth on the many scandals of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in reality a toothless tiger, a superfluity, and will be the source of disappointment for many, it is still an exercise that must be resorted to if the Arroyos are to be held responsible for their many crimes.
The pitfalls of the commission are many. For instance, as a creation of the Executive, it cannot exercise powers beyond gathering facts. It cannot have the powers to issue summons, nor will it have the power to cite individuals in contempt. In other words, absent legislative imprimatur, it can only count on the willingness of crucial witnesses to testify and their voluntary submission of evidence.
To be sure, P-Noy’s Truth Commission is not the first in Philippine history. An earlier one was the Agrava Commission. It was formed to conduct factual investigation on who killed Ninoy Aquino. The appointed Chair of the Aquino Truth Commission was also legal counsel of the Agrava Commission. To highlight the weakness of fact-finding commissions, thirty years after the Agrava Commission was formed, we still do not know with certainty who killed Ninoy Aquino.
The Truth Commission is also being compared to the Presidential Commission on Good Government. The comparison at least is that both bodies seek to ascertain the sins of the previous dispensation. But that is the beginning and end of the comparison. For unlike the Truth Commission, the PCGG was a legislative creation, created pursuant to EO 1 issued by then President Corazon Aquino when she was exercising extraordinary powers that were both executive and legislative in nature. The PCGG could hence issue summons, order the production of evidence issue writs of sequestrations, and cause the filing of cases in court. The difference lies, in other words, with the fact that the law gave the PCGG extraordinary powers whereas the Truth Commission, being a mere creation of the Executive, cannot exercise powers not delegated to it by Congress, the latter in the exercise of its policy making mandate.
Can it compel, for instance, Romulo Neri to answer the three questions which would implicate Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the NBN-ZTE scam but which were declared by the Supreme Court to be covered by executive privilege? Certainly not. If Congress, despite its plenary powers to conduct investigation in aid of legislation, was restrained by the Supreme Court, there is more reason that a mere fact finding commission would not succeed in this regard. Likewise, Cito Lorenzo, even if he wanted to turn state witness, could not count on the Commission to grant him testimonial immunity. It behooves both rhyme and reason why he would then incriminate himself voluntarily without being admitted first as a state witness.
Likewise, it is unlikely that the intelligence community, despite the chain of command, would voluntarily surrender information on the “Hello Garci” scandal. And of course, the Department of Foreign Affairs, still under Secretary Alberto Romulo, would not want to reopen the Northrail controversy as he would almost certainly argue that to do so would harm bilateral ties with China.
So is the Truth Commission completely irrelevant?
Not necessarily. In transitional societies like South Africa where convictions for the gravest human rights violation has become impossible because of the passage of time and the dearth of witnesses, truth commissions have at least accorded these societies an opportunity to heal. While justice was not completely served in the absence of criminals actually being meted sentences for crimes that they committed, the truth would at least give the victims an opportunity to move on. There is solace in knowing, for instance, that a loved one who has disappeared has conclusively been found to have been killed. These kinds of confirmations at least accorded mothers to grieve, rather than hope that their loved ones could still be alive.
The Truth Commission to be established by P-Noy should not, however, follow the pattern of the South African model. In truth and in fact, the Commission should meanwhile perform the fact-finding function that the Ombudsman has opted not to perform. With Merceditas Gutierrez appointed precisely to protect the Arroyos, the intention should be not to accord the latter impunity, but to engage in fact finding while there is paralysis, nay dereliction of duty, in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Truth Commission should thus be supported precisely because the evidence against the Arroyos should be gathered and preserved while the merciless Mercy is still in office. It should never be considered as a substitute for the vast powers granted by the Constitution to the Ombudsman. It is, hence, a stop-gap measure intended to send the message that at no time should the Arroyos think that they can get away with their crimes.
Since the Truth commission appears to be a necessary toothless tiger, how then should the Commission proceed with its mandate?
To begin with, in the absence of legislative imprimatur, it must conduct its investigations utilizing existing executive offices with the powers that it will require. Here, it is indispensable that the Department of Justice formally conduct preliminary investigations on the many crimes of the Arroyos. In this manner, it can utilize its power to resort to compulsory processes, which the Commission does not have on its own. Furthermore, the Commission should also have the Solicitor-General on board. This is because existing laws on unexplained wealth grants the Solicitor-General the power to file forfeiture cases against proceeds of the crime of plunder and other violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Likewise, the Commission should have the full support of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, if we are to freeze and still recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Arroyos and their cohorts.