There are two countries that go by the name “Philippines.” The real, historical one is home to the Filipino millions, nearly half of whom are poor and powerless because they’re ruled by one of the most corrupt and most incompetent political classes on the planet. The other is an imaginary one — a creation of those very same rulers to convince the ruled that everything is fine, indeed nearly perfect, in this earthly paradise.
A March 31 statement by the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES), for example, kept referring to “the Philippines.” But it sounded as if it were describing an entirely different country outside of history.
THE NEED for closure was among the reasons Justice Secretary Laila de Lima cited to put in context her denial of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s petition for travel abroad. Closure is what has eluded Filipinos most when it comes to the most critical events and issues that have confronted this country since its independence was restored.
De Lima acknowledged that the decision was political, but based as well on legal considerations and an evaluation of Mrs. Arroyo’s medical condition: “It may be political. One thing’s for sure, it’s more than medical or legal. It may be a combination of all, but what’s important is that it will serve the ends of justice.”
BENIGNO Aquino III blames not only his immediate predecessor, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for the country’s ills; he’s also mentioned the late Ferdinand Marcos as equally responsible for them.
For doing that in some of his speeches and interviews with the media — and implying that Marcos and his female clone have made changing anything extremely difficult if not impossible — not only the partisans of Arroyo have accused Mr. Aquino of trying to deflect criticism from his own administration’s inadequacies. So have others impatient with the administration’s seeming inability to solve the country’s most urgent problems.
AS THE CONCEPT has evolved, a truth commission is tasked with investigating and revealing wrongdoing by a past government, or a succession of governments. Its formation, as in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Peru and El Salvador — the countries where truth commissions have been most successful — is driven by the scale of the misdeeds. Because of these offenses’ impact on society they have to be documented, their perpetrators identified, and if necessary prosecuted.
In Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Peru and El Salvador, the mission of the truth commissions was to determine the extent, causes and cases of state-sponsored crimes committed against the citizenry so that they may never again be repeated. They were also meant to identify and recommend prosecution of the guilty, and compensation for the victims and survivors, or their kin.
IT’S NOT rocket science, and neither is it brain surgery: the country has a new President, and the press must re-examine its assumptions when it covers government. The ex-President it loved to hate is busy reinventing herself. She’s no longer in Malacanang, and with her have gone some of the most offensive public officials this country has had to pay out of public funds. The relationship based on suspicion, mistrust, and outright hostility between the press and the government ceased to exist last July 1. A new one will be, and should be, taking its place.
Will the task of getting information be hard for the press, or will it be easy? Will government officials be so transparent as to develop through the press the public awareness of what government’s doing every democracy needs? How its relationship with the press will develop and what that relationship will be like will largely depend on the Aquino III government and its officials.