The Falsehood Commission

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The Arroyo government, as Archbishop Oscar Cruz so aptly describes it, is without values, morals and principles, and one of the values it least respects is truth. Archbishop Cruz alleges that it has bribed and threatened witnesses implicating Mrs. Arroyo and her family in the jueteng pay-offs scandal. If true, however, that would be only one of the many instances in which Mrs. Arroyo and her gang have resorted to all sorts of devices to remain in power by keeping the truth from the public.

When the “Hello Garci” scandal was about to break out last June, for example, Malacanang tried to discredit whatever recordings the opposition would make public by claiming that these had been doctored, and that, indeed, it had the original ones–in which a woman who sounded like Mrs. Arroyo was talking to someone Malacanang said was a “Gary” who was other than “Garci” (former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcellano).

In making this claim, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye initially said the woman was definitely Mrs. Arroyo, only to declare later that he wasn’t sure, and that, in any case, he was only expressing an opinion. Later Mrs. Arroyo admitted to a mere “lapse in judgment” in talking to the man in the tapes–whom she would neither confirm nor deny was Garcillano–supposedly to “protect” her votes.

The list goes on and on. But as long as the Arroyo government’s list of lies already is, it is likely to lengthen further, ironically through, among other vehicles, the so-called “Truth Commission” Mrs. Arroyo said last July 19 she would organize, and whose membership she said she would announce by July 25.

Six weeks have since passed, but Mrs. Arroyo has so far done neither. It’s not solely because no one with any self-respect wants to be part of it. Mrs. Arroyo is also currently occupied with killing the impeachment complaint in Congress, which explains why she seems to have forgotten about the Commission. But once that’s over and done with, she is likely to organize the Commission anyway, since it is the means through which she plans to be exonerated. If preventing her impeachment is the first step in her orchestrated plan to emerge from the crisis smelling like roses, the truth commission would be the second and, she hopes, the final one.

If she does organize it, the Commission mandate would include not only the investigation of the charges of electoral fraud leveled against her, but also the “destabilization conspiracy” that Malacanang claims was behind the allegations.

Not only would the accused create a body to investigate herself, much like a murderer’s selecting the judge and jury in his own trial; she will also turn the tables on her accusers by investigating them, which is roughly equivalent to the same murderer’s ordering the judge to investigate the prosecutor. But this outrage was, or should have been, expected.

The alacrity with which Mrs. Arroyo grabbed at the suggestion of the University of Santo Tomas, the Catholic Bishops Conference, and the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference to create the Commission was a clear indication that this is exactly what she wanted, and that she intends to use the Commission to conceal rather than find the truth.

How she intends to do that should have been clear to the good fathers of the Church, if not to the country’s leading businessmen. Mrs. Arroyo will first of all create the Commission through an executive order. She will define its functions. She will decide its responsibilities. She will specify its objectives, membership, and organization. She will assign it a budget. She will name the members herself. And, as she announced last July 27, she will include in its mandate not only that of looking into the allegations that she cheated in the May 2004 elections with the connivance of key Commission on Elections as well as police, military and civilian bureaucracy officials, but also that of looking into the “conspiracy” supposedly behind the allegations against her.

The Commission Mrs. Arroyo plans to create might as well be called The Falsehood Commission. Truth commissions—only five so far have been created in the last two decades—are first of all premised on the assumption that a wrong has been committed.

In Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Peru and El Salvador, the wrong-doing of the previous governments was a given. The mission of the truth commissions in each of these countries was to determine the causes of such state-sponsored crimes as arbitrary arrests, torture, kidnapping, forced disappearances and murder so that they may never again be repeated. In addition, they were meant to identify and punish the guilty, as well as compensate the victims.

Especially critical in the credibility and integrity of truth commissions is who creates them—a fact obvious to anyone except Mrs. Arroyo and company. The truth commission of Chile was thus created by the successor of General Augusto Pinochet; that of South Africa by Nelson Mandela to look into apartheid; Argentina’s by Raul Alfonsin; El Salvador’s by the United Nations; and Peru’s by Alejandro Toledo to investigate the regime of his predecessor Alberto Fujimori.

In the hands of Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of liars the “Truth Commission” is likely to turn into a total war against truth, first because the very government accused of wrong-doing will in effect investigate itself by proxy; second because it will be used to exonerate its creator; and third because it will almost certainly lead to the persecution of Mrs. Arroyo’s accusers. Truth will be the Arroyo commission’s first casualty; official accountability will be the second.

This will happen only if Mrs. Arroyo survives the political crisis long enough for her to be proclaimed as innocent as a lamb and to enable her to reconsolidate her tenacious hold on power. It’s a possibility that’s increasingly becoming less and less likely as her allies in Congress feed public outrage by killing the impeachment process. As likely as the House majority is to succeed in that sordid enterprise, Mrs. Arroyo may not survive the aftermath long enough to create what she hopes will be the instrument of her exoneration, the ironically named Truth Commission.

(Unpublished commentary)

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