Sounding Board

Death of the Truth Commission as original sin


Was the invalidation of the Truth Commission really the original sin of the Supreme Court which has impeded the President’s campaign against corruption? I took a second look at the decision. If the President had read it with an open mind, he would have found that his speechwriters and advisers may have given him the wrong signal about the impact of the Court’s decision.

The fact is that, when the report on the death knell on the Truth Commission was rung by the Supreme Court, there was no lamentation in the Palace. A Palace spokesman simply said in a matter-of-fact way that the Palace accepted the decision.

My colleagues and I were not surprised by such reaction. One main reason for creating the Truth Commission, after all, was the obvious Palace and public perception that the ombudsman could not be relied upon to pursue a campaign of walang corrupt, walang mahirap. And so indeed the President’s allies would relentlessly go after the ombudsman and they could rely on a vast majority in the House of Representatives only too ready to satisfy the President’s wishes. With the departure of the former ombudsman, the urgency of a Truth Commission would disappear.

As a matter of fact, moreover, under the terms of the original Supreme Court decision, the Palace could have rescued the executive order by minor amendments to make it conform to what the Court wanted. The Court was not asking for too much. All it was asking for was a textual expression in the law that it would not exclusively target the past administration. The Court’s desire for a clear sign of equal protection did not exclude the possibility of giving priority to what had transpired during GMA’s time.

As the Court emphasized: “Lest it be misunderstood, this is not the death knell for a truth commission as nobly envisioned by the present administration. Perhaps a revision of the executive issuance so as to include the earlier past administrations would allow it to pass the test of reasonableness and not be an affront to the Constitution.” All that was needed was a little tweaking as suggested by the Court itself. (I myself did not think that tweaking would be necessary.)

The Palace, however, believed that it did not need a Truth Commission and therefore chose to let it die. My impression is that the government’s motion for reconsideration was filed half-heartedly. Hence, the defeat was unlamented by the Palace. Why so? Because, aside from the fact that the Palace was looking toward a new ombudsman, the decision was in fact an affirmation of the legality of the Palace’s determination to pursue a campaign against graft and corruption.

The decision, very importantly, was and is an affirmation of the often ignored portion of Article VII, Section 17, of the Constitution, which says that the President “shall ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.” This is the same phrase on which President Cory Aquino relied when she denied the request of former President Ferdinand Marcos to return from his exile. She contended that his return could disturb the legal order of the nation. The Court affirmed her, saying that “although the 1987 Constitution imposes limitations on the exercise of specific powers of the President, it maintains intact what is traditionally considered as within the scope of ‘executive power.’ Corollarily, the powers of the President cannot be said to be limited only to the specific powers enumerated in the Constitution. In other words, executive power is more than the sum of specific powers so enumerated.”

Echoing this earlier decision, the Truth Commission decision said: “Indeed, the Executive is given much leeway in ensuring that our laws are faithfully executed. As stated above, the powers of the President are not limited to those specific powers under the Constitution. One of the recognized powers of the President granted pursuant to this constitutionally mandated duty is the power to create ad hoc committees. This flows from the obvious need to ascertain facts and determine if laws have been faithfully executed.”

The Palace, in fact, was preparing a new team that would lead the exercise of these vast powers. However, I don’t know what happened to that team after the person who was supposed to lead it was incapacitated by sudden illness.

The Truth Commission was also challenged by the opposition on the ground that it was a usurpation of the powers of the Office of the Ombudsman and of the Department of Justice. On this point the Court said: “Contrary to petitioners’ apprehension, the PTC will not supplant the Ombudsman or the DOJ or erode their respective powers. If at all, the investigative function of the commission will complement those of the two offices.”

Why is it then that in his recent speeches the President has repeatedly blamed the invalidation of the Truth Commission as a major cause of the government’s failure to succeed in its drive against corruption? It seems that it is because, in spite of the vast powers of government and its single-minded campaign to pin down Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Chief Justice Renato Corona, he is seeing that his investigation and prosecution arms are failing him. He may be seeing this as his own personal failure. Thus, sadly, his lamentation over the death of the Truth Commission sounds like a smoke-screen for personal failure.

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  • Luis Dunhill

    Fr. JB’s obvious defense of ARROVO is understandable. They’re friends at the Ateneo, a bond made stronger by Luli’s 2008 marriage with Fr. JB’s favorite nephew, Luigi. But father, you could have done better than this. Come on!

  • Luis Dunhill

    You’re one of the framers of the Constitution. Reading this column however only reinforces belief about your apparent bias against Aquino – in the same way that I don’t favor columnists who are unabashly pro-Aquino. But I expected high from you Fr. JB — because you are a reputed constitutionalist, former president of a foremost sectarian university, and a father figure to many Ateneans.

  • Luis Dunhill

    I don’t have heart for “landmines.”

    • rodel carlos

      Is that the new name for the poor farmers of Tarlac, landmines? As in hey you poor farmers, get lost! This LAND is MINE! Hence, landmines—I like it; it’s genius.

      • Luis Dunhill

        I was referring to corrupt officials from the previous admin, not the farmers.

  • rodel carlos

    What programs is the Aquino administration currently pursuing to help the people in CDO? Can somebody please share some information?

  • Luis Dunhill

    I don’t know and I don’t care, man. Basta’t maibigay sa mga magsasaka ang gusto nilang lupa nang hindi nalulugi ang gobyerno, doon tayo. At yun dapat ang manaig.

    • rodel carlos

      How about this option: Pay the farmers P2.4 million/hectare and the Conjuancos can keep their precious Luisita, if it is indeed that is the fair value. What a bunch of Golum-golum. You don’t care, but yet you claim to follow the righteous path; well buddy, I have news for you: you are on the righteous path, the problem is you are facing the wrong direction! What a bunch of self-righteous SOBs.

  • backstroke

    to Dunhill,
    Ang dapat manaig… maibigay sa mga magsasaka ang lupa nila, sa halagang “just compensation” para sa mga swapang na nagpayaman sa lupaing dapat matagal ng nalipat sa pangalan nila…hindi yung mind boggling na presyo na 2.4 M/Hectare as decided by Justice Sereno…an avid Aquino appointee…with this pricing, there’s no way the farmers could afford to pay…and you say “I don’t care, man”…the government do not gain or lose…it’s the Hacienderos who stand to gain billions, and you very well know who they are!

  • rodel carlos

    @Mike 1974, my friend, you are insecure. Don’t you worry, your parents are proud of you. Feel better now?

    Also, regarding sarcasm, I am just stating the fact and I will laugh louder when the land is given free.

    Until the farmers get their land which is rightfully theirs, your president is just like the others: self service. Take it for what it’s worth, or not. It is still a free country, so far.

  • gener ver

    You are really very witty Fr Bernas. But it is just very obvious that you are just looking for loopholes on the actions of the Aquino government. You got some point in what you have discussed in this article but you failed to take into consideration that what you said could only be true in an ideal situation. In reality, there are a lot of factors to be considered. I just hope that you also listen to what you are trying to discuss in your articles.

  • Morskie52

    The original sin…..HELLO GARCY…..I AM SORRY.

  • rodel carlos


    “Thirteen people were killed while several others were injured on January 22, 1987, when authorities violently dispersed a farmers’ march at Mendiola Bridge in Manila. Dubbed as the “Mendiola Massacre”, the incident was the culmination of the protest action of the militant group Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP), which demanded genuine agrarian reform from the Aquino government.”

    Now evidently there is another self-righteous Aquino president in Malacanang!

    Hang Gloria, put Corona in front of a firing squad, who cares? Just get it over with if that’s what it takes for the Farmers of Luisita to get their land! But I am sure Benigno III has a different plan…keep it in the family.

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