I expected the recent decision of the Supreme Court declaring EO 1 creating the Truth Commission unconstitutional. I did so because I have known since the appointment of its current Chief Justice, that the court is one of the many institutions that have been weakened by former president Gloria Arroyo to ensure her impunity. In a previous published commentary, I said that a constitutional crisis would not be forthcoming if P Noy honors his campaign promise never to recognize what he himself described as a “midnight Chief Justice”. This, I said, has become a political question because it is on the basis of this promise , among others, that an overwhelming majority of the electorate elected him into office. Instead, I warned that a constitutional crisis in fact be would be forthcoming if it is the Court itself that abdicates from its primary mandate to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution.
By ruling that a toothless tiger such as the Truth Commisison is unconstitutional, the Court, in the exercise of its educational function, has effectively accorded Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo with impunity. First, it was the Ombudsman that told us that the former president could not be investigated for lying, cheating and stealing. Now, it is the Supreme Court telling us the same thing. Where should ordinary citizens now go for redress of grievances against public officials suspected to have breached the constitutional precept that public office is a public trust? Where should we go now to enforce this trust ? Until this decision, we thought we can go to the court of last resort.
Truth to tell is that I myself am not a big fan of this commission. I have written that it would be a toothless tiger unless it utilizes existing powers of the Department of Justice to conduct preliminary investigations, the Office of the Solicitor –General to file civil cases for forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council for forfeiture of dirty money. All these suggestions fell on deaf ears. But precisely because it is a toothless tiger, how on earth can it be unconstitutional?
Sure the commission will duplicate the functions of the Ombudsman. But since when did the enforcement of the country’s anti-graft laws become the sole monopoly of the Ombudsman? The last time I read our constitution, it is still provided that the power to enforce all laws is an executive function. Moreover, the duplication, unfortunately, is not just happening, even if we want it to happen. This is because the current Ombudsman has opted not to investigate, more so charge her appointing power with anything. Full stop.
And because the investigation of the possible commission of a crime is an inherently executive function, I find nothing unconstitutional in the fact the commission was both created and funded by the president. This is not the first fact-finding commission created. We have had the Agrava Commission, the Feliciano Commission, the Davide Commission and the Zenerosa Commission, to name a few. Al of them were created by sitting presidents and funded from lawful appropriations made by Congress to the Office of the President. None of these commissions were declared unconstitutional. It alarms me hence that one with only the power to unravel the truth is ironically, the commission declared to be unconstitutional.
Yes, there is also the objection that it violates the equal protection clause. But there can only be such a violation if among others, a rule is applied in a dissimilar manner to persons similarly situated. Where is this dissimilar treatment? Marcos was accused of widespread plunder and was dealt with by the Presidential Commission on Good Government. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, suspected of similar plunder, is now sought to be dealt with by the Truth Commission, minus the compulsory and sequestration power of the PCGG. Where is the dissimilar treatment? The fact that no commission was established against former presidents Ramos and Estrada is because neither could rival the avarice of either Marcos or GMA. Where then is the violation of equal protection?
In the final analysis, I myself disapproved of this Truth Commission because it could not bring Arroyo and her cohorts to justice. Even so, I was hoping that while Ombudsman Gutierrez is there to accord GMA impunity, the nation could at least ferret out the truth on such scandals such as Northrail, NBN-ZTE, Jose Pidal, the Macapagal Highway, Swine scam, and Hello Garci scandals. While the truth would not mean punishment for GMA and her cohorts, other truth commissions established in South Africa, Argentina and Australia have at least proven to contribute to the reparations of victims since to know the truth would enable them to begin the process of recovery. That was all that I expected of this Commission. And yet, with the vote of 10 men and a woman, even that is gone.
Will someone please tell me since when the quest for the truth has become unconstitutional?