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San Juan Gossip Mills Outlet

A veritable fanatic of the Internet. His avocation is teaching while his main vocation is practicing the much maligned law profession. Currently teaching Constitutional Law at the FEU Institute of Law and a guest lecturer at the De La Salle University teaching "Freedom and Regulation in Cyberspace" in the Graduate Program of the Department of Communication. He is married to his beautiful Ateneo law school classmate and is blessed with a daughter and a son.

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Location: San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Truth Commission: A Trojan Horse

Today, the Bishops-Businessmen's Conference of the Philippines ("BCBP") advocated the establishment of a Truth Commission to investigate the long and short of the Garci tapes. Certain names were put forward by the BCBP, names who are seemingly irreproachable. I have several problems with the Truth Commission.

First of all, when it comes to investigating and trying the president, the Constitution only speaks of impeachment. Why? Because according to Prof. Laurence Tribe, Harvard law professor and eminent US constitutional authority, impeachment is the "ultimate manifestation of the Constitution's reliance on an inter-branch checking mechanism to preserve constitutional boundaries and to limit abuses of power". It is the manner by which the President may be judged guilty but only by a jury of her peers. People who, like the President, were elected into office and who, in theory, speaks for the people. A Truth Commission is neither a constitutional mechanism for limiting abuses of power nor are its members elected by the people but its recommentations may obliquely convict the President without according her due process.

Secondly, as a commission, it is quasi-judicial in nature. By experience, a quasi-judicial body is not bound by the technical rules of evidence and being so, there is that inherent possibility that evidence which will not pass muster in a judicial forum may be accepted as judicial truth. Others may justify the creation of the Truth Commission similar to the independent counsel of the United States. But unlike quasi-judicial bodies, the independent counsels follow strict rules of grand jury investigations and judicial evidence and they were created by an act of Congress. But even then, the Independent Counsel Act has expired and no longer exists.

Thirdly, I have a problem with the proposed members. Two of the persons cited have already come out in public that GMA is guilty, either of impropriety or illegality. Prof. Randy David has already stated that on record. Fr. Bernas has advocated her resignation. If they do become members of the Truth Commission, and with their conclusions already foregone, their sole function by then would just be to weave the evidence to justify their conclusions.

Fourthly, the simultaneous existence of the impeachment court and the Truth Commission will be an unwarranted waste of government resources. Already, people are complaining of the adverse effects of a prolonged impeachment trial and now, we have to contend with a Truth Commission which will very likely be a duplication of each other's findings. One must remember that in the Clinton impeachment, the trial only commenced after Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr submitted his report to Congress which later became the bases for the Articles of Impeachment. Thus, no duplication occurred.

And even if no duplication can occur which is improbable, we can no longer hold off impeachment because an impeachment complaint has already been filed before the House of Representatives. Thus, this proposal of the bishops and businessmen will be unfair to the President because it will be an exercise in negative publicity and detrimental to the nation because it will be an exercise in false exorcism. The members of the commission will be accountable to no one except to their conscience which while noble is a scary thought. And if the President has learned the currency of the past two weeks, she can no longer repose her trust to members of the civil society who will not hesitate to burn bridges, burn her and immolate themselves in the process. Once burned, twice shy.

Having a Truth Commission as proposed by the bishops and businessmen is like a gift borne by the Greeks, patronizing yet insidious. And as Laocoon warned the Trojans when the Greeks offered the wooden horse: "Timeo Danaos et donna ferentes". Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. It may well be a proposal fraught with dangers and traps. And for that, I will caution and advise the President to decline the gift.

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