Friday, February 25, 2011

Marcos was no hero

Nothing could be more insulting. While the nation is in the midst of preparation to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution that forced Ferdinand E. Marcos out of office and ended his 20-year tyrannical rule, his son Bongbong Marcos has reopened the proposal to bury the late dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which is a burial site in honor of those who served the country and fought for freedom and democracy.

Imagine how absurd this will look: 25 years ago we ousted Marcos because of his oppressive rule, then 25 years later we buried him as a hero. This is not only an insult to our dignity as a nation, but an insult to our intelligence as well.

Lest we forget, Marcos ruled the country for two decades under the clutches of oppression and tyranny. During his presidency, there was systematic torturing, killing and disappearance of political dissidents. The number of recorded extra-judicial killings under his rule, known in the vernacular as “salvagings,” exceeds 3,000. This is way more than Chile’s Augusto Pinochet’s record of 2,115 extra-judicially killed during his reign of terror. According to University of Wisconsin history professor Alfred McCoy, in his research work Dark Legacy: Human Rights Under the Marcos Regime, 35,000 people have been tortured and 70,000 incarcerated.

On September 21, 1972, Marcos placed the entire Philippines under martial law. Immediately thereafter, opposition leaders and those critical of his administration have been incarcerated and the media was muzzled. In other words, dissent was stifled as Marcos assumed enormous governmental powers by conferring upon himself, through legal shrewdness, executive and legislative powers. Indirectly, he also controlled the judiciary by appointing to the Supreme Court people beholden to him, which gave him victories over legal challenges to the legitimacy of his actions.

Then came the plunder of the nation’s wealth. Marcos gave monopoly of vital industries to his relatives and associates (cronies) and granted them unfettered access to government loans and subsidies, a practice which came to be known as “crony capitalism.” Bribery involving government contracts became rampant and the public coffers were raided and became sources of personal use and luxuries. According to the PCGG, United Nations and Transparency International, Marcos and his cronies amassed assets amounting to $10-$15 billion US dollars!

Some foreign observers say we, the Filipinos, are forgetful as a nation. This observation seems to be true. Whatever happened to the atrocities of the Marcos regime? Where are his cohorts and family members now, who cannot claim innocence of these egregious acts? Imelda Marcos is now a congresswoman, Imee Marcos is now a governor and Bongbong Marcos is now a senator. Heck, there’s even talk of Bongbong running for the presidency!

As if these absurdity and insults are not enough, Bongbong Marcos even had the temerity to say that had his father not been forced out of power, the country would have been like Singapore now. Seriously, there are some people who say we were better off during Marcos’s time. Maybe a little fact-checking is needed to straighten out this younger Marcos and those who share this ridiculous view.

According to Penn World Table, growth in GDP per capita during the period 1951-1965 is 3.5% compared to the period 1966-1986 (during Marcos’s reign), which is a miserly 1.4%. Unemployment soared to 12.55% in 1985 from 6.30% in 1972. The country’s foreign debt ballooned to $27 billion US dollars when Marcos left office. The gap between the rich and poor widened considerably under Marcos’s rule so much so that, coupled with the atrocities of the authorities, many people became disenchanted with the government and the communist insurgency gained traction, not to mention the founding of the MNLF secessionist movement in Mindanao.

Nineteen years ago, no less than a U.S. District Court delivered justice to the hundreds of human rights victims, by finding Ferdinand E. Marcos to have engaged in systematic human rights abuses and awarded the victims $2 billion US dollars, considered the biggest personal injury award in legal history. Now, here we are talking about the possibility of burying Marcos on the heroes’ pantheon. Come on, let’s get real here folks.

Monday, February 21, 2011

People Power Revolutions

There's a wave of revolutions sweeping the middle east, but not the ideological revolutions of the past characterized by bloodshed and carnage. It is the bloodless revolution of the people: from the streets of Tunisia that has unseated President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tahrir Square of Egypt that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the streets of Bahrain where there is currently an ongoing clamor for reform, to the streets of Libya that is now threatening the long-running despotic rule of Moammar Gadhafi.

No one could relate more to what is happening in the middle east than us. Twenty five years ago, thousands of Filipinos flocked to the Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue, popularly known as EDSA, to demand the ouster of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos. As history would have it, Marcos was eventually driven out from power by the sheer voice of the people, without guns and bullets.

A few days from now we will be celebrating our preeminent people power revolution. No matter how things turned out thereafter, this event should be remembered by every Filipino, and a stark reminder to our leaders, how the people can elect into - as well as remove from - office a leader no longer worthy of the people's trust and confidence.

Years after the first EDSA, people could be heard complaining, even from among the key players themselves, that things have not changed, if not gotten worse. What these people do not understand, however, is that revolutions are only half the battle and the difficult task of nation-building should come next. Revolutions only pave the way for change. They, of course, change those in power, which is the first most important step toward instituting reform.

After the ouster of a corrupt and despotic regime, the people's revolutionary fervor must continue by seeing to it that change is in fact effected. Hopefully, the events that have unfolded in Egypt and Tunisia will be indications of this. In Egypt, even after the ouster of Mubarak the people still massed at Tahrir Square to celebrate, with a caveat to the military that they could as easily gather to protest if the change they are demanding were not effected. In Tunisia, even after the departure of Ben Ali, protests continued until the care taker government removed from office all of Mubarak's party mates.

EDSA I, as it is now called to distinguish it from the succeeding protest that unseated former president Joseph Estrada and that which sought to unseat former president, now Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, should be cherished for ending Marcos's oppressive regime and restoring our democratic institutions. That many of our countrymen still suffer from abject poverty and corruption is still widespread in our civil service should not downplay the significance of that revolution.

It is in the second half of the battle - that of following through with the gains of the revolution - where we have stumbled. That responsibility should equally be shared by us and those whom we have seated in power.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's the Ombudsman doing?

Like a tele-novela unfolding its plot everyday - the suicide of former AFP chief Angelo Reyes being the latest twist - former AFP budget officer George Rabusa's exposé of huge and illegal pay-offs to retiring generals is yet another revelation of what the public already know, but could not only prove, as the culture of corruption pervading the government. Now that a whistleblower like Rabusa, who has intimate knowledge of these illegal transactions and even claims possession of damning documentary evidence, has come out in the open, one wonders why the Ombudsman, personified by GMA ally Merceditas Gutierrez, has not yet taken actions to prosecute those involved.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent constitutional body tasked to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices in the government. In contrast, Congress does not have prosecutory powers that would put behind bars those guilty of official wrongdoing, and yet thus far it is the only government institution seemingly interested in going after corrupt government officials. It is true that our distinguished senators and congressmen see opportunities to grandstand in these congressional hearings and that so far no one has really been put to jail (whatever happened to the anomalous NBN-ZTE deal?), but given the feckless Ombudsman, grandstanding aside, these legislative inquiries have made the public aware of murky transactions in the government.

That the malefactors are not being made to answer for their wrongdoing is not so much the futility of these legislative inquiries as it is the ineptness of the Ombudsman in not taking an aggressive stance in prosecuting those involved. In the ongoing congressional investigations on the AFP slush fund, for example, despite the glaring revelations of massive pocketing of mind-numbing sums of money by retired armed forces chiefs, why haven't the Ombudsman initiated any investigation of its own yet? As an independent body, let alone the chief graft buster, the Ombudsman should've already summoned Rabusa, Mendoza, Villanueva, Cimatu, Ligot and all others involved in the payoffs to shed light on these serious allegations.

It is important that the evidentiary value of the testimonies of Rabusa and Mendoza be extracted as soon as possible by having them elicited in the proper forum, which is the anti-graft court or the Sandiganbayan, lest they be lost by, God forbid, some unseen forces silencing them, especially so that those they implicate are very powerful personalities. I remember then Congressman Joker Arroyo when, at the height of the impeachment trial against former President Erap Estrada, he beseeched then Chief Justice Hilario Davide to immediately take the testimony of witness Clarissa Ocampo of Equitable PCI who knew the owner of the infamous Jose Velarde account, if only to protect her from harm and extract the vital information she had. Only by testifying at the proper venue can Rabusa and Mendoza protect themselves from harm, as those who would want to silence them have the most incentive to do so before their testimony is heard in court.

Although these vital witnesses have already testified in Congress, criminal due process requires that for their testimonies to have evidentiary value, they must be given under circumstances affording the accused the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses pursuant to the right of confrontation under the Constitution. Of course, neither the accused nor their lawyers are given such right in congressional inquiries. On the contrary, it is the legislators who act like frustrated trial lawyers who do the cross-examining instead of asking policy questions that might help them craft laws to prevent the occurrence of the misdeeds they are investigating; after all, these inquiries are properly called investigations in aid of legislations.

Perhaps P-Noy should also take a proactive stance by directing Justice Secretary De Lima order the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), through its anti-graft task force, do an independent investigation and gather evidence for the Ombudsman. Although independent and beyond his executive control and supervision, P-Noy should make an urgent request to the Ombudsman to launch her investigation already. Only by taking such aggressive stance will the people see P-Noy's seriousness in ridding the government of corruption.

To be sure, higher personalities in the halls of power get more out of these payoffs. Whoever these people are will supply the answers to the most damning questions, but then again, if and only when the Ombudsman takes the cudgels will a true closure be made on these investigations, which have only so far satisfied the public's appetite to know rather than of justice.

The true problem, however, is how far can the Ombudsman go? Or will she ever go forward at all?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Death as a way out: Angelo Reyes's suicide

Speculations and opinions still run high as to the reason for former armed forces chief Angelo Reyes’s suicide. Just today, former Philippine Military Academy (PMA) superintendent, retired Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig, opined that Reyes’s death was meant to protect the PMA as an institution – obviously from the attack being hurled against it due to the involvement of some of its alumni in the investigation of corruption in the armed forces.

Another former PMA superintendent, retired Maj. Gen. Rufo De Veyra, said he admired Reyes’s courage of offering his life to end the siege on the military institution. De Veyra, and Reyes’s classmates, even compared the deceased general to the Samurais of ancient Japan who perform ritualistic suicide called seppuku or hara-kiri as a way of saving their honor.

Without meaning to disrespect the dead and being callous to the plight of the deceased’s grieving family, on the contrary, General Reyes’s suicide is neither the courageous way out nor the means to protect the military institution from the assault to its reputation and dignity. By cutting short his life, General Reyes gave up any fight he could put up in defense of his innocence and in clearing the military establishment of any involvement in corruption.

As a famous line goes, death has sealed the lips of Angelo Reyes; he buried the truth to his grave. Sure, he denied – although indirectly and with lack of certitude – receiving the P50 million, but with his death how can the investigation on his involvement proceed and make the public believe his claim as against that of former AFP budget officer Lt. Col. George Rabusa, who spoke firmly and in a straightforward manner? How about the alleged several out of the country trips of his wife and that of former AFP Comptroller Ligot, wherein they were given huge sums of money from the AFP coffers? Will the spilt blood of Reyes wash them away and make the public forget?

Comparing Reyes’s death to seppuku or hara-kiri betrays the deceased’s claim of innocence. The ancient Japanese warriors, the Samurais, disembowel themselves to death to avoid capture from their enemies or to restore their honor for committing serious or grievous offenses. Obviously, Reyes was not evading capture from any enemy, unless one is to symbolically interpret his possible prosecution and imprisonment as such. How about restoring his honor? But that would mean he admitted committing a grievous act.

Reyes’s death will not – and must not, in bold letters – close the investigation to the allegations of massive corruption in the AFP. It shouldn’t be a way out as Sen. Jingoy Estrada seems to be inclined to see now, just days after fiercely questioning to the point of humiliating the deceased general.

Indeed, the suicide of Reyes is a sad and tragic event, but the likes of Generals De Veyra and Maligalig should stop putting the deceased general on a pedestal for trying to escape from a difficult situation instead of facing it squarely and putting up a good fight.

Even more, Rabusa and Trillanes should not be berated, not least of which from their fellow Cavaliers, for their zealousness in exposing corruption in the AFP. Rather than see their acts as a betrayal of the institution they came from, Rabusa and Trillanes should even be commended for by ridding the armed forces of corruption through their exposé and investigation, they are trying to restore the dignity of the military establishment. Does not the cadet honor code state: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do"? By coming out and spilling the beans, is not Rabusa in fact reporting a violation of the honor code?

Cleaning the dirt – and not covering it up – by allowing the investigation to proceed to its logical conclusion is the only way to end the siege to the military establishment and restore its dignity.