Untrammeled search for truth

MANILA, Philippines—More than just recommending the “Abolition of EO 464,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines really wanted a “search for the truth” that is “untrammeled, especially at the present time when questions about the moral ascendancy of the present government are being raised.”

Completing the CBCP’s joy. Thus, by itself, President Macapagal-Arroyo’s revocation of Executive Order 464 and Memorandum Circular 108—described by Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera as a mere “symbolic act”—does not satisfy the CBCP’s desiderata of a “determined and relentless” way of “Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity.”

That is why to “complete the joy” of our bishops, I urged the President last Sunday to let former Neda chief Romulo Neri testify freely at the Senate probe. Such loosening will demonstrate the President’s sincerity and goodwill in fully responding to the CBCP’s plea. It will definitely help in rebuilding her credibility to the middle forces and belie the charge that the revocation was just “another double speak.”

To be sure, the CBCP lauded the lifting of the EO. After enjoying the clap of our bishops, GMA is now expected to facilitate, not hinder further, the discovery of the truth. But, if the President continues to invoke—improperly in my humble view—executive privilege in lieu of the lamented EO, the perception that GMA was directly and personally involved in the alleged ZTE bribery will gain more credence. The more Neri is barred from speaking, the worse will GMA’s public posture be.

No direct link to NBN mess. As it is now, there has been no evidence directly linking GMA to the alleged ZTE-NBN overprice. Other than by innuendo, not even Jun Lozada has testified that GMA was part of the bukol. Neither has Joey de Venecia definitively said that GMA was a direct beneficiary of the supposed $130-million “commission.” However, by preventing her subaltern from speaking, GMA is fostering the belief that Neri’s putative testimony would directly and personally link her to the mess.

During the Supreme Court hearing, there were three specific questions that the President did not want Neri to respond to: ?(1) Did the President have any interest in the NBN project? (2) Did the President order Neri to prioritize the NBN? and, (3) Did she order the continuance of the project despite his allegations of bribery?”

Frankly, I cannot understand why the President did not want Neri to answer these simple questions. If the answers are in the negative, then there is absolutely nothing to worry about. She would not be linked to the alleged bribery. So, the desire to silence Neri must come from the belief that the answers would be in the positive: “Yes, she was interested in the project. Yes, she ordered the project to be prioritized. Yes, she wanted the project to continue despite the allegations of bribery.”

Ironically, this insistence on secrecy merely fortifies the claim of the 80 Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO) that GMA was “at the center of the corruption and cover-up” of the NBN deal. If she were innocent, why in the world would she prevent Neri from telling the truth? Worse, by choosing silence, she is unable to explain her perceived complicity in the mess.

Volcanic communal action. In my last column, I explained that, based on the parameters laid down in the unanimous decision in “Senate vs Ermita,” Neri’s plea for silence cannot be granted. However, there have been reports that tremendous pressures are allegedly being exerted on the justices to reverse, or modify, or find some wayward exceptions to the acclaimed Ermita ruling. I believe that pressures are normal, and that the justices will not cave in to them and will decide according to what becomes them as jurists. They know that history will ultimately judge them.

However, it is entirely possible that the Court, for some novel reasons beyond my range now, may surprisingly rule in favor of secrecy. Denied an untrammeled search for truth, the Senate may just as suddenly close its investigations. That may be the wish of the avid advisers of the President. But I think that abruptly and inconclusively terminating the Senate probes is not good for her.

In the long term—after she leaves the seat of power—the search will continue and light will surely overcome the darkness. The truth cannot be hidden forever. If it must come out, and as sure as the rising sun it will, is it not better for all, especially for GMA, that it should shine forth now while she is still in the best position to contain any possible damage and brighten her side too?

The only independent and credible state institutions that the public still trusts in the search for truth are the Senate and the Supreme Court. Should these two fail to unravel the complete truth, the people—especially the middle forces, those who are still willing to wait for a constitutional change of leaders in mid-2010—may finally lose hope in our normal democratic processes. They may once again take to the streets and the plazas to forge what CBCP President Angel Lagdameo calls a “new type of people power.”

Indeed, a sudden halt of the Senate’s search for truth caused by a surprise ruling of the Supreme Court could be the tipping point in the present crisis, much like the Enrile-Ramos defiance in Edsa I, or the prosecutors’ walk out in Edsa II. Totally denied access to the truth, our “unhappy” and “betrayed” people may just erupt in volcanic “communal action” to unleash their seething frustration.

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