Country, democracy and economy

MANILA, Philippines—In her Lenten message, President Macapagal-Arroyo vowed once more to eradicate corruption. Her message was an obvious response to the earlier pastoral statement, from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), that we face a “crisis of truth and the pervading cancer of corruption.”

Truth, accountability and reform. Similarly, in obedience to the CBCP’s call “to pray together, reason together, decide together, and act together,” the Watch, Pray and Act (WPA) Movement—composed of the leaders of the nation’s Catholic schools—committed to fight for a specific, point-by-point action program for “truth, accountability and reform.”

For my part, I have during the past weeks challenged our citizens to rage for truth by amplifying the demos, sharpening the Senate investigations, intensifying the media blitz, and pressing on with their various demands on the President. At the same time, I wrote that GMA could save her presidency by convincing the middle forces that she would really (1) relinquish power when her term ends on June 30, 2010, and (2) abate immediately the corruption engulfing her.

To find the truth and root out graft, I even urged her to set aside her plea for executive privilege and to let Sec. Romulo Neri testify freely. The more Neri is barred from speaking, the more the public will believe that his testimony would implicate GMA in the ZTE-NBN mess. A major supporter of the President, Brother Mike Velarde recently joined the call for Neri’s unabridged testimony.

Many readers have asked, “Chief Justice, are you for or against GMA” How can you advise her how to save her presidency and, at the same time, ask people to continue raging against her?”

Por la patria, not por la Gloria. I am not for or against GMA. As a jurist, I was trained to be for or against issues and principles, not for or against personalities. I am for saving our country, our democracy and our economy. Through methods that are constitutional, moral and rational.

If GMA would no longer pursue constitutional change and instead assure an honest, orderly and peaceful transfer of power in 2010; if she would sincerely fight graft, not by empty rhetoric, but by prosecuting immediately some biggies in the NBN mess and naming an independent chair of the Commission on Audit; if she would appoint trustworthy Supreme Court justices to replace the six who will retire in 2009 (Justices Ruben T. Reyes, Adolfo S. Azcuna, Dante O. Tinga, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Leonardo A. Quisumbing and Minita Chico-Nazario); if she would follow in good faith the advice of the CBCP and the WPA to expose the truth, end corruption and reform governance, then she deserves to finish her term!

If she would do all these, why should the citizens continue raging against her? All the foregoing “confidence building” measures will take some time. In the meanwhile, our people should continue flexing their constitutional rights—freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, press, information, congressional inquiry, redress of grievances, etc.”to remind the President to forge on with the reforms.

How about her own possible culpability or complicity in the “crisis of truth and the pervading cancer of corruption?” There will be enough time for that after she relinquishes the presidency. Already, former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga has filed a complaint against her with the Ombudsman. With our vigilant citizenry and our strengthened democratic institutions, I believe justice will take its natural course to punish the guilty and to spare the innocent.

All in all, I stand for:

  • A “determined and relentless” pursuit of the truth and the immediate abatement of corruption
  • A peaceful and orderly transfer of power from GMA to her constitutional successor on June 30, 2010 at the latest
  • The precedence of the Constitution, the rule of law and the full protection of human rights
  • The strengthening of our democratic institutions, especially the Supreme Court, Commission on Elections, Commission on Audit, Commission on Civil Service and the Ombudsman
  • Principled and visionary leadership by example
  • The primacy of integrity, accountability and transparency
  • The promotion of the economy and the well-being of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), our single biggest source of foreign exchange

The safeguarding of liberty and the nurturance of prosperity under the rule of law

Corollarily, I am against:

  • Any revision of the Constitution before 2010 for any purpose and by any method. Any Charter change always reeks of suspicion of being a cover to extend GMA’s stay
  • Any forceful power grab like coup d’état, emergency rule, martial law, military takeover, armed rebellion or violent secession. All these will obliterate the rule of law, the people’s basic rights and the free media

Finally, I understand the incessant calls for resignation, snap election, impeachment and another people power revolution. If pursued peacefully, I will concede them as legitimate aspirations in a free society. But for the reasons given in my earlier columns, they are unlikely to happen in the near future.

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Congratulations to new Supreme Court Justice Arturo D. Brion. As the 1974 bar exam topnotcher with a grade of 91.65 and class valedictorian of the Ateneo de Manila College of Law, he is, no doubt, intellectually qualified. His integrity and industry are unquestioned. Should he pass the test of independence, he would surely be hailed a great jurist.

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