A year ago, the Supreme Court declared the proposed Truth Commission as unconstitutional. President Noynoy Aquino was criticized for rushing the formation of the Truth Commission, even by several members of Congress. For that matter, if Noynoy as president-elect would have asked Congress and the Supreme Court if he could prohibit the use of “wang-wangs,” I suspect he would have found resistance from the same Supreme Court and Congress. But P-Noy must have felt in his gut that the wang-wang symbolized the arrogance of power and made politicians and public officials the “bosses” in a democracy instead of being public servants. With his declaration of “no wang-wang,” P-Noy won the ordinary Filipino.
It seems to me that his expressed desire and moves to establish a Truth Commission came from the same gut feeling. He must have felt that the people had been denied much of the truth for nine long years under Gloria’s presidency and opening the door for the liberation of truth was a primordial need. By simply initiating for truth to have an official advocate and forum through the Truth Commission, even if the Supreme Court denied it, P-Noy made it known that truth would have an ally in his person, in his office. And, as it should, truth is breaking open the closet doors and pushing skeletons to find the light of day.
Gloria was accused of creating a Supreme Court, and appointing post haste its Chief Justice when simple decency and courtesy pointed to the ascendancy of a president-elect as the rightful appointing power, so that she could escape conviction for high crimes she was anticipating to be accused of. The declaration of the Truth Commission as unconstitutional made many believe that, indeed, speculation had found affirmation. After all, the Constitution first and foremost serves the people, reflects their fears and embodies their aspirations – and less the other way around. The Supreme Court might have stopped the Truth Commission from finding life, but the people’s longing for the truth took over and a pattern of truth-telling is emerging.
Finding out the truth does not really need a commission; rather, it only needs for people to keep demanding for it. From that demand, truth missions can be established by the people themselves and an environment developed to encourage those who have been keeping secrets for fear of their lives, or the condemnation of society. At the moment, Congress and the Senate have acted as de facto truth commissions, and that is good. However, these institutions are not equipped for the processing of truth that has been massively suppressed – the people are.
If our society wants transparency, it will not happen by itself. Telling lies, stealing money, and hi-jacking elections have not only damaged our value system, they have been assimilated in it. Filipinos naturally assume that those who run for office do so because they are power-hungry and because they want to enrich themselves. The same is assumed when people apply for positions in government because they prefer certain positions like Customs or BIR, or aim for government financial institutions like the DBP, GSIS and SSS, long known to give lavish allowances and perks. If we do not trust politicians even when they are not yet elected, if we do not trust public servants even before they are appointed, then we will not trust them when they actually assume their positions.
We have a government, represented by elected and appointed officials, whose primary relationship with the Filipino people is based on distrust. Any act that goes against the deepest aspirations of the people, like the search for truth, even by declaring it as unconstitutional, justifies the distrust and intensifies it. The depth of that distrust spans centuries when the concept of a national government was first introduced to the Filipino people as a mechanism for foreign masters to oppress and exploit the natives of our archipelago. Governments since 1946 already run by Filipinos never understood the kind of resentment that Filipinos developed against national government. They assumed wrongly that the people would automatically feel great kinship with them.
Trust is most difficult to establish when the beginning is distrust. It is not only about building trust but dismantling distrust. Building and dismantling need distinct modules or programs – even as daily operations of government must go on. The vision of national leadership must incorporate both building trust and dismantling distrust. Building trust is governing with integrity and transparency. Dismantling distrust is go relentlessly against officials who had committed crimes, who had lied, stolen people’s money and abused their positions of power and authority. It is about planting just as it is about weeding.
For a president whose critics (mostly those who were already against him during the presidential campaign) accuse as having no vision, as having no executive ability, as having no hands-on leadership, P-Noy has achieved beyond expectations. The latest hunger incidence report points to the lowest figures in a decade, a testament of his determination to give priority to the pain of his people. The latest positive ratings of international financial institutions show an even higher trust of investors or investors-to-be, simply because P-Noy is also giving priority to transparency efforts – inclusive of support for the unearthing of lies, grand theft and election fraud that prevent people from trusting government.
If there is a common, effective instrument for building trust and dismantling distrust, it is the truth. Truth is primordial, like freedom. Without truth, injustice will reign and freedom remains an illusion. The exercise of truth after a long absence will necessarily disturb the system, as it should. This emerging environment for the exercise of truth will hurt those who have prospered by its suppression, whether they are former presidents retired generals or even bishops.
People and government must actively engage each other in the search of truth and its establishment as a pillar of Philippine society. Truth must once more be a cherished virtue, not only of those who serve the people, but of the people themselves.
“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus