RIVERMAN’S VISTA: A Truth Commission for Mindanao

2nd of a series)

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/16 September) — I completely and unqualifiedly support that process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front while recognizing that there are difficult issues ahead. One of those issues is how to deal with the historical injustice in our beautiful and great island. In this respect, a truth commission for Mindanao could be useful. One can of course argue that a truth commission for the Philippines, one that goes back all the way to the Marcos regime, would be good for the country.

Part of human history are accounts of racial extermination, slavery, wars, forced conversions and mass expulsion of peoples. Often, what drives the perpetuation of these events is the neglect of governments or their utter countenance of abuses against certain minorities or foreign population. The worse part is that a number of these historical injustices are left unresolved for many years.

For this reason, truth commissions, otherwise called as truth and reconciliation commissions are set up by states emerging from periods of civil war, internal unrest, or dictatorship in order to reveal the truth behind the transgressions made by a government.

According to Amnesty International, an organization that campaigns for the effective establishment and functioning of truth commissions when crimes have been committed, truth commissions should (1) clarify as far as possible the facts about past human rights violations, (2) provide the evidence they gather to continuing and new investigations and criminal judicial proceedings, and (3) formulate effective recommendations for providing full reparations to all the victims and their families.

The organization reported that from 1974 to 2007, at least 32 truth commissions were established in 28 countries. These include South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission established on December 2005 to investigate incidents in Korean history, namely Japan’s rule of Korea, the Korean War, and the authoritarian governments that ruled thereafter. Based on the commission’s report, more or less 200,000 people, including political prisoners and civilians who were killed by US forces, were executed in the summer of 1950.

Likewise included in the roll is Argentina’s National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons pieced together by President Raul Alfonsin on December 1983. The commission was tasked to probe the whereabouts of the victims of forced disappearance and other human rights violations perpetuated under the military dictatorship that occurred in the country between 1976 and 1983.

Comision de la Verdad para El Salvador or the Truth Commission for El Salvador was established by the United Nations through the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords primarily to inquire into the human rights abuses suffered by thousands of victims during the Civil War in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. Official findings included the attribution of the murder of six Jesuit priests in November 1989 to the Armed Forces of El Salvador.

Of the named Truth Commissions around the world, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the National Government of Unity during the time of President Nelson Mandela is considered as a model of truth commissions. It was built for the purpose of resolving what happened under apartheid, a policy of racial segregation resulting in violence and human rights abuses.

The Philippines has also its own truth commission, pursuant to President Noynoy Aquino’s campaign promise of Tuwid na Daan. Officially known as the Philippine Truth Commission (PTC) created by virtue of E.O. No. 1, it was tasked to investigate reports of graft and corruption committed during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration.

However, barely a month after the issuance of the same, two cases were filed before the Supreme Court questioning the validity and constitutionality of the said executive order. In the end, the Supreme Court declared E.O. 1 as unconstitutional for violating the equal protection clause enshrined in Section I, Article III (Bill of Rights) of the 1987 Constitution. The Court said, “Not to include past administrations similarly situated constitutes arbitrariness which the equal protection clause cannot sanction. Such discriminating differentiation clearly reverberates to label the commission as a vehicle for vindictiveness and selective retribution.” E.O. 1 was struck down.

Historical injustices, although may not be illegal at the time they were committed, are most certainly, morally wrong. They must be corrected following a legal system essentially built in order to mete out justice to the victims as well as to their immediate ascendants and descendants and to advance the cause of reconciliation. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Dean Tony La Viña is a human rights and environmental lawyer from Cagayan de Oro City. He was a member of the Government of the Philippines Peace Panel that negotiated with the MILF from January-June 2010. He is currently the Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. Dean Tony can be reached at Tonylavs@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook: tlavina@yahoo.com and on Twitter: tonylavs)