By Michael Lim Ubac, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:22:00 07/29/2010
MANILA, Philippines—Without a legal leg to stand on, the planned truth commission is doomed to fail, Sen. Joker Arroyo said Wednesday.
Arroyo, a lawyer, warned President Benigno Aquino III that creating a truth commission through an executive order would be futile because it would suffer from a legal infirmity.
“It seems that the government is bent on putting every problem, every irregularity, everything, on the truth commission. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Arroyo, who served as executive secretary during the term of the late President Cory Aquino, Mr. Aquino’s mother.
“But anything that the President does via an executive order does not have the force of law,” he said.
Arroyo wondered why retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., who has been appointed by Mr. Aquino to chair the truth commission, had not said a word about this legal flaw.
“With this one, I don’t think Davide will get anywhere,” Arroyo said. “The success or failure of the truth commission will not depend upon who the chairman is. It will depend upon the powers that it has. If it has no powers, you can put the smartest lawyers [in it, but] it will not succeed.”
The truth commission is envisioned to investigate the gravest cases of corruption during the period 2001-2010.
But in Arroyo’s reckoning, a commission to be created through an executive order can only invite resource persons.
“In other words, it cannot compel attendance, it cannot compel anything, it can only invite. It will have no subpoena powers,” he said, contradicting what Justice Secretary Lilia de Lima said on Tuesday.
Asked if the commission would then be a “toothless tiger,” Arroyo said: “I think so… That will be a toothless commission. It would suffer from a very legal flaw.
“I can see that those summoned there will immediately raise [or] contest the constitutionality of the body. I myself would want the truth commission to succeed, but not in that manner.”
The senator said Mr. Aquino should leave it to Congress to craft the law creating the commission.
“I think the best way to do it is to form a commission that is enacted by Congress with teeth and safeguards,” he said.
Arroyo said that without powers granted by Congress, the commission would merely refer its findings to the Department of Justice, or the Office of the Ombudsman.
“The better thing would be … the truth commission will investigate. And if it files a prima facie case, [it should] file it directly to the courts,” he said.
Arroyo agreed that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which is tasked to go after the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family and its cronies, was created by Mr. Aquino’s mother through an executive order.
But at that time, he pointed out, the first President Aquino was operating under a Freedom Constitution.
Narrated Arroyo: “The best example is the PCGG. That was EO (Executive Order) No. 1 enacted by President Cory. Attorney Jovito Salonga drafted it, submitted it, and President Aquino signed it without corrections. It was challenged in the Supreme Court, [which] sustained it. That is the kind of an investigative body that will ensure success.”
Arroyo said the late former President had the power to enact laws because “she was the legislature at that time.”
“I should know because my signature is there in EO No. 1,” he said, adding that under the present Constitution, “the President can’t have the same powers that we’re experiencing here [in the Senate during inquiries].”
Not attacking P-Noy
Arroyo tried to make clear that he was not attacking Mr. Aquino.
“But why did the advisers of the President [allow this]? I’m not criticizing the President; I’m only referring to [his] legal advisers [who] keep on talking about the truth commission … as if there should be no participation of Congress, the Senate, in particular,” he said.