FROM a citizens’ impeachment tribunal to a truth commission, now it’s a citizen’s congress that groups under the broad coalition Bukluran Para sa Katotohanan are finally setting in motion to bring out the truth about the charges raised against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her aborted impeachment case.
Denied the legal and constitutional recourse of the impeachment process by the pro-Arroyo House of Representatives, Bukluran has created the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability as an alternative venue to present and examine the body of evidence gathered for the amended impeachment complaint endorsed by opposition congressmen that charged Arroyo with culpably violating the Constitution, betraying the public trust, and engaging in electoral fraud, bribery, graft and corruption.
The Citizens’ Congress comes almost two months after the administration-dominated House junked all three impeachment complaints against Arroyo. Bukluran convenor Bro. Armin Luistro of the De La Salle community said the initiative is precisely a response to Congress’s reneging on its duty to reveal the truth and hold the President accountable for her possible crimes and misdemeanors.
Earlier, some civil-society organizations had pushed for a people’s tribunal that would have been conducted parallel to the impeachment trial in the Senate. But the idea was criticized by Malacañang as being akin to a "kangaroo court."
To deflect such accusations, Bukluran has taken pains to come up with a credible body and a fact-finding process. The special committee it formed considered several options, including that of a people’s tribunal and a truth commission. Key concerns of objectivity, due process and the rights of the accused, the timing, and public acceptability eventually led it to recommend the mechanism of a citizens’ congress.
Acknowledging that the Bukluran initiative will still be questioned and attacked by Arroyo supporters, human rights lawyer and United Nations Ad Litem Judge Romeo Capulong, who will be one of the lawyer-presenters, also assured the president that the Citizens’ Congress will be fair. "(It) is composed of women and men of unquestionable integrity and patriotism, with untainted commitment to the search for truth and justice, and an abiding faith in the essential requirements of fairness and due process."
Named convenors of the Citizens’ Congress are:
- Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera — 1993 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts
- Dr. Maria Serena Diokno — Professor of History, University of the Philippines
- Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB — Prioress, Missionary Benedictine Sisters, St. Scholastica’s College
- Bro. Edmundo Fernandez, FSC — Chairman, De La Salle – College of St. Benilde
- Bishop Solito Toquero — United Methodist Church of the Philippines
Named to the Presidium as presiding officers are:
- Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr.
- Prof. Victoria Avena — Professor, U.P. College of Law
- Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz Duremdes — Secretary-General, National Council of Churches of the Philippines
- Bishop Alberto Ramento — Co-chair, Ecumenical Bishops Forum and Chairperson of the Supreme Council of Bishops, Iglesia Filipina Independiente
- Bishop Dan Balais — Jesus is Lord Movement
- Menchie Caragdag — Peace for Life
- Atty. Nasser Marohomsalic — Former commissioner, Commission on Human Rights
Capulong also stressed that the congress has constitutional basis in Article XIII, Section 15, which provides that:
The State shall respect the role of independent people’s organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.
Using the amended impeachment complaint as foundation for its work, the Citizens’ Congress, to be composed of 400 representatives from various sectors of society, will commence its hearings in November from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The first two hearings will be on November 8 and 9 at the U.P. Theater and the College of Social Work and Community Development, respectively. The next two hearings on November 15 and 16 will be held at the University of Makati.
As a fact-finding, collegial body, the Citizens’ Congress will hear the presentation of evidences and voluntary witnesses like in any court trial, though it will try to avoid being too technical and will not be prosecutorial and adversarial. Capulong said Arroyo is welcome to participate in the proceedings should she decide to send the justice secretary or her lawyers to present her side.
Sr. Mananzan said the purpose of the exercise is really educational as the findings will be widely disseminated to the public. "What the people will do about it, it’s going to be their decision," she said.
Meanwhile, the Black and White Movement has decided to call on Vice President Noli de Castro to serve as transition president until 2007 and for him to install an advisory council that would agree on a popularly affirmed reform agenda as its preferred option for a regime change. Following extensive deliberations in last weekend’s workshop at the Ateneo High School, the group also gave de Castro until November 30 to withdraw support from Arroyo and accept their proposals.
In case de Castro disagrees, the Black and White Movement will be pushing for the succession of the Senate President as acting president and who shall call a special election within 60 days.
The movement also proposed the following in the next administration’s reform agenda:
- Electoral reforms
- Reforms in the jsutice system
- Financial and economic reforms
- Pro-poor reforms
- Pursue the peace process
- Bureaucratic and military reform
- Constitutional reform
For the first 100 days, the group expects the new adminsitration to put the following measures in place:
- Stabilize the political situation
- Institute zero tolerance against graft and corruption and restore good and effective governance
- Demonstrate pro-poor commitment
- Restore fiscal health and keep economic house in order, and
- Lay the basis for sustained reform