The state of Israel moved from developing agricultural oasis from rocky, hostile land to building technology enclaves more impressive than Silicon Valley as determined Jews hunted for Nazi criminals and brought them to trial. It did—and still does—world-class R and D on every vital concern without wavering on the resolve to get the Adolf Eichmanns of the world.
Germany, the country that gave us the Nazis, turned a ruined economy into the largest and most advanced in post-war Europe while dealing with its ghastly past—though uncomfortably and grudgingly at times.
The United States confronted racism and inequality, (Selma, Rosa Parks, Kent State, Civil Rights Act), until it elected an African-American president—without losing its status as the world’s largest economy.
All of these actions and decisions convey one central theme: a country can confront hard questions about the past, and deal with them with an eye on closure, without missing an economic beat. The pursuit of truth on the hard questions do not, repeat, do not, subvert the development process.
As a country and as a people, we have to remember all of these. We cannot, as Pacquiao said, “move on and forget the past.” We all thought, that with all his supposed and well-publicized readings, Pacquiao had learned elementary discernment.
We cannot, as the Arroyos wish it, kill the Truth Commission.
Reckoning with the past and doing what is needed to be done to be a modern, economically vibrant country can be pursued side by side. These two are compatible undertakings. In fact, as the experiences of the above countries tell us—the two are even complementary.
What was our experience with a less-than-enthusiastic confrontation with the hard truths? Let us go back to 1986, after the assumption to the presidency of President Cory Aquino, and the split within her government on how to deal with the Marcoses.
The first faction formed the Marcos doves, those gripped by the Pacquiao-like mentality to just ignore the past (meaning the Marcoses and their compilation of high and serious crimes), so that (by their lame reasoning), the country could move on.
The second faction made up of the Marcos hawks, who essentially and bravely argued that we cannot deal with the Marcos past without bringing them to true justice.
The second faction, unfortunately lost. The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the agency created to run after the Marcos wealth, fainted and sputtered, until the crooks and the incompetents had the run of the feckless agency.
The PCGG is still around but with a record unblemished by huge recoveries. It was—and still is—an agency of big words and puny reach and limited ambition. The Marcos cronies, just slightly deterred from their empire building during the Cory years, form the core of the wealthiest Filipinos now. Just look at the list of Forbes’ 40 wealthiest Filipinos. It is no use detailing where the Marcoses are now.
So, do we deal with the past and aim for closure? Or, do we move on and feign amnesia?
The order of President Aquino 3rd to form a Truth Commission would be sabotaged from two fronts. The first front would be the standard-issue advocacy from the likes of Pacquiao, calling for a nation of amnesiacs that would—for its own good daw—just forget all about the past 10 years.
The second hurdle would be from the legal front, the court challenge to the legality of the Truth Commsision. The Arroyo allies had utilized this.
Both fronts would conveniently jettison the two things most associated with truth—and these are morality and justice.
Should the two fronts succeed, what they will do next is all too predictable: form a Truthiness Commission that would spread half-truths, an embroidered version of the past 10 years.
Summary of the message from the Truthiness Commission: over the past 10 years, the Philippines had its best economic surge ever under a determined, strong leadership. The strong republic strengthened the institutions of democracy. The two fronts, via the Truthiness Commission, would rewrite history and resurrect the Dear Leader.
It has been done before—and a whole chapters of grievous official sins—had been expunged from our history.
In the May election, President Aquino 3rd was the truth-speaking, tell-it-as-it-was candidate, who promised—not only a day of deliverance for the people—but a day of reckoning for those guilty of corruption and the abuse of power.
What we, the ordinary Filipinos, liked most was the way he dismissed phony political civility. He promised that he would not be stricken by the usual culture of amnesia that new leaders develop after assuming power. As a way perhaps of justifying the shooing away of the hard truths.
The most cheered part of his campaign promise was a day of reckoning for the sinners and their sins.