What cost reprieve?

FOREIGN relations is not for the weak. In promoting their national interest, states employ their best poker players as diplomats to bluff, cajole, and threaten if need be. It is not for the faint hearted. Because in asserting what is best for a country, diplomats will employ ruse, lies and gimmickry to achieve what is best for their sending state.
And yes, because foreign policy is a nasty game played by diplomats everyday, states must have a clear view of what comprises its national interest so that in the course of this intricate game of deceit known as diplomacy, diplomats would have a clear picture of what should be done to suit their national interests.

When news came out that Vice-President Jejomar Binay earned a temporary stay on the execution of the three Filipino drug mules in China, the question that came to my mind was: at what cost?

The official line, of course, was that it cost us nothing. Had it not been for my new found respect for the Marines that joined Sen. Sonny Trillanes in standing up to the evil one, I would have quickly said: tell that to the Marines.

In truth and in fact, no country, especially China, would grant a diplomatic concession without a price. What does seem more likely is that there was a cost, but our leaders are unwilling to tell us exactly how much it was.

The possibilities on how much it cost us to procure the stay are endless. There is the Northrail contract which, according to Sen. Franklin Drilon, should make it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being “the most expensive railway project on earth.” With a project cost of almost a billion dollars, it is almost as expensive as the Shanghai magnetic bullet trains, with the difference being that while the Shanghai train is levitating and runs at 300 kilometers per hour, our Northrail runs on diesel at 60 kilometers an hour. And were not even sure, in the absence of a detailed bill of materials, if it is brand new or junk. It could even be the precursor of those ultra modern Shanghai bullet trains.

Despite the change in government, and despite the fact that Northrail has always been a banner issue of the Liberal Party, I am surprised, to say the least, that this administration has not put an end to the Northrail scam. Surely, this could be one possible cost of the stay?

Then there is the Joint Maritime Seismic Exploration Agreement that had recently expired. Why the past dispensation entered into a joint exploration of our mineral resources with a foreign county despite an expressed constitutional provision reserving such exploration to Filipinos is just beyond comprehension. But with Chinas insatiable demand for oil, and the proven oil and natural gas reserves located in the South China Sea, the renewal of this agreement could yet be a convincing cost for the stay.

Forget oil for one moment. What about gold? One of the documents that I made public as evidence of GMAs many sins was one signed by Peter Favila granting ZTE Corp. of China the botched National Broadband Network deal plus the famed Diwalwal and North Davao mining concessions.

Initially, the likes of former Environment Secretary Lito Atienza denied the existence of that contract. Favila would later admit the physical existence of the contract but insisted that the Memorandum of Agreement was far from a perfected contract. Legalese defense notwithstanding, the MOA clearly granted ZTE the right to extract gold from Diwalwal and North Davao.

The latest from the grapevine is despite PNoys new administration, this grant to ZTE may still be may be honored indirectly: bid out Diwalwal and North Davao to a dummy Filipino corporation which in turn, will turn over the contract to ZTE. Lots and lots of gold for three stays of execution? Why not?

Then there are the disputed Spratlys islands in the South China Sea. With former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza advising the Philippine Senate in the last Congress that adopting the disputed Spratlys Islands as part of our archipelago might trigger a military confrontation with China, obviously one that we cannot win, it is still possible that the cost of the reprieve may be some of the disputed islands. After all, didn’t China simply shoo off our soldiers from Mischief Shoal in order to lay claim to it? So why not islands for reprieve?

The point is that policy makers should realize that nothing comes for free in the field of foreign relations. While saving Filipino lives, even those found guilty of large scale drug trafficking, is important for a Catholic country like ours, policy decisions such as winning a reprieve for three Filipinos from the death penalty, should be made with a clear understanding of what it will cost the country.

In the absence of a holistic picture of what our national interest are in relations to a powerful country like China, the possibility of an “uneven” deal becomes a very real possibility. And lest we forget, they were not apprehended with inconsequential amount of drugs, they were caught with a whole lot of them.

Perhaps, it is high time that we realize that unlike our legal system, some countries do enforce their laws as a matter of course. Dura lex, sed lex. The law may be harsh, but such is the law.


The good news is that after five or so years, we may finally impeach Merceditas Gutierrez. This is because of the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday dismissing her petition to restraint the House of Representatives from hearing two impeachment complaints against her. The Ombudsman complained that since two petitions were filed against her; to wit, one from Akbayan and another by Bayan, then there is a violation of the constitutional prohibition on the filing of multiple impeachment complaints within one year.

With a slim majority, the Supreme Court upheld our earlier position in Martinez vs. House of Representatives where we argued that the prohibition is against multiple impeachment proceedings and not multiple complaints. In Martinez , the House of Representatives, taking the cue from Congressman Edsel Lagman’s “prejudicial questions”, ruled that a subsequent amended impeachment complaint, which superseded the original Lozano complaint against GMA, was barred as a prohibited second complaint. On certiorari, we argued that since the decision of the Supreme Court in Roque vs. De Venecia was that commencement of an impeachment complaint was the filing of an impeachment complaint and its referral to the Justice Committee, there is no violation of the constitution where both the original and the amended complaints were referred to the Justice Committee at the same time. The only weakness in our position then was articulated by Fr. Joaquin Bernas who agreed with our position, but doubted if the court can compel the Committee on Justice to consolidate all complaints into one committee report which is the usual recourse in legislation. With this latest ruling in the Gutierrez case, it is now clear that impeachment, as the constitutional mode to promote accountability of very high impeachable officers, is not a race amongst rats. It can no longer be that an impeachable officer can have a year free of impeachment through the filing of an earlier sham complaint that could be dismissed by congress for insufficiency in form and substance. At least, it is now clear that the one impeachment bar should apply only after the Committee on Justice had already deliberated on all complaints referred to it on the same date and not just on the basis of which complaint was filed first.

The practical consequence of the ruling is that finally, we can hold the Ombudsman liable for her non-action in complaints involving GMA and her cohorts. It also involves her snail pace investigation in the 15 year unsolved murder case of Navy Ensign Philip Pestano whose killers continue to be at large until today. It must be a source of solace to the parents of Philip that while the killers have not yet been punished, a woman who was instrumental in their impunity could at least be held liable.

I hasten to warn though the House Committee on Justice from entertaining further charges not included in the twin complaints of Akbayan and Bayan Muna. I have read Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada’s opinion that they are studying including the additional charge of the Gen. Garcia plea bargaining agreement as a further charge against the Ombudsman. With all due respect to Rep. Tanada who should be Senator soon, this may give the Ombudsman further armament to go up anew to the Supreme Court to question the validity of the extra charge. The fact is, regardless of the specific charges against her, what we need now is the political will to muster the numbers to remove the Ombudsman. While the Garcia plea bargain deal is equally deplorable, let’s not risk yet another stay order from the high court . Let’s concentrate on getting the numbers and getting it as soon as possible.

Still on the issue of accountability of public officers, while our local customs and traditions value honoring the dead, I am nonetheless of the belief that the recent burial of former AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes should mark the commencement anew of our continuing search for the truth and accountability. Without meaning to be disrespectful, the decision to end his life was one made by Gen. Reyes alone. This should not be a reason for us to detract from the genuine issue at hand, which is systemic corruption in the military. While I condole fully with the Reyes family, I agree still with the opinion of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago that the estate of Gen. Reyes should still be held responsible if it is proven that the departed General really partook of the pabaon system. That system is illegal, full stop. Moreover, regardless of how one may have viewed the actuation of Senator Sonny Trillanes in questioning Gen. Reyes, the fact remains that the good Senator was only articulating what should be the correct position of every decent human being: absolute intolerance to corruption. I submit that part of why corruption has become systemic in this country is that we put too much emphasis on “civility” over principles. The correct conduct should be to shame those who have plundered the public coffers so that they may not enjoy the fruits of their criminal acts as if they are civilized people. In other words, we should consider thievery as the worse form of conduct and deal with them accordingly: with absolute contempt. This is what is meant by zero tolerance to corruption. And this is what we must do to end corruption in this country.

To the thieves in this country: beware. We shall shame you and in a manner that would make the conduct of Trillianes look genteel.

Victims and reparations

Sigfrid Fortun referred to it as a “breach of discipline”. I referred to it as “continuing trauma”. We were referring to the outburst of Myrna Reblando in the last hearing of the Ampatuan massacre case in Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court in Quezon City. On the basis of newspaper reports, Myrna, while listening to the testimony of a medico-legal officer on the injuries sustained by some of the Mangudadatu kin, apparently left the court room distressed and, as one newspaper put it, “lost it”. She shouted invectives directed at Fortun and another defense counsel, Andres Manuel, who in a previous hearing asked another medico-legal officer if some of the fatal wounds of the victims could have been self-inflicted. Myrna has been controlling her temper ever since that question about the possibility of suicide. To her and the other victims, that question added insult to their grief.
In response to a letter filed by Fortun describing the incident as a security issue, we filed a motion for the court to order the Department of Health, the Department of Social Work and Development and the Department of Interior and Local government to provide all 14 of our female clients with psychosocial support.

We argued in our motion that the incident last 03 February 2011 “highlights their dire and urgent need for psychosocial support and other counseling facilities, so they can endure the tragic loss of their family members killed in the 23 November 2009 Maguindanao massacre”. Consequently, we sought for the ancillary remedy by way of support pendent lite in the form of “psychosocial” services to be provided to them during the pendency of this case. This, we said, was in accordance with the doctrine of the State as parens patriae, a doctrine long established in jurisprudence. This, in the case of Government of the Philippine Islands v. Monte de Piedad, citing foreign jurisprudence, was defined as the right of the state “to enforce all charities of public nature, by virtue of its general superintending authority over the public interests, where no other person is entrusted with it. “

We argued likewise that the duty to provide health and social services especially to women is enshrined in no less than the Philippine Constitution, and existing laws. Specifically, we invoked Republic Act No. 9710, otherwise known as the “The Magna Carta of Women” :

Section 10. Women Affected by Disasters, Calamities, and Other Crisis Situations. – Women have the right to protection and security in times of disasters, calamities, and other crisis situations especially in all phases of relief, recovery, rehabilitation, and construction efforts. The State shall provide for immediate humanitarian assistance, allocation of resources, and early resettlement, if necessary. It shall also address the particular needs of women from a gender perspective to ensure their full protection from sexual exploitation and other sexual and gender- based violence committed against them. Responses to disaster situations shall include the provision of services, such as psychosocial support, livelihood support, education, psychological health, and comprehensive health services, including protection during pregnancy.

Finally, we argued that RA 9710 especially mandates local government units—which are under the general supervision of the Department of the Interior and Local Government—to deliver necessary services and interventions to “women in especially difficult circumstances” :

Section 30. Women in Especially Difficult Circumstances. – For purposes of this Act, “Women in Especially Difficult Circumstances” (WEDC) shall refer to victims and survivors of sexual and physical abuse, illegal recruitment, prostitution, trafficking, armed conflict, women in detention, victims and survivors of rape and incest, and such other related circumstances which have incapacitated them functionally. Local government units are therefore mandated to deliver the necessary services and interventions to WEDC under their respective jurisdictions. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Under International Human Rights law, victims are entitled not just to monetary compensation for civil damages sustained, but also to reparations. This latter principle is a broader concept compared to compensation since it also includes the restoration of the status quo ante, including the psychosocial condition of the victims. Hence, the duty of the state to provide psychosocial support.

Here’s hoping that Myrna’s outburst will usher in much needed reforms in the promotion of victims rights in this country.

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