Cracking down – Manila Standard

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After getting off to a somewhat rocky start last week, the impeachment process initiated by my good friend Larry Gadon against Chief Justice Sereno has finally found its bearings.

Larry was initially pilloried by the yellow media for admitting to having “no personal knowledge” of the offenses he alleges on the CJ’s part. But what he does have—which amounts to the same thing—are certified true copies of do cuments obtained from the Supreme Court no less. Expect these documents to start seeing the light, by the reams.

Larry was also taken apart for pointing to an Inquirer reporter as his source for some statements ascribed to Justice Teresita de Castro. This was promptly denied by the good justice, who obviously isn’t allowed to discuss Court proceedings with outsiders, let alone reporters. But that little fumble has been buried under the subsequent direct testimony by de Castro herself.

What De Castro has begun to paint is a picture of a young, ill-equipped, and politically-beholden Chief Justice riding roughshod over her colleagues and flouting basic rules of Court procedure and elementary good behavior. We shall see if this pattern is confirmed by an impressive list of witnesses waiting in the wings: several active and retired justices, the Court administrator and clerk of court, the Court’s spokesman. 

I’m told that it’s unprecedented for sitting justices to publicly testify against their leader. The real issue in this proceedings is thus becoming clear: Whether or not CJ Sereno is qualified to lead the High Court over the next 12 years, through two more administrations, until she retires. 

If she cannot do so—regardless of any fault on her part—then the good of the country and the system of laws that alone protects us from each other, demands that she quit. 

***

I attended a two-day summit against corruption convened at the PICC earlier this week by the estimable Ka Dante Jimenez, founding chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). 

Resource persons included Profs Claire Carlos and Temy Rivera, old friends of ours from UP. But the star of the show turned out to be academic OFW Prof Ed Araral, a UP Los Banos product who now teaches at the highly-regarded Lee Kuan Yew School of the National University of Singapore.

Ed simply described the anti-corruption regimes in three very different neighboring countries: China, Singapore and Indonesia. The common lesson from all three was straightforward: We should put more bite into the law and make corrupt officials real pain. 

In China, many of them end up with a bullet in the head. By comparison, we’d be positively merciful just to punish culprits by, say, summary dismissals or preventive confiscation of their assets—among the ideas he suggested. 

President Duterte has already drafted an Executive Order (EO 43) to create a Presidential Anti Corruption Commission. But there’s still room for improvement.  For example, if we want to match the per capita ratio of anti-corruption investigators in, say, Hongkong, the PACC will need to bring on board at least 15,000 more people. 

Since we don’t have the resources to hire so many, they would have to be volunteers. This is where the business community, civil society, academe, and other organizations can make themselves useful. Perhaps Ka Dante and the VACC can take the initiative in assembling this force multiplier for the upcoming new anti-corruption commission.

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Another sort of crackdown is portended by the recent spate of gun battles with the NPA that broke out last week in, of all places, the resort town of Nasugbu, Batangas.

The latest encounter there left 15 rebels dead, including several women. The damage to the NPA was severe enough to provoke CPP leader Jose Maria Sison—from the safety of his Utrecht hideaway—to start squawking about human rights violations. 

Unfortunately for him, his complaints are likely to go unheeded. To a general public that’s learned to live with the civilian body count from the war on drugs, the battlefield deaths of armed NPA rebels who’ve repeatedly rejected peace overtures in order to violently overthrow the Philippine state and replace it with a nominally atheistic proletarian dictatorship—that’s likely to be greeted by a yawn, if not of “Good for them!”

Now Duterte may go even farther and formally declare the CPP-NPA a terrorist group, following the lead of the US and the EU. This will allow him to run after them under the much harsher provisions of the Human Security Act. 

The NDF, the legal front of the CPP, will also be in for a rougher time. NDF affiliate PISTON has already been warned that they will lose their jeepney drivers’ and operators’ licenses if they push through with yet another disruptive transport strike next week. We don’t think the strikers will get a lot of sympathy from the riding public.

Next in line may be Karapatan, another NDF affiliate. When several jeepney-riding men were arrested at a checkpoint near  the first Nasugbu encounter last week, Karapatan rushed in to claim that they were not NPA fighters, but “human rights activists”. We’re disappointed that legitimate human rights organizations aren’t take a harder line with this abuse of their advocacy by a group with its own ideological agenda. 

As this crackdown rolls out, what can I say? Joma, you should have taken the peace talks deal. 

***

From where I’m writing this column along Mendiola, I can see a crowd of red-shirted people overflowing the street and chanting for “revolutionary government”. I’m told that similar demonstrations are going on in other major cities as well as OFW centers abroad.

This is not a crowd that will allow Duterte to leave office after a new constitution is written, as he promised the anti-corruption summit at PICC. Is it even possible for a president to be conscripted into office? Well, he did it before, when he allowed himself last year to be shanghaied into his candidacy, with a little help from current VACC chair Martin Dino.

Strange and promising new things are happening around this president. Let’s all just hold on tight for the roller-coaster ride.

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