August 26, 2005

Rene Jarque: a Filipino of courage and conviction

Former army captain and West Pointer Rene Jarque, eloquent and outspoken advocate of reforms in the military establishment, is dead at age 40. In his abbreviated life, Rene had metamorphosed from being a young, idealistic officer aiming to follow the footsteps of his father, General Raymundo Jarque, in a distinguished military career, to that of a crusader, seeking an end to the scandalously corrupt, shamefully inept and intolerably abusive armed forces which he had been a part of and gotten to know and understand well.

It is one of the ironies of life that Rene Jarque’s path and mine should cross in a rather unique and non-adversarial context. I first met Rene in 1995 as he dutifully accompanied his father, General Jarque who, after having defected to the New People’s Army, came down from the hills of Negros to face the criminal charges leveled against him by feuding landowners and then Public Prosecutor Aniano Desierto. I was part of a party of lawyers and activists that met the General and provided him moral, legal and political support as he faced an uncertain and risky future.

I must admit a measure of wariness when I met this army officer; my activist instincts told me that despite his natural sympathy to his father’s plight, it could not be assumed that he had become open, much less sympathetic, to the Left as well. Our conversations were light but guarded; he struck me as an intelligent, soft-spoken, respectful and non-confrontational person but I reminded myself that I was talking to a dedicated and loyal military officer.

I would hear about his military career suffering in the years to come; he had been quietly placed in the freezer. Perhaps it had something to do with his father’s spectacular defection to “The Enemy” that had indelibly marked Rene as a non-conformist and potential troublemaker. Certainly, his critical views about corruption, lack of professionalism and mismanagement in the AFP that he wrote about unabashedly in military publications sealed his fate. It came to the point that copies of a military journal that he edited, was embargoed and set to the torch because it contained an article exposing corruption in the military and calling for reforms.

After Rene had prematurely been forced to retire from the military in 1998 and had started a new career as a business executive, I ran into him again and learned that his passion for advocating wide-ranging reforms in the military had not waned. Thereafter he would be tapped as a resource person by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, In Peace- Mindanao and other progressive groups especially after the so-called “Oakwood Mutiny” in July 2003 to explain what was going on in the military.

In November 2003, Rene helped convene the Action Against Corruption and Tyranny Now or ACT NOW!, an alliance of personages and groups that was appalled at the corruption during the incumbency of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and vowed to animate a citizens’ movement against government misrule, abuse and corruption.

Upon the initiative of Rene, the newly-formed anti-corruption network wrote an open letter to the officers and men of the AFP calling on them to put a stop to the practice of “conversion”, literally converting public funds into private monies by a series of criminal acts that involved the collusion of military officials and private supply contractors and appropriating said funds to enrich themselves. This was long before the scandal over the billions of money allegedly siphoned off by General Carlos Garcia and his cohorts using the strategic office of the military comptroller. Rene had hoped it would send even a small ripple of appeal to the remaining decent elements in the military establishment.

He also brought up a proposal to hold small forums inviting enlisted servicemen and not just officers “to serve as an outlet for soldier's grievances besides the PMAAA and the AGFO” and to provide a venue for the men in uniform to meet with leaders of cause-oriented groups and exchange views. He had hoped such efforts would help lift the veil of misconception and prejudice that beclouded the mindset of each side.

I learned that Rene had resigned from his executive position in a Manila-based firm and had accepted instead a job that required him to be based for the most part in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. In the time that he was back home, we had an opportunity to speak at the same forum on corruption in the military in the wake of the case of Gen. Carlos Garcia and other implicated officers. We also attended the first hearing of the military tribunal trying Gen. Garcia’s case. I could feel the questioning looks of military men as they saw me enter the courtroom with the famous or notorious Captain Rene Jarque, depending on one’s point of view.

In February of this year, ACT NOW! invited Rene to deliver a paper on corruption in the military at a National Study Conference on Corruption held at the University of the Philippines. He graciously agreed and since he was abroad at the time, he was hooked up via long distance to answer questions raised during the open forum. Bishop Julio Labayen was at the conference and asked Rene how he explained the phenomenon of reform-minded officers in the AFP as dramatically revealed in the recent “Oakwood Mutiny”. Rene’s insights impressed the good bishop who remarked that he was hopeful for change in the AFP with advocates such as Rene persisting in his awareness raising efforts.

Captain Rene Jarque certainly belongs to a distinguished breed of Filipinos because he had the courage of his convictions, a moral courage displayed in the risky but principled choices that he made that affected adversely “success” in his chosen career and even his personal fortunes. Moreover, he persisted in his crusade while he could have quietly faded away from the controversial limelight when he was effectively forced to resign from the institution he loved and served to the best of his ability and with his integrity intact. He was able to maintain his links and command the respect of his peers and other active and retired military officers precisely because, even when they disagreed with his views, they could not doubt his moral integrity, intellectual honesty and willingness to make the necessary sacrifice to advance his convictions.

Rene was a rare kind of intellectual: he was a critical thinker who could not be satisfied with what has been ingrained in him but was open to the truths that he learned as he matured, from his experiences as a young officer fighting a counter-insurgency war in the hinterlands of Isabela province to his stint as a staff officer with a promising career in the AFP headquarters to his “downfall” as a maverick soldier railing against an institution that had gone terribly awry.

Rene was broadminded enough to respect the views of those in the revolutionary movement whose ideology and politics were diametrically opposed to what he had been molded to believe but whose basic values and concrete practice he had grown to admire.

Captain Rene Jarque remained a soldier at heart which is why he never gave up writing and talking about what he felt was wrong in the military. He also never gave up on the decent people he knew remained in the AFP.

In the last essay that he wrote, “What’s with the Armed Forces?” dated 25 July, he came up with some very radical proposals:

There is indeed a dilemma. Military intervention can restore order but… if the intervention is by the generals, no real change in politics and society will happen. In fact, it could be worse if a military or military-controlled government takes over… If the young officers intervene without the blessing of the chain of command, it will be a bloody confrontation with the “pro-government” forces. I think the best combination for a military intervention, if ever it happens or when it becomes “final solution” or “fait accompli”, would be the younger generation of the Officer Corps supported by broad popular support, including the progressive elements of the left. Perhaps then, we can expect real change in government.”

Rene Jarque’s legacy to the struggle to bring about an armed forces that will truly serve the interests of the people and the country is surely enshrined in the hearts and minds of the patriotic men and women in uniform. Indeed, he has served his people and his country well and we are all very proud of him.

26-27 August 2005

August 18, 2005

Impeachment farce

Anyone who has taken the time to drop by Congress to observe the ongoing Justice Committee hearings on the impeachment complaint against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will certainly end up uninspired and likely, frustrated. This is supposed to be the constitutional process by which a President may be removed from office for due cause but it is turning out to be a farce. It certainly looks like heyday for those engaged in suppressing the truth and abetting Malacañang’s cover-up of Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachable crimes.

The legal technicalities raised by the anti-impeachment congressmen are calculated to delay if not prevent all together the ventilation of the grounds for the impeachment complaint. De Venecia’s minions, masquerading as honorable ladies and gentlemen of the House of Representatives, know only too well that at the minimum, the opposition hopes that they will be able to make their case before the bar of public opinion, even if in the end, they fail to come up with the critical 79 votes for impeachment. Together with the maneuvers of GMA lawyers, the interminable delays at the Justice Committee hearings are all clearly intended to thrown a monkey wrench into the entire proceeding and stall it indefinitely, if not squelch it outright.

The apparent strategy of the Arroyo administration is this:

  1. Appear to give the impeachment complaint due course but delay discussions especially on sufficiency in substance and probable cause to prevent pro-impeachment congressman and complainants from presenting evidence that may further inflame the people;
  2. Insist on the Justice Committee’s recognition of the earlier suspicious complaint filed by Atty. Oliver Lozano to prevent the amended complaint by the opposition from progressing. Take note that this earlier complaint is so deficient it leads one to suspect it was filed with the intent to fail so that no other impeachment complaint can be filed against the President within the same year. On the other hand, the amended Lozano complaint filed by 41 congresspersons not only has more substance in terms of grounds cited for Arroyo’s impeachment but is also more firmly in the hands of the opposition;
  3. Worse comes to worse, use the advantage of having the overwhelming majority of congresspersons who are loyal to De Venecia and GMA, to vote down the impeachment complaint. The last move will only be resorted to when the political situation has been massaged in favor of Mrs. Arroyo so that such a brazen move will not trigger public outrage that can fuel street demonstrations anew.

But for this strategy to work, Malacañang must be able to erode the public’s belief that GMA connived with Comelec Commissioner Garcillano to rig the presidential elections as revealed in the “Hello, Garci” tapes. This is the purpose of DENR Secretary Mike Defensor’s belated attempt to throw doubt on the tape’s authenticity and its evidentiary value in the impeachment process by misrepresenting and lying about a US expert’s opinion. The demolition job against witnesses to the involvement of Mrs. Arroyo’s close family members in illegal gambling is meant to blunt the opposition’s offensive on the issue of corruption that reaches all the way up to the President’s office. At the same time Malacañang persists with its propaganda barrage that all of GMA’s political woes are the result of a well-orchestrated and coordinated opposition plan to destabilize and unseat her so that they make take over.

Meanwhile, Malacañang is trying mightily to stave off an acute deterioration of the economic situation from the impact of skyrocketing oil prices and the impending implementation of the expanded value added tax pending the Supreme Court’s anticipated lifting of its temporary restraining order. Mrs. Arroyo has to contend with the expected adverse findings of an International Solidarity Mission and an International Tribunal set to give its verdict on the Arroyo regime’s human rights record this week.

In fact the Arroyo camp is so paranoid and desperate it has resorted to using the police as well as the intelligence service of the armed forces to undertake an illegal, warrantless raid and seizure of materials from the San Mateo house of an opposition witness on electoral fraud. Indeed, as Executive Secretary Ermita himself admitted, Malacañang will move heaven and earth to prevent the impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo from reaching the Senate. This includes doing everything to make sure that no new scandal involving Mrs. Arroyo explodes in these precarious times.

Those who said that the impeachment process was the way to go in resolving the present crisis of the Arroyo government are one of the following:

  1. Sympathetic to the GMA regime and want to use the impeachment process as a tool for GMA’s political survival; or
  2. Are still undecided or remain unconvinced about GMA’s guilt or at the very least, think she deserves some kind of due process and consider the impeachment as the means by which the truth will finally be determined; or
  3. Are convinced Mrs. Arroyo should step down but buy the line that the impeachment process is the only constitutional way; that forcing her out of office through street demonstrations will undermine democratic institutions and is a recipe for anarchy or even the seizure of power by opportunists; or at the very least rejects the uncertainty that such a scenario offers.

Of the latter two, there are those who are just politically naïve or perhaps ignorant about the workings of Congress and the realpolitik operating behind the scenes in an impeachment. Thus they think that congresspersons should just be allowed to do their work with the least interference from anyone. In this manner, they remain passive.

However there are those who know that political pressure must be made to bear on the situation in the House otherwise the administration congressmen will be able to maneuver the defeat of the complaint. These are the ones who patiently go to the Justice Committee hearings only to be disappointed again and again.

Those who know that the cards are stacked against the impeachment complaint are hoping for the chance that the opposition may be able to air the damaging evidence against GMA and thus rouse the people to action. They also consider that the volatile political environment during Congress deliberations can develop in such a way that a sufficient number of congresspersons may be swayed to sign the complaint.

Whatever the outcome of the impeachment hearings, it could either be the spark needed to turn up the political heat to maximum or it may merely contribute to further building up the heat until it is brought to a boil by another development, another trigger. Time is not on Mrs. Arroyo’s side; the people can afford to wait and gather strength in the Parliament of the Streets where money, power and arms are not at all the decisive factors.#

18-19 August 2005

August 12, 2005

Impeachment trap

When the House of Representatives (HOR) Committee on Justice deliberates and decides the impeachment complaint versus President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it is not only the merits of the complaint that will be measured and judged. In the final analysis it will be the fundamental system of checks and balances in a constitutional democracy that will itself be put to the test. Will the system be able transcend the current configuration of political alliances – the realpolitik as it were -- that overwhelmingly favors the Arroyo administration. Can it truly ferret out the truth and decide on the basis of public interest?

The experience of the Estrada impeachment trial more than four years ago is still fresh in the people’s minds especially the walk-out of the public and private prosecutors after the suppression by Estrada allies of what was perceived to be vital evidence that would pin down the accused. The denial of the opening of the “second envelope” served as the trigger setting into motion a train of events culminating in the “EDSA II” uprising that successfully ousted the Estrada regime.

Indeed there was a rupture in the prescribed constitutional process of removing and replacing a regime in power since the impeachment trial was aborted by the Prosecution walk-out. In fact it was the direct exercise of the people’s sovereign authority through “people power” that brought down the Estrada regime. The more than 50,000-strong march to Malacañang in the early morning of January 20, 2001 served to underscore the point that one of the most popularly-elected presidents in the nation’s history was being unceremoniously booted out of power.

Yes, Virginia, President Joseph Estrada didn’t resign no matter the convoluted legalese that the Supreme Court utilized to uphold the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency (which, by the way, Chief Justice Hilarion Davide effectively pre-judged when he swore Vice President Arroyo into office at the EDSA shrine on the very same day Mr. Estrada hightailed it out of the Presidential Palace).

But Mrs. Arroyo chose not to anchor her assumption to power on the bedrock of the people’s sovereign will and action of ousting a previously popular president. In a highly calculated political move, she chose to foist the legal fiction that Mr. Estrada had “constructively resigned”. Therefore, purportedly by virtue of constitutional succession, Mrs. Arroyo as Vice President most prim and properly stepped into the vacancy.

The message was this: Mrs. Arroyo owes nothing to people power and she derived her mandate exclusively from having been elected as Vice President.

Such a stance comes as no surprise. Then and now the political and economic elite in this country have proven their abiding fear of the rising political awareness of the downtrodden masses and the growing strength of their organizations autonomously organized away from the shadow of patronage politics and the sway of corrupt and reactionary politicians.

Indeed these organizations constitute the core of people power: the force that can mobilize the critical mass needed to topple a tottering, corrupt and anti-people regime.

Thus the high-profile role in EDSA II of the People Power Triumvirate, Cardinal Sin-Cory Aquino-Fidel Ramos; the unabashed backing from the anti-Estrada section of big business such as the Ayalas and the Makati Business Club; and the withdrawal of support by the military and civilian bureaucracy -- these are all deliberately cited as the key factors to the successful removal of Mr. Estrada from power in order to eclipse the more crucial role of the mass movement of quite ordinary and lowly folk.

Even the presence of the so-called middle forces is highlighted to contravene the overwhelming numbers of common folk who trooped to EDSA during the four-day uprising and then marched to Malacañang to draw the exclamation point to the entire people power exercise. The scenes of ordinary people from all over the country calling for Mr. Estrada’s ouster and/or resignation and all through-out his two-and-a-half-year stint as president, protesting his regime’s anti-people, anti-Filipino policies are being airbrushed from the people’s collective consciousness.

With recent history as backdrop, it is then quite easy to see why impeachment is the preferred mode by the GMA regime to resolve the severe political crisis it has become mired in. Like Mr. Estrada, Mrs. Arroyo hopes to use her advantage of having the overwhelming majority of Congressmen as her allies in stopping the impeachment complaint dead on its tracks. Malacañang will not risk allowing the Opposition to elevate the impeachment complaint to the Senate for trial. Executive Secretary Ermita candidly admits that Malacañang will do everything to prevent history from repeating itself.

There should be no doubt about it. Mrs. Arroyo’s challenge to the Opposition that they channel calls for her removal from office away from the Parliament of the Streets into the halls of Congress as the only “constitutional” venue was meant to restrict the space for struggle to an arena that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies dominate and control. No matter the pious intonations about upholding the “rule of law.”

Justice Romeo T. Capulong of the Public Interest Law Center, a seasoned human rights lawyer who figured prominently as private prosecutor in the Estrada impeachment trial has this commentary on the current situation which I believe is worth sharing with readers.

“Understandably, the impeachment process now appears to be the common ground of the pros and the antis. It is also the process proposed or preferred by the power centers in the prevailing social structure, namely: the dominant churches, the business sector, the professionals and middle class and the senior leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. I venture the view that fear of the power of the masses and threat to the status quo drove these forces to an informal though adversarial unity of action under the banner of constitutional processes.

“…Based on our experience in the ouster of Joseph Estrada, the impeachment of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, though a safety valve and sole arena of the political elites, is an important supportive process that could trigger and decisively arouse people in their millions to oust the Macapagal-Arroyo government, install a transition government with a concrete program and hold ‘snap elections’.

“The danger in the impeachment process, assuming that it will reach the Senate, or even if it’s bogged down by the legal antics and gobbledygook in the House of the Representatives, lies in the fact that it will be a tedious and protracted trial. And while such prolonged process will further weaken the political system and deepen the divisions of the ruling class, it will deepen tensions and restiveness in the ranks of the power centers I mentioned which may provide the much-awaited excuse for a US-backed military intervention or martial rule.”

Aug. 12-13, 2005

August 05, 2005

Right and wrong

One line of argument that the Gloria Step Down Movement has had to contend with is anchored on the supposition that the alternatives to a Gloria presidency are so unpalatable they are practically nonexistent.

The Malacañang propaganda machine and its paid media hacks are working overtime to picture the obvious candidates to replace Mrs. Arroyo as either incompetent in governance, recycled political rejects or heirs thereto or as untrustworthy as Gloria with the potential to rival her in the lying, stealing and cheating departments. So rather than jump from the frying pan into the fire, the seguristas say let’s just sit tight, give the Gloria regime another chance to do better, tone down the “political noise” and pray for things to at least not get any worse so that the nation can settle down and survive this latest political convulsion.

This seemingly prudent, low-risk approach to the nation’s current crisis apparently has found favor with a considerable number in the middle class, or at least that part of it that still has something worth clinging to unlike those who not only feel poor, but actually are, and desperately so.

Thus we hear otherwise decent, morally upright and well-educated people (we assume they are not relatives, business cronies or political allies of Mrs. Arroyo who directly benefit from her rule) saying that the leadership crisis facing Mrs. Arroyo is overblown. All politicians cheat their way to office anyway; all are to varying degrees corrupt; all resort to half-truths, distortions and outright lies to survive the political snake pit; and all are beholden to the country’s former colonizer, the USA, and to the armed forces whose shifts in allegiance can make or break any ruling regime.

Gloria and her loyalists take this cynical sentiment a step further and conclude with the assertion that it is the “system,” a suitably amorphous and ambiguous entity, which is impaired and must be reformed. Ergo the solution doesn’t lie in replacing Mrs. Arroyo, specially not with dimwits (even if they are in the Arroyo camp) or political has-beens (vintage Marcos and Erap) or heaven forbid, those Leftist radicals (even if apart from peasant and working class leaders they count priests, nuns, professors and professionals among them) who will usher in a godless society where everyone is equally miserable and destitute.

The Malacañang spin is that the solution lies in Mrs. Arroyo’s holding on to power no matter the public clamor that she step down, for that is patriotism and adherence to the rule of law of the highest order. To do this she must entice her allies in Congress to use their numbers to defeat the impeachment complaint against her without appearing to be railroading matters. In fact the administration majority must appear to be bending over backwards to accommodate the opposition so that when they utilize the tyranny of numbers to junk the impeachment complaint, everything will appear fair and square and according to the rules. In a word, constitutional.

In her State-of-the-Nation address, Mrs. Arroyo dangles charter change via a constituent assembly to the honorable members of Congress and the response is gleeful. How then are the members of the Administration majority supposed to maintain their independence and vote according to their conscience and not party affiliation? The spectacle reeks of patronage politics and plain bribery at its worst especially in the light of Mrs. Arroyo’s challenge to the opposition to take their charges of electoral fraud and other presidential wrongdoing to Congress and there have her impeached.

The people are expected to believe that the urgent reform of our terribly flawed and untenable political system can be entrusted to traditional politicians whose track record individually (except for very few) and as an institutional body is nothing short of uninspiring if not out rightly disgusting. The people are also expected to believe that Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to back the Ramos-de Venecia chacha is motivated by her recognition of the need for substantial change in the political system rather than her own desperate need for survival.

The problem with this latest trouble-shooting approach of Malacañang bright boys is that it relies for its success on some of the most backward, uncritical, cynical and passive ideas about governance and politics in this country and that’s not saying much.

It presupposes that it is all right for Mrs. Arroyo to attempt to influence COMELEC officials to favor her candidacy using the awesome power and influence of the Office of the President since any politician in the same position would do the same.

It glosses over the fact that Mrs. Arroyo attempted to use the powers of the Presidency to cover up the discovery of her highly questionable actuations.

It justifies her resort to prevarication (“I’m sorry”); suppression of evidence (“Mere possession of copies of the wiretapped conversation is punishable”); witholding of testimony (“Malacañang has no inkling where Commissioner Garcillano is”); and all kinds of underhanded political maneuvers (chacha vs. impeachment).

Moroever it foists the unacceptable view that in a nation of more than 80 million people, there are no alternatives to the illegitimate, morally bankrupt and corrupt Arroyo regime.

On the other hand, the people’s movement calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation, impeachment or ouster is standing firmly on the ground that wrongdoing, especially by the highest officials of the land, must not be tolerated; that our people deserve much more by way of their national leaders; that those proven to be untrustworthy cannot be expected to lead the way to any genuine and meaningful system change. These are basic principles and values without which this country is doomed to fail.

A reader’s feedback to last week’s column should give Malacañang pause:

“Thanks for your analysis on current and past bedfellow arrangements in the course of getting rid of venal people.

I also think it important to state that people like me who won’t go to the rally because there is a principled feeling that one cannot go there with the likes of Imee and Jinggoy, be acknowledged and respected. BUT, it doesn’t mean we don’t want her (Gloria) to resign or that we think the alliances are beneath us, or we are less resolute or many, many other reasons put on us. You know I don’t shirk from street marching.

But it’s just the unease and the unease may certainly be wiped out when new events come to the fore.

For example, yesterday, I just happen to have been in the company of Liza Araneta Marcos and I asked her point blank, was there a meeting between GMA and Imelda and did GMA offer to have Marcos buried in Libingan (ng mga Bayani). I consider Liza to be forthright and she did confirm both questions and also said though that the Marcos children were uneasy with GMA and the timing of such an offer. They're not stupid.

Meanwhile, having confirmed this in my head, I've been very pissed. Pissed enough to know the next street march is for me, regardless of the shady characters around. The Marcos past has just been dragged in and that's just over the top. I have told many people about this fact and you can bet that there will be more street marchers and more asking for GMA's head. And you should spread this word around so that yes, the next march and the next and the next will be the tidal wave we need.”