PRESIDENT Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has appointed former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., a Cebuano, as head of the soon-to-be-formed Truth Commission. Aquino, however, has still to issue an executive order defining the parameters of the commission’s task. A body like this has been formed in other countries following allegations of corruption and abuses against previous administrations.

A truth commission is usually tasked to discover and reveal details of a government’s past wrongdoing. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by then president Nelson Mandela after apartheid (racial conflict) was eradicated in South Africa.

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Truth commissions are sometimes criticized for allowing crimes to go unpunished and creating impunity for serious human rights abusers. One of the issues regarding truth commissions in transitional societies that need to be clarified is the relationship between the said body and criminal prosecution.

This is not to pre-empt Davide’s moves, but I view a Truth Commission as another layer of the bureaucracy. What it will do is just gather proof and collate data about alleged anomalies committed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. I even doubt if the commission will have prosecutorial power.

The most that this commission can do is come up with recommendations for the possible filing of charges against Arroyo. Its output will still be submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Ombudsman for review.

Some of the possible issues that may be looked into by the commission are the scuttled ZTE-NBN deal, the multi-million-peso fertilizer scam, the alleged cheating in the 2004 elections and cases of human rights violations. These have been looked into in the past by various investigating agencies, including Congress.

In fact, these allegations were contained in several impeachment cases filed against Arroyo before Congress. The proceedings, though, failed to move because of Arroyo's power and influence.

Impeachment is a political exercise and the impeachment cases filed against her were dismissed because majority of the members of the House of Representatives were her allies.

Why won't the Aquino administration just revive the cases and file these before the DOJ or the Ombudsman, which has the power to prosecute? Anyway, evidence has been gathered and testimonies of witnesses collected. Besides, private entities, like militant groups, have filed cases against Arroyo. And they will be filing more.

I'm afraid that this move to run after Arroyo will amount to nothing. Why? Consider the case of former first lady Imelda Marcos. She has several pending cases and has even been convicted by the Sandiganbayan, though she was later acquitted in the Supreme Court.

Until now, Imelda has remained scot-free and was even elected to various positions. The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which is tasked to recover the Marcoses’ alleged ill-gotten wealth, miserably failed in its task.

The case of former president Joseph Estrada was different. Erap was convicted of plunder for pocketing part of the P200 million tobacco excise tax and proceeds from illegal gambling. But after he was convicted, he was pardoned. He would have won the May 10 presidential polls had Noynoy Aquino decided not to run.

But it’s indeed good to put a closure to all these issues.

(bobby@sunstar.com.ph)