NEW YORK (via PLDT) – US President Barack Obama congratulated President Aquino on Tuesday for the reforms he has set in motion in the Philippines, and expressed hope that they could talk longer next time around.
The two heads of state met at the launch of the Open Governance Partnership (OGP) here. They sat next to each other during the event, which was attended by representatives of 46 other nations. The new partnership aims to promote transparency and accountability in government service.
“When the session was over, he congratulated us for our achievements in our first year. He (Obama) said, ‘I understand there have been those that have been pushing you back,’ ” Aquino told Manila-based reporters.
He said Obama was apparently referring to officials of the previous administration who are under investigation for corruption and who are blocking the administration’s reform efforts.
“He gave a compliment on the achievements that we’ve brought the first year. I guess Honolulu would be a smaller group and we’ll have more time to talk there,” Aquino said, referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Hawaii in November.
Aquino said he invited Obama to visit Manila but the US president, pressed for time, made no commitment. Aquino said the matter was best left to the foreign affairs departments of the Philippines and the US.
“I understand he talked before the UN here and everybody wanted to have two minutes with him,” Aquino said.
To prove that his administration means business in its fight against corruption, President Aquino declared here at the OGP forum that he has formulated an action plan to be unveiled in January next year.
In his speech, Aquino said heads of state that included US President Barack Obama, Aquino said government institutions would eventually comply with international standards regarding transparency in transactions.
“We have created a roadmap called the 2012 Philippine Government Action Plan to ensure that our government institutions are at par with international transparency standards,” he said.
Obama and Aquino sat next to each other during the OGP forum.
The Philippines is one of eight countries that are members of OGP Steering Committee. The OGP forum is co-headed by Obama and Brazil President Dilma Rousseff.
The other members are: Indonesia, Mexico, United Kingdom, Norway and South Africa. Members of the steering committee were selected based on fiscal transparency, access to information, and disclosure of officials.
An advocate of good governance that underscores anti-corruption agenda for countries, the OGP is a new multilateral initiative to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
Aquino said the action plan is a product of consultations made by his officials with civil society organizations and business groups that promote open and good governance, and acknowledged that “this action plan is a work-in-progress.”
“The long-standing culture of corruption and concealment that had taken root will take time to change. But rest assured, before its implementation in January 2012, the plan will have gone through even deeper consultations,” he said.
From the time he started a so-called house cleaning in June 2010 since he assumed office, Aquino disclosed that his government intends to correct the mistakes of the past and prevent them from happening again in the future all in the name of accountability.
“We have taken a two-pronged approach, focusing on the curative and the preventive. As we vigorously pursue our campaign against those who abused power in the past, we are also strengthening institutions through Open Government,” Aquino explained.
He said that these efforts are indicators of how serious the Philippines is in transforming the system from one that operates through secrecy, impunity, and collusion, into a government that embodies transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement – a government that truly exists for its people.
“If our citizens could engage in this way, then I am certain that we will achieve our collective goals sooner rather than later. I believe that if any citizenry can be actively engaged by its government, then it can only have positive effects on the people,” said Aquino.
Aquino also told guests at another forum dubbed as “The Power of Open: A Global Discussion” that was held at the Google headquarters in New York, that allowing constituents to engage in a feedback mechanism among government programs would remove doubts about misfeasance and create an environment where trust is established.
“A continuing conversation between government and its citizens builds a positive, powerful connection between individual leaders and citizens, fostering the reintegration of government with society as a whole,” he pointed out.
He said a policy for transparency, like what he is doing in his administration, prevents temptation among those in power to engage in crimes.
Aquino said technology, particularly the Internet, could be an avenue to give the people updates on government’s affairs, and allow citizens to give feedback.
“This sense of partnership makes us better equipped to navigate the turbulent waters in our age of flux. We have seen the manner in which social media can expose corruption and other abuses, and arouse public opinion to mobilize and reclaim their government.”
Aquino enumerated several programs that his government undertook to keep the citizens informed, among them a website where people can report public officials’ misuse of funds, a Palace portal and another one that details government allocations.
He cited the case of National Hero Jose Rizal who warned of the consequences of government being “blind and deaf to the grievances of the people.”
“His (Rizal) exposing the injustices in Philippine society ignited the Philippine Revolution
|‘Let us not forget the mistakes of the past’
(The Philippine Star) Updated September 22, 2011 12:00 AM
NEW YORK (via PLDT) – Those who forget the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.
President Aquino paraphrased the writer George Santayana here Tuesday, saying that martial law imposed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos 39 years ago should be instilled in the Filipino memory, the better to learn the lessons of history.
The President said the dark days of authoritarian rule should never be ignored much less forgotten, since that was the time that military officers committed human rights violations with impunity, sanctioned by the commander-in-chief.
Aquino’s father, former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., an opposition stalwart who was a vocal critic of the Marcos administration, was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and later lived in exile in the United States. He was assassinated when he returned home in 1983.
The President said the person who declared martial law had been allowed by the Constitution to do so and stayed well beyond his term of office.
“He was supposed to be a Bar topnotcher but he trampled human rights by sending civilians to be tried in military courts,” he said, referring to Marcos, whose son, Ferdinand II, is now a senator and Aquino’s former colleague in the Senate.
The President also hit the former strongman and the people around him during that time for his decisions that according to him resulted to the country’s external debt that reached $25 billion since 1974 and the futility of having to establish the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant whose loans were paid by Filipino taxpayers for several years, among others.
“There was a study that came out before martial law that we almost have no external debt. I believe I saw a record that we started in 1974, that is when they started talking about the $25 billion,” the President said in Filipino.
He, however, reiterated that there were suggestions that Asian nations should have a paternalistic system and a strong leader.
In Manila, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda defended the Aquino administration’s human rights record and emphasized that the compensation bill that would give monetary assistance to martial law victims is still being worked out.
The human rights compensation bill seeks to provide assistance to some 10,000 victims during the martial law years.
Lacierda said there was a discussion on the bill prior to the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council but the terms and provisions were so broad that those present were not able to determine who exactly should be considered a rights victim.
Different points of view
Meanwhile, militant groups commemorated the 39th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by holding a rally at the foot of Mendiola Bridge in Manila, the site of many demonstrations during the Marcos regime.
“Justice remains elusive for the thousands of victims of the Marcos dictatorship and the fascist regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Martial law’s anniversary reminds us not just of the atrocities committed in the past, but also of the difficult struggle for justice being waged by victims of the past and present,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr.
Bayan lamented that while the compensation of Marcos victims was mentioned during the President’s State of the Nation Address, there has lately been no pronouncement or update on the matter.
The group also said the Aquino government has been slow to release more than 350 political prisoners, most of them arrested on trumped-up charges during the Arroyo regime.
“The AFP continues to deny the existence of political prisoners in the Philippines. The government doesn’t even have a working definition of who these prisoners are. It’s as if the 350 prisoners do not exist at all,” Reyes said.
Akbayan party-list, on the other hand, filed a resolution yesterday urging the House of Representatives to officially declare the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos an “enemy of democracy.”
In filing House Resolution 1756, Representatives Walden Bello and Arlene Bag-ao called on Congress to condemn the atrocities committed by Marcos. It also called on Congress to “strongly oppose” the revival of any proposal that would portray him as a hero.
The lawmakers said the Marcos dictatorship “was perhaps one of the darkest parts in the country’s political history.”
They said the Marcos dictatorship, through the utilization of a brutal military establishment, was responsible for 3,257 murders, 35,000 torture cases and 70,000 incarcerations.
But Marcos loyalists disagreed.
Lawyer Oliver Lozano, a staunch supporter of the fallen dictator, justified the implementation of martial law, saying Proclamation 1081 brought peace and development and made the country among the leading economies in the Asian region.
“It was an act of self defense against mob rule. There was no dictatorship only constitutional authoritarian rule against the enemies of the state that were on the verge of taking over the government. Crime rate went down, progress and development began reaching the countryside,” Lozano told The STAR.
He said aside from the restoration of law and order, martial law also sped up implementation of infrastructure projects and instilled discipline among the citizenry.
Lozano, whose son and driver were killed by carjackers early this year, said he would support the declaration of a modified “martial law” provided it is within the bounds of the Constitution, to address the worsening crime situation.
Martial law documents
In a related development, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin turned over yesterday to civilians previously confidential martial law documents in a simple ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Gazmin said the documents, enough to fill up a room, will be preserved to allow Filipinos to learn from the past.
“Your defense and military establishment fully commit to turn over all declassified martial law documents in our possession to our Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for preservation and for the sake of posterity,” he said.
The Department of National Defense (DND) and the CHR would coordinate with the National Archives and the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) to preserve and digitize the documents.
The two feet thick documents include news clippings about former Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, a key figure of the popular revolt that ousted Marcos and reports on former senator Ninoy Aquino.
Other declassified documents include various security assessments, political leaflets of Aquino, feasibility studies on lifting martial law, a briefing manuscript about detainees dated 1980, a compilation of media accounts of the assassination of Aquino in 1983, news clippings on student activists dated September 1969, and various presidential decrees.
The documents covered the period from 1972 to 1986. – Delon Porcalla, Rhodina Villanueva, Perseus Echeminada, Michelle Zoleta, Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica