WHILE President Rodrigo Duterte was shopping for arms in Israel and Jordan, with an unverified and unidentified party of 400, inflation in the country hit 6.4 percent, the highest in Southeast Asia, and the country’s highest in 10 years. The peso slumped, P53.80 to the US dollar—the lowest in 13 years. These exceeded the most fearful economic forecasts, and were not part of any regional trend. Vietnam’s inflation stood at 4.5 percent, Indonesia 3.2 percent, Thailand 1.5 percent, Malaysia 0.9 percent, and Singapore 0.6 percent. All their currencies were reported to be stable.
In Bicol, where I come from, the inflation rate was reported to be higher than the national average—9 percent. A distressed Bicolano says even their precious sili—from the garden-variety plant which Bicolanos famously tie to the ground before they do the same thing to their thatched house whenever a storm threatens—now costs P1,000 per kilogram. Only the birds have unimpeded access to it now. And not even the much-maligned Bicolana Vice President Leni Robredo has anything to do with it.
For rice, which has all but disappeared in the market and is now sold in sachets of 100 grams, instead of by the kilo or the ganta, the inflation rate is 12.5 percent. For corn, which is a staple in Samar and other parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, it is 12.6 percent; for vegetables, it is 19.2 percent; for fish, 12.4 percent; and for sugary goods, 9.1 percent. The threat of mass starvation or famine looks real and tends to intensify as we listen to our Department of Agriculture and National Food Authority officials. They tend to bring back some of our worst memories of the Japanese occupation.
Focus on the problem
These problems, grave as they are, are not without a solution. But no solution will come if the government tries to divert the people’s attention away from the problem. Most people I have talked to have no doubt the crisis has already taken a real toll on DU30’s “popularity” and on his self-esteem, but they see him doing everything to talk of something else. Thus, we hear him saying certain groups are out to oust him by October, and we see him preoccupied with the effort to have Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th arrested and jailed.
He has to stay focused on preventing the economy’s collapse. He may have to import two million tons of rice to stave off starvation and famine across the country, while firing the top officials of the Department of Agriculture and the National Food Authority, and providing subsidy to the rice farmers who will lose their incomes because of cheap imported rice. And he will have to suspend the TRAIN law in order to eliminate the tax hikes on gasoline, diesel, kerosene and other byproducts, which have sent prices of other commodities shooting past the roof. And he will have to stop talking political nonsense just to keep the nation on edge. No diversionary tactic will work.
A flawed proclamation
Before he left for abroad on his latest trip, he signed Presidential Proclamation 572 declaring null and void ab initio the 2010 grant of amnesty to the former Navy lieutenant senior grade-turned senator for his admitted participation in the July 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny, the 2006 Marines stand-off in Taguig and the 2007 Peninsula Hotel siege. It was apparently DU30’s final response to the senator’s persistent allegation that he had stashed an inexplicably large amount in his secret bank accounts.
Presidential Proclamation 75, issued by B. S. Aquino 3rd on November 24, 2010, granted amnesty to 39 former military officers and 53 enlisted men, who had participated in the three above-named incidents, with the full concurrence of a majority of all the members of Congress. No amnesty granted by a President with the concurrence of Congress has been subsequently nullified by another president; were this to happen, it is reasonable to assume that the presidential act revoking the amnesty should have full congressional concurrence. This one is on the say-so of DU30 alone. It appears therefore to be demonstrably unconstitutional.
Proclamation 572 does not seek to nullify the amnesty to 39 former military officers and 53 enlisted men; it singles out Trillanes alone for having allegedly failed to apply for it and to admit his guilt. These are the requisite conditions for the grant of amnesty, which is not the same as a presidential pardon. The latter is unilaterally bestowed by the president, without the recipient applying for it and admitting guilt for his crime/s. This is what happened when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pardoned deposed President Joseph Ejercito Estrada for his crime of plunder.
How did we get here?
DU30 says Solicitor General Jose Calida did all the research for his controversial proclamation. We have no reason to doubt it. But what kind of research? Did the conclusion follow the premises, or did the conclusion precede the premises? At the time, Trillanes was poised to open a Senate inquiry into some multi-million peso contracts between some government agencies and a firm allegedly belonging to members of Calida’s family for the provision of security services. Did that impact Calida’s research?
If the story is to be believed, somebody called the Judge Advocate General’s Office, Armed Forces of the Philippines, on August 30, asking for Trillanes’ original amnesty papers. He was told the papers were not on public display and would have to be dug up from the files, which would require a little while. This is how the bureaucracy works. But apparently the government was under a tight deadline, so the very next day the President issued Proclamation 572 declaring the grant of amnesty to Trillanes null and void ab initio for the reasons earlier stated.
While in Israel, DU30 ordered Trillanes arrested, subjected to a military court martial, and locked up in jail, before he returned home from his latest jaunt. But the evidence failed to support the factual allegations against Trillanes.
Contrary to the allegation, Trillanes formally applied for the amnesty and admitted guilt for his crimes. This is certified and sworn to by Voltaire T. Gazmin, Aquino’s Secretary of National Defense. The document is accompanied by Gazmin’s letter to Aquino dated January 25, 2011, on the status of the officers and men who had applied for amnesty, and by Trillanes’ pledge of allegiance to the Constitution, subscribed and sworn to before Gazmin on January 27, 2011.
A document issued by the Makati Regional Trial Court 148, and signed by acting presiding judge Ma. Rita A. Bascos Sarabia, contains an order dismissing Criminal Case No. 03-2784 (for coup d’etat) against Trillanes, Gary Alejano and James Layug, pursuant to Proclamation 75. Another document issued by Judge Elmo Alameda of Makati RTC 150 contains an order dismissing Criminal Case No. 07-3126 against Trillanes and several others, pursuant to Proclamation 75, and canceling the bail bonds posted by the accused for their provisional liberty. How then could the Makati RTC comply with DU30’s wishes and file new charges against Trillanes, when it was the one that had dismissed those charges?
Another document signed by Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, AFP Chief of Staff at the time and now DU30’s National Security Adviser, certifies that Trillanes, upon filing his certificate of candidacy for the Senate on February 6, 2007, resigned ipso facto from the regular force of the AFP. Not only was he separated from the service, he was also paid his separation benefits from government. How then could the military subject Trillanes to a court martial when the record bears that he was automatically separated from the service when he became a senatorial candidate?
It would appear then that Calida did a very shoddy job in researching the constitutional and factual bases of the proclamation against Trillanes, thereby exposing DU30 to unnecessary embarrassment and ridicule. The evident collapse of his “popularity,” even among the ranks of pro-DU30 ‘fanatics,’ will have to be ultimately blamed on this, and nothing else. Therefore, having already identified Calida as the one who provided the sloppy research that led to his issuance of the unconstitutional and factually flawed proclamation, he should now take the next step. He should not try to save Calida, he should do everything to save himself.
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