MANILA, MARCH 8, 2008 (STAR) FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa - There are many ways to understand compromise. So that should be the first stop to understand Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s formula for the dispute on EO 464 which has been described as a compromise. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English language lists some of its meanings. Among them are “give and take”, “a lively exchange of ideas or conversation”, “the result of a settlement,” “something that combines qualities or elements of different things,” etc., etc. The sum of these meanings is to arrive at democratic solutions. I must add also it is especially suited for the Oriental mind which is sensitive to face-saving and its desirable result when a compromise is reached.

So when the Senate rejects Puno’s compromise it shows the honorable senators do not really want solutions. The “honorable” senators prefer to be intransigent, closed to solutions while pretending that it is ‘morality’ or ‘fidelity to duty’ that makes them reject any compromise.

The trouble is that more and more Filipinos see through that even if media has not helped them come to understand truth’s complexity especially in governing a fractious country. They are more aware that the stubbornness, this refusal to compromise is at the core of what holds back this country. Even the meaning becomes distorted in Senate terms when Villar told Puno they could not compromise the chamber’s power to summon witnesses to hearings in aid of legislation and answer questions they want him to.

If the Philippines aspires to a democratic society, it is best run by the balancing acts between competing interests and resources. To be a chief executive of such a country, as in the case of our President, it requires some leeway for governance and action. True the Senate has its duties of oversight. It happens, as in the ZTE broadband case that the two sides are at loggerheads. The idea of a compromise became necessary in the face of a higher good to move the country forward. It is disappointing that Senate President Manuel Villar does not rise up to the idea and chose instead to interpret it by crude politics when he led the Senate in rejecting Puno’s formula.

It would have allowed witness CHED chair Romulo Neri to resume his testimony, thus upholding the Senate’s duty of oversight (saving face!). At the same time, Neri remains bound to executive privilege which is a fact. It may or may not stop him from revealing confidential information. The Supreme Court cannot rule against that. As a member of the President’s cabinet, that is also his duty.

Villar will have to understand the idea of compromise when and if he aspires to be chief executive of the country. Admittedly the idea of compromise is more sophisticated and less attractive to sensational media hype. Crude politics is better for selling headlines.

On the other hand, compromise requires a turn of mind that is focused on problem-solving. I beg to disagree and I am certain many other Filipinos as well share the sentiment that the Senate’s power of inquiry in aid of legislation and oversight is not the transcendental issue. The transcendental issue is to stop political squabbling and promote the country’s advancement. Puno’s compromise formula is a step in that direction. The Senate may not get all that it wants, but neither does the Executive by allowing a member of the cabinet to face questioning from senators who it seems are more bent on humiliating the witness than it is on knowing the “truth.” Indeed ‘truth’ is multi-faceted. The senators’ truth is already out in screaming headlines by its innuendoes in hearings in aid of legislation. Why bludgeon a witness to conform to their version of the truth? I am afraid truth here is more complex than the senators would have it and that includes the motivation behind their alleged desire for ‘truth’. Neither is truth served when the intent is to use information as a political weapon against the state. In the Supreme Court compromise solution, Neri would resume his testimony, but he could invoke executive privilege to specific questions. Neri testified for more than 12 hours in the Senate, a harrowing experience more worthy of a police interrogation than it was of a co-equal body on oversight.

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At the same time it was not necessary for the solicitor general to say that the “scrapping of EO 464 was just symbolic”. Such statements stoke conflict rather than the reconciliation that the Chief Justice wished to put forward. The solicitor general’s comment is the equivalent of children’s name calling when they cannot discuss problems. Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera rubs wounds with salt which is unnecessary in mediation. Revoking 464 is not an empty gesture but suffused with the idea of compromise to save faces all around. Legalese that EO 464 had already been rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court in 2006 may be true but need not have been stressed when a compromise is sought. Therefore, I would have preferred if the palace through its solicitor general or whoever speaks on its behalf had said that it is more than a symbolic gesture but a sincere acknowledgment of the Senate’s power of oversight.

The President’s Memorandum Circular 151 revoking EO 464 and MC 108 should stand as it is and needs no interpretation. It revokes EO464 whether really or symbolically- period. It is good and more than propaganda when “executive officials are advised to follow and abide by the Constitution, existing laws and jurisprudence.” Inevitably that includes the rules imposed by ‘Senate vs. Ermita g.r. No. 169777, April 20, 2006’. Devanadera is right to say that “this principle of executive privilege is like the concept of privileged communication as in the case of a lawyer who cannot reveal his conversation with his client and as a priest cannot disclose a confession.” And may I add true of journalists who do not reveal their sources .

In other countries, as in the Republic of Ireland, the Official Secrets Act is a dynamic tool of government, and is revised according to needs and events of the times. Ireland repealed previous British legislation of 1911 and 1920 and its Official Secrets Act, as amended, applies to all civil servants and potentially anyone within the state. Although it is mainly for security reasons, the operative word is mainly and can include other circumstances that could indirectly harm the country. I am afraid the senators are not exactly the best judge of that.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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