The Dialectic of Terrorism

Speech Before the Philippine Constitution Association

I want to thank all of you – most specially PHILCONSA Chairman Conrado F. Estrella and President Camilo L. Sabio – for your very kind invitation. It is not everyday that one is honored with this opportunity. In fact, not all senators of this republic have been honored with this invitation. The honor is mine today. And I mean to keep it.

The Constitution is what unites us as a Nation, as a People. Those who revere it, are blessed both in their person and in their profession. Those who severe it, are forever harassed both in life and in death.

It was the Nation that I had in mind when a year ago people went to the streets and made their protest against a popularly elected president. It was the Nation that I had in mind when Congress started an impeachment proceeding against him. I was, then, Chief of the Philippine National Police. 

The question – then and now – is: Where must the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines stand their ground? In a speech before the Association of Generals and Flag Officers in November last year, I thought I had made myself loud and clear. Today, let me state the substance of that speech. I said:

“We are today facing a historical first in the life of this democratic nation. For our President is on trial. The test to pass now is to see through its conclusion – in peace.”

As for us police officers – the President is our Commander-in-Chief. Where does the Philippine National Police – under my watch – stand? What principles are there to govern a national civilian police force such as the PNP during these times?

Some people are trying their best to pull the rug beneath the Philippine National Police. Other people are moving hell to make us disloyal to the Commander-in-Chief. They sow intrigues. They want us to join partisan political calls.

The order to all police officers is: Hold on to the Constitution and its processes – and stand your ground. But what does this injunction specifically demand from us, the police officers? It demands that we ensure and secure democratic processes.

One such process is impeachment. In this process, the presumption of innocence must be safeguarded. Any police officer who does not believe in such process is not worth his salt.

Another such process is voluntary resignation. This is constitutional.

What is extra-constitutional is forced resignation by means of violent intervention by any armed group. Any police officer who participates in such extra-constitutional adventure becomes an enemy of the people.

And how about the people’s freedom of peaceful assembly and expression? This, too, must be secured and assured by the police.

I must hasten to add, however, that this particular freedom of assembly and expression can not be owned by the police officers themselves. We are enforcers of the law 24 hours a day. It is not our business to be pro or anti. Our only business is to serve everyone and protect him from harm.

Another thing that matters most to us is our protection of the Chain of Command. There is nothing unconstitutional in our declaration of support to the President who is our Commander-In-Chief, not because of his impeachment but in spite of it.

Our loyalty to the Commander-In-Chief does not depend on where the wind of politics blows. It depends only on what the Constitution – as well as our Code of Professional Conduct and Ethical Standards – dictates and mandates us to do.

At all costs, we must protect our Commander-in-Chief from physical harm and violence. This support is mandated by the Constitution. Our police code dictates it. In fact, our conscience energizes it.“

Under my watch, the police organization remained faithful to the Constitution and to the Commander-in-Chief. The real challenge came on January 19, 2000. The Secretary of National Defense and the AFP Chief of Staff had withdrawn their support from their Commander-in-Chief. Where was the PNP?

Let me tell you my story.

As a soldier and as a police officer, I was trained to be loyal to my Commander-in-Chief. In EDSA 1 last Feb 1986, my loyalty to the Commander-in-Chief and to the Chain of Command was not broken. After EDSA 1, and during the presidency of Mrs. Corazon C. Aquino, the same loyalty was not compromised. Before and during EDSA 2, again that loyalty did not all vanish. That explains why I never appeared at EDSA 2.

On that Friday of January 19, I felt that President Joseph Estrada needed to be told that he had lost the support of senior police officers. This I did after a consensus meeting with my key officers in my Crame office. I dialed President Estrada’s presidential residence and informed him that in a few minutes the PNP would declare a withdrawal of support from him. Very calmly, he said, “Go ahead, I will understand.” It was what I said the most difficult and painful decision I had ever made in my entire life. Whoever spread that yarn about a hostage situation inside Camp Crame, or even a gun-pointing incident only wanted to feel heroic and project himself as a savior to what they love to call civil society. When you are confronted with questions by subalterns in your organization on issues like the Jose Velarde bank accounts and jueteng collections after fourteen months of struggling to keep the police morality afloat, you could only wish you had another day to think of right decisions.

To the credit of President Estrada, he chose to leave Malacañang.

Looking back, I still believe that we should have completed the process of impeachment. Probably, President Estrada along the way would have chosen to do a voluntary resignation. And all throughout the course, it was best for both the AFP and the PNP to have remained loyal to the Commander-in-Chief and still be protective of the people.

This practice of both AFP and PNP of withdrawing their support from the Commander-in-Chief, is bound to make the Philippines a banana republic. As a result, President Arroyo today has to carefully walk the AFP-PNP tightrope. Anytime, the support can be withdrawn. In a preliminary budget briefing attended by opposition senators, we could not help but notice the biggest increase of 27% allocated to the AFP and PNP. Sen. Blas Ople quickly asked for its justification – “Is it Mindanao?” I jumped the gun on the resource speaker. I said, “No, it’s EDSA.” Of course I was joking.. and serious at the same time.

In a recent speech before the Manila Lions Club, I argued that a military junta has finally ceased to be a remote possibility. Let the President be told that she is walking a dangerous minefield.

There are other minefields. One is the co-optation of our criminal justice system by Victor Corpus’s kangaroo court and its method of trial by publicity. I took this up in my first privilege speech. Let me briefly say my mind on this very important matter.

You may be interested to know that as a young man I had wanted to be a lawyer. I came to Manila, enrolled in college, and prepared myself for law school. One day, a friend asked me to accompany him to take the exams for the Philippine Military Academy. I ended up taking the exams myself. He failed and I passed.

Today, I am still looking for my friend. He is the reason why I did not become a lawyer.

Why in my younger years did I want to become a lawyer? It is all because of a statement I heard somewhere which says: Though the heavens fall, let justice be done!

I would learn later that justice can be achieved only under a criminal justice system where the rule of law must be imposed on the basis of evidence as required by the law itself. I am afraid the kangaroo court of Col. Vic Corpus and his trial by publicity do not fit in.

The other minefield is the current terrorism now gripping the world. I filed a bill against terrorism under Senate Bill No. 1458. With your indulgence, let me discuss it as briefly as I can.

Few events can sear and shatter the international consciousness as profoundly as a terrorist attack. We all have been anguished and terrified by the September 11 suicide air-crashes on Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Today, everyone is afraid of bio-terrorism. There are three other forms: chemical, radiological, and nuclear. They are all lethal.

In its microcosm, terrorism is a struggle for ultimate power supported by its unique dialectic of violence. It can coerce governments, it can intimidate peoples. And when it succeeds to exaggerate fear, it can turn the world upside down. And on its diabolical terms.

Some people conveniently call Osama bin Laden as insane and irrational. He is not. Organized terrorism is never the product of irrationality and insanity. Since when was the devil insane and irrational?

Terrorism has been in this country for some time now. We only failed to terminate it. Let me cite a few of their violent accomplishments:

One, on August 10, 1992, bombing of the Port Terminal Services Building in Zamboanga City causing the death of two foreign missionaries and injury to forty people.

Two, on December 26, 1993, successive bombings of San Pedro Cathedral in Davao City, causing the deaths of six persons and injury to 132 others.

Three, on April 4, 1995, the incineration of the town of Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur, causing the death of 53 people and injury to 48 others. Here, 17 commercial establishments were burned to the ground with PHP 500 million gone.

Four, on May 17, 2000, Glorietta and Mega Mall were simultaneously bombed by Muslim terrorists.

Five, on December 30, 2000, six explosions again rocked different locations in Metro Manila leaving numerous people dead or maimed.

Six, the pestering terrorism by the Abu Sayaff. This has yet to be addressed with extreme prejudice. There is nothing to show except a litany of lame excuses.

The proposed legislation which I filed was originally authored by then Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. Under this bill, we hope to meet the need for an adequate legal device that our law enforcement agencies can use. Enough safeguards are made to secure and protect the political and civil rights and liberties of the people.

In the United States today, such legislation has been recently passed. It addresses the requirement for electronic surveillance. In my bill, the same requirement is met with all the necessary safeguards.

Last month, the anti-money laundering law was approved. This is well provided, too, in the anti-terrorism bill. As the American government now loves to say: the terrorists must be starved of their funds.

The third aspect of the bill is the authorization of warrantless arrests. Again, I want to assure you of the many safeguards to protect political and civil rights and liberties.

The fourth aspect covers the treatment of evidence gathered. Disclosure of the same can only be done upon prior written order of a competent court. This will avoid the stupidity of some intelligence officers, like you-know-who to intimidate people by dangling their goods before media.

And fifth, the creation of an Anti-Terrorism Council composed of the Secretary of Justice as Chairman, Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of Interior and Local Government, Supreme Court Administrator, and Director General of the National Security Council as members.

When we passed the anti-money laundering bill, we did it for the national interest. We were quick without being imprudent. I am sure the anti-terrorism bill will get the same treatment.

At the end of the day, we must be assured that the anti-terrorism policy we make contains the following doctrines:

One, we make no concessions to terrorists and do no compromises.

Two, we bring terrorists to justice under our criminal justice system.

Three, we integrate counterterrorism in our foreign policy.

We must learn to expect the unexpected. More importantly, when it comes, we are at least prepared to fight. I know you are.

I have been a Senator for exactly three months today. I thought I was fully prepared for my baptism of fire. I thought being innocent of charges being levelled against me is enough. I never expected evidence could be so crudely manufactured and still invite interest from some of my peers in the Senate. I thought characters like Ador Mawanay, whom I swear I have never met in my entire life and a bad rose named Mary Ong would not pass the scrutiny of the Senate committees’ special counsels. I thought a sworn oath in a proceeding in the Senate is sacred. How wrong can I get.

But after addressing the Philippine Constitution Association – and rubbing elbows with the constitutional magnates – I feel I have become less afraid of any succeeding fire. With your kind permission, may this humble representation consult with you in future undertakings as a lawmaker of this country.