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Opinion

EDITORIAL – State secrets

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Administrative Order 197, issued late last month by President Arroyo, makes sense in a country where a coup d’etat is constantly brewing, where grandstanding is a favorite congressional activity, and where lawmakers do not know how to respect even the secrecy rules of their own executive sessions.

Among other things, the AO directs the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to work with a panel of the Presidential Human Rights Committee to resolve unexplained killings and disappearances as well as prevent human rights abuses. But the provision of the AO that attracted special attention was the one directing the DND and AFP to draft a law instituting “safeguards” against the “disclosure of military secrets” and “undue interference in military operations inimical to national security.”

There are indeed certain matters that should be kept confidential in the interest of national security and public safety. Operations against Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists, for example, can be compromised.

But because of recent developments and the timing of the issuance of the AO, the inevitable suspicion is that the administration is simply seeking a tool to protect certain dirty secrets. The AO was issued as Malacañang, invoking executive privilege, stopped Cabinet and military officials from testifying at the revived Senate inquiry into the wiretapping scandal involving former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. It was also issued as Edita Burgos, widow of newspaper publisher Jose Burgos, asked the Court of Appeals to compel the AFP to release a report of the provost marshal general on the disappearance of her son Jonas, which is suspected to be the handiwork of government forces.

Human rights advocates, including a special rapporteur sent by the United Nations, have accused the military of being in denial about extrajudicial killings and disappearances. With such developments, AO 197 has raised concern that the law being sought by the President is meant mainly to “safeguard” herself and the troops whose loyalty, she seems to believe, is crucial for her political survival. The law being sought then institutionalizes a code of silence that is unhealthy for a democracy.

vuukle comment

ABU SAYYAF AND JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH

ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER

COURT OF APPEALS

DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENSE AND THE ARMED FORCES

EDITA BURGOS

JOSE BURGOS

PRESIDENT ARROYO

UNITED NATIONS

VIRGILIO GARCILLANO

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