Truth, justice and reconciliation as balms for healing society’s wounds

Published June 26, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Former Speaker Of The House Jose C. De Venecia Jr.


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

The triumphant uprisings in history demonstrate how ordinary citizens courageously claimed their civil liberties and demanded the right to decide their own destinies.

‘People Power’ liberations have in recent times taken place in other parts of the Arab world and in both South and Southeast Asia.

Since popular rebellions always arise from pent-up grievances, they demand accounting and retribution for the crimes and offenses of the old regime. And, in the heat of inflamed emotions, popular excesses are almost always unavoidable.

Yet the primary need of the new political order must be for truth, justice, and reconciliation as balms for the healing of society’s wounds. The imperative must be to lay the basis for political, economic, and social reforms that will endure because they will generate their own democratizing impetus.

Thus, the global community’s need is to ensure that popular victories won at such great cost are not dissipated by excesses on the part of the new governments.

Crimes committed under internal conflict situations must be seen truthfully and in whole. Justice must be done, without new blood debts becoming owed; and without impairing national society’s ability to face the future united, at peace with itself, and serene.

Asia and the international community do not lack precedents and models of peace and reconciliation: in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa; in Chile, Argentina, and El Salvador during the ideological conflicts of Cold War Latin America.

Mandela, who was all at once martyr, icon, and inspiration to South Africans, in 1994 emerged from a total 27 years in prison, without bitterness, and still hopeful for his multi-racial people, to become South Africa’s first-ever black President.

In Southeast Asia, the Cambodian model of reconciliation is by far the most well-known, though in our own country, the Fidel V. Ramos government, too, in 1996 managed to make peace with the separatist Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao-Sulu, and to integrate 7,500 of the MNLF’s guerrillas into our military and police organizations.

In Aceh, North Sumatra, Indonesia’s then Vice President Jusuf Kalla was able, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s unstinting support, to conciliate the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (‘Aceh Independence Movement’), which had been fighting the Jakarta government, off and on for half a century.
These living historical models offer valuable, practical models for peace and reconciliation in Asia and the international community.

In Latin America, social conflicts have taken place largely in the context of transitions from military to civilian government, or the other way around. Political leaders seeking to close cleavages in national society strive typically to balance traditional military prerogatives and the constitutional authority of new civilian governments.

In Argentina, a ‘dirty war’ raged between 1976-1983, as successive military governments sought to suppress ‘leftist subversion’ by populist worker unions. A ‘National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons,’ established in 1983, declared categorically that successive military governments had systematically violated human rights and so opened the way for civilian proceedings against those who held command responsibility. As an outcome, three ex-presidents and a number of flag officers served jail sentences for the disappearance of an estimated 3,000-7,000 people.

In East Timor, which broke away from Indonesia in 2002, after a long and violent independence struggle, the nationalist hero, Jose Ramos-Horta, ascribes the good present-day relationship between the East Timor capital of Dili and Jakarta to the fact that neither side allowed past grievances to come between them despite atrocities by some in the Indonesian military and by Indonesian vigilantes who sought to prevent East Timor’s secession.

However, we do not believe there can be true reconciliation without restitution being rendered to the victims of injustice.

Ideally, an outcome should not stop with trial and conviction. There should be a public admission of guilt and restitution of some kind.

And because the principals of the old regime will obviously have their partisans still embedded in national society, these principals must, as far as is possible, help the new government in unifying the country.

A true reconciliation of opposing social forces, in our view, should lead to the establishment of social order; the surrender of weapons in civilian hands; and the restoration of essential public services.
Lastly, economic reconstruction should follow as quickly as is possible. Among other things, this means the rebuilding of public and private-sector infrastructure that will encourage the normal functioning of business and social activity.