Friday, October 05, 2007

PGMA's Administrative Order 197

On September 25, 2007, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Administrative Order No. 197, to wit:

Adminstrative Order No. 197

WHEREAS, there is a need to address security concerns,

NOW, THEREFORE I, GLORIA M. ARROYO, President of the Philippines, by the powers vested in me by law, do hereby order:

1. The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shall work closely with the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) subcommittee on killings and disappearances for speedy action on cases and effective reforms to avoid abuses, with regular reports to the Commander-in-Chief through the Executive Secretary as PHRC chair, and in consultation with the Court Administrator, invited as PHRC subcommittee observer.

2. The DND/AFP shall draft legislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies for safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security.

3. The DND/AFP shall accelerate the recruitment, training, equipping and deployment of CAFGUs in place of transferred troops as well as investigate and, if necessary, stop and punish schemes to fraudulently collect salaries through "ghost" CAFGUs.

4. The DND/AFP, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, DEpartment of Interior and Local Government shall work with Local Government Units to fast-track local peace initiatives, especially local ceasefires, particularly in Bohol, Butuan and other priority areas for peace assemblies; and to work with the Union of Local Authorities, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other sectoral and civil society groups in advocating with Congress to concur soonest with the amnesty proclamation.

5. The DND/AFP shall report to the Commander in Chief and inform the troops and the public and media the implementation of the recommendations of the Davide and Feliciano Commissions, and what further measures will still be done.

Done this 25th day of September 2007 in the City of Manila.

By the President

Executive Secretary

Media reports labeled Administrative Order No. 197 as a "gag order" on the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, something that would prevent the defense and military personnel from testifying in hearings by the Legislature.

After reading the Administrative Order over and over again, I have come to the conclusion that the description of A.O. 197 as a "gag order" is inaccurate. By itself, A.O. 197 does not order the DND/AFP to shut up. In fact, items 1, 4 and 5 specifically orders the DND/AFP to share information with the public and certain offices regarding its operations, activities and policies.

I have consistently taken a stand against Executive Order No. 464 and other issuances that are designed to evade inquiries and investigations by the Legislature. But from an objective point of view, I fail to see A.O. 197 as a "gag order".

What has probably been seen as a "gag order" is item no. 2 in the said A.O., which instructed the DND/AFP to come up with a bill which will "safeguard(s) against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security".

The phrase "safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security" indeed smacks of an attempt to ensure that no information is shared by the defense and military establishment. It seems to be a security blanket that will insulate the DND/AFP from the prying inquiries by the Senate or the House of Representatives, or any individual or institution, for that matter.

But if we take into account the first part of the paragraph which says, "The DND/AFP shall draft leegislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies" it becomes evident that the A.O. merely instructs the DND/AFP to cooperate with the legislative department to draft a proposed legislation which will prescribe the policy and procedure for the protection of critical defense and security information under a legal environment of a law.

Contrary to the thesis that it is a gag order, I believe it is even a positive step towards cooperation between the military and the Legislature, in that the A.O directs the DND/AFP to work with the Congress to draft legislation on security of critical information.

This is positive in the sense that it will institutionalize through legislation the policy on security of information rather than it being subject to the whims, caprices and agenda of the Executive Department, as what is happening now. In addition, Legislation is a multi-party and deliberative process, so the input of both the opposition and the administration will be considered.

In the crafting of the proposed legislation, a provision for the creation of a multi-party, joint oversight committee on intelligence and security may even be included, to ensure that the law that will be enacted will not be abused by the defense and military establishment.

The United States, the country which gives the highest premium on military, intelligence and information security, has laws which provide for oversight functions by the U.S. Legislature. Defense, military and intelligence agencies are required to report to the oversight committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, following the principle of accountability. So it must be for the Philippines.

Although a positive angle is seen with the directive of A.O. 197, there is one disturbing aspect to it---as worded, it seems to politicize the defense/military establishment. This politicization is brought about by a single word in the paragraph of item no.2--the word "allies".

The paragraph reads in part, "The DND/AFP shall draft legislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies".

The word "allies" connotes that among members of the Legislature, there are senators or congressmen that the DND/AFP should consider as "foes", which is the opposite of "allies"; and that the DND/AFP should reserve consultations with these "foes" in drafting the proposed bill.

The inculcation into the mindset of the DND/AFP that there are "allies" and there are "foes" in the Legislature runs contrary to the constitutional provision that the AFP must be apolitical, because they are being dragged into the fray of political dynamics within the Legislature and between the Legislative and the Executive branches.

The DND/AFP should deal with the Senate and the House as an institution, not singling out individual members or groups within either body and classifying them as "allies" or foes".

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