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Philippines high court rules 'truth commission' unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] on Tuesday ruled [judgment text] that a proposed "truth commission" created to investigate former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is unconstitutional. President Benigno Aquino [BBC profile] set up the "truth commission" in July to investigate allegations that the outgoing administration engaged in corruption and rights violations, like rigging the 2004 presidential election, misusing government funds and profiting from government contracts. The court held that the "truth commission" violates equal protection by attacking only certain political individuals suspected of corruption. Critics of the court's decision argue that most of the justices were appointed by Arroyo and may still be loyal [Philippine Daily Inquirer report] to the previous regime. Justice Secretary Leila De Lima criticized the ruling [press release] as "a setback in the campaign against graft and corruption." The government has 15 days to appeal the decision.

Aquino announced plans to create the commission [JURIST report] over the summer, prompting a call for him to issue an executive order to make the commission official and clear up any ambiguity regarding its authority. Arroyo has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. She was elected to the lower house of parliament in April after receiving permission to run for the seat [JURIST report] despite protests that her presidency gave her an unfair advantage. In March, Aquino and other presidential candidates criticized as "unjust" a Supreme Court ruling that allowed Arroyo to appoint a replacement for the retiring chief justice [JURIST report] who planned to step down a week after the May presidential elections. Arroyo declared martial law [JURIST report] in December for the first time in 23 years in the wake of a massacre in the Maguindanao province that left 57 dead. In February, prosecutors charged 197 people with murder [JURIST report] in connection with the massacre. A Manila trial court ordered the arrest of 189 more suspects [JURIST report] in March. Eleven policemen and militia members pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charges in April.

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