MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 2) - President Benigno Aquino III has signed Executive Order 1, creating a commission that will investigate alleged anomalies during the 9-year term of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In a statement read by presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Aquino said Executive Order Number 1 begins "the process of bringing necessary closure to the allegations of official wrongdoing and impunity."
"Tungkulin nitong magsiyasat at hanapin ang katotohanan sa matitinding alegasyon ng katiwalian noong nakaraang 9 na taon na diumano kinasasangkutan ng mga opisyal ng pamahalaan at kanilang mga kasabwat sa pribadong sektor," Lacierda said, reading President Aquino's statement.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the commission, officially called the Philippine Truth Commission, will investigate reports of graft and corruption "of such scale and magnitude that shocked and offend the moral and ethical sensibilities of the people."
It will be composed of a chairman and 4 members, and will be an independent body.
Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr will head the commission.
It would also have other officers, such as a general counsel, a deputy general counsel, a special counsel, and a clerk of the commission, and may have a panel of advisers.
The justice chief said that 8 to 10 names have been submitted to the President as possible members of the commission.
The mandate of the commission, De Lima said, is only for graft or corruption cases involving the Arroyo administration.
The EO, however, states that the commission's mandate can be extended under the President's prerogative.
The commission has until December 31, 2012 to complete its mandate, De Lima said.
The EO mandates the commission to give a "comprehensive final report which shall be published upon directive of the President."
She, however, said that the commission may also investigate reports of graft and corruption of past administrations.
"If and when in the judgement of the President, there is a need to expand the mandate of the commission, to include the investigation of cases and instances of graft and corruption during prior administrations, such mandate may be so extended accordingly by way of supplemental executive order," the justice secretary said quoting Section 17 of the EO.
She said that the government people that can be investigated by the commission are 3rd level public officers and higher officials, including department head level, and members of the private sector or the private contractors.
The Truth Commission's formation is part of President Aquino's promise to prosecute members of the Arroyo administration involved in anomalous contracts.
Among the biggest controversies that hounded former President Arroyo during the administration are the "Hello Garci" wiretapping scandal and the government's botched $328-million national broadband deal with China's ZTE Corp.
De Lima said that the commission will also have the power to subpoena and prosecute public officials, as well as private individuals, who will snub the summonses.
She said public officials who will snub the subpoena will be "dealt with administratively" while private individuals can be held criminally liable or charged with obstruction of justice and perjury.
The subpoena power over private individuals would cover officials of the Arroyo administration who have already resigned from public service.
De Lima added that the EO also mandates the commission to hold public hearings. The commission, however, can also opt to hold close-door sessions "in case of matters of national security or public safety" or if the hearing will endanger the "personal safety of state witnesses."
She said that the commission can also recommend the possible entry of a person to the government's witness protection program based on "parameters laid down in rules of court."
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Ed de Mesa said the Office of the President will fund the commission.
De Mesa also said that they believe the legality of the EO will be upheld by the Supreme Court.
He added that the term of the truth commission may be extended if needed.