Taking home a “classified“ file

Does the Republic of the Philippines have any State secrets? If we do have classified, restricted, confidential and top secret files, where are they kept? Are these in a vault of the Department of National Defense,  under lock and key in the President’s study in Malacañan, or ensconced in the national Library and Archives? I am sure the San Agustin Museum and the Archbishopric of Manila have their share of confidentials, though of no interest to the State.

Do we, like the USA,  have spies and intelligence agents clandestinely collecting information,  whose lives could be in danger should State secrets be purloined and monetized? Are our troop deployments kept under wraps to prevent massacres?

As a former Cabinet member of President Joseph Estrada’s short-lived government, I attended a number of National Security Council meetings  convened by the National Defense secretary and anti-insurgency  personages  like (Ret.) Brigadier-General Victor Corpuz. We were handed copies of files and reports which were not for public consumption, even if none were top secret. While sorting out the detritus of a past life,  I came across some information with expired secrecy value. One of the folders had to do with the late  President Fidel V. Ramos.

On 6 November 2000, three months before the fall of Pres. J. Estrada, his predecessor attended the 2nd Plenary Meeting of the National Security Council (NSC).  Without mincing words, the honored guest rolled off a thorny list of   “suggested reforms” which his successor took “in a statesmanly manner”, according to the official report of (Ret) Gen.  Alexander Aguirre, National Security Adviser and Director-General of the NSC.

There were  7 “suggested reforms” in Mr. Ramos’s list which  Gen. Aguirre refuted, on 4 December 2000, in his “Report on the Actions Taken on the Statements of Former President Fidel V. Ramos at the NSC Meeting”.  For the sake of brevity, I redacted Gen. Aguirre.  Here is the Ramos list: (1) Change your [Pres. Estrada’s]  extravagant lifestyle and  unfocused work ethic. Every waking hour of the President must be dedicated to tackling the country’s most serious problems. (2) Clearly explain or justify allegations of corruption, unexplained wealth, cronyism and the “juetengate expose” published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). (3) Outline a doable short-term strategic economic program on how to address the expanding budget deficit, and put us back on the path of steady recovery. (4) Pursue an honest-to-goodness anti-poverty campaign based on capability-building, self-reliance and people empowerment to replace dole-outs, pogi-points formulas. ( 5) Implement a holistic approach to the Mindanao problems; return to the derailed GRP-MILF Peace Process, but not in a foreign venue because this is an internal problem. (6) Fire presidential advisers, consultants, assistants, your “cordon sanitaire of privilege”. They are promoting their own interests, not the government’s. They do not contribute to the credibility of your presidency.  (7) Start corrective actions now to reverse the situation.

Gen. Aguirre maintained that the Estrada administration was taking measures to eradicate corruption,   for example,  an electronic bidding system called “reverse auction” was set up. No more secret bids from suppliers and contractors as details were posted on a website for the world to see. Pres. Estrada asked the World Bank to help and this UN executing agency made extensive studies and published, ”Combating corruption in the Philippines”. Subsequently,  Pres. Estrada created a National Commission on Anti-corruption composed of the Secretaries of the Department of Justice, Department of Budget Management, National Economic Development Agency, with the NSC General-Director as Chairman, In addition, Pres. Estrada signed Executive Order 317 (series of 2000) which prescribed a Code of Conduct for relatives and close personal relations of the President, the Vice President and Cabinet members.

With regard to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the “Strategy of Total Approach” dismantled its politico-military infrastructure; 14 major and 32 satellite camps were destroyed, armaments confiscated and communications and weapons manufacturing capability destroyed. The peace process included the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as well as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

As for the New Communist Party, the New People’s Army and National Democratic Front, the National Peace and Development Plan was put in place  “to localize peace efforts by focusing on specific solutions for problems that create situations of  ‘ unpeace’ on the ground.”

In the last paragraph of his report, Gen. Aguirre affirmed that “the government is committed to continuous reforms” but its growth was derailed in the 4th quarter of 2000 due to “the call for civil disobedience by the united opposition, street sit-downs/blockades, work stoppages and labor strikes for political ends…It is, therefore, not the allegations against the President per se that hurt the economy, but the unwarranted actions and civil disobedience of the opposition.” The Estrada government was overthrown in late January 2001, by People Power 2.