Tag Archives: Featured

Renewing Algeria

Photo credit: raulsantosdelacamara (CC-BY-SA)

By Claudia Pollio

Chakib Khelil, at the time when he was still the Algerian Energy Minister, claimed that Algeria was in the race to see who would control renewable energy technologies. “We have the human and financial resources, and we have the will.” In this period of energy confusion, Algeria is working hard to get what it is missing to be competitive in the race.

After the secession of Southern Sudan from Sudan, Algeria became the biggest country in Africa, with a population of more than 35 million, in an area of around 2.4 million square kilometers. It is a country rich in resources, but the socio-political situation leaves one quarter of the population below poverty lines. The high number of unemployed people, in particular in the younger generation, has lead to the problem of mass emigration to Europe.

Besides ‘human and financial resources’ it has another resource. Algeria, the largest OPEC member country, has a huge portion of the Sahara within its borders. The idea to use the desert to generate solar and wind power, shows African resources in a different light.

The Algerian desert can be an eternal source of welfare. As Professor Bachir Bouchekima, member of the Scientific Committee of the Algerian Center for Renewable Energy (CDER), argues, “The average duration of sunshine exceeds 2000 hours on average per year, with more than 3000 hours of sunshine in the Sahara. The total energy received is estimated more than 500 times the annual electricity consumption of the country.”

The after-hydrocarbons in Algeria

Today Algeria is the third largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, after Russia and Norway. Some European countries, such as Italy, are dependent on this supply. On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria is dependent too. The hydrocarbons sector is the backbone of the economy, accounting for more than 95 per cent of export earnings.

Algeria faces a decline in natural gas reserves. According to EIA, the Hassi R’Mel gas field accounts for a quarter of Algeria’s total dry gas production and it is estimated to have only 25 more years of production left. In this context, one of the priorities of the Algerian policymakers is to diversify the country’s economy, indeed the energy sector.

The debate around nuclear energy, stimulated after Fukushima disaster, is not new in Algeria. Youssef Yousfi, Minister of Energy and Mines and Mayoub Belhamel, CDER director, argued in the last months about the nuclear power option. “Algeria has no other choice but to start a long-term nuclear energy plan for electricity production”, claimed the Minister. “Algeria should focus on clean energy” replied Belhamel.

Hakim Darbouche, from The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies notes “Algeria has spoken about nuclear plants for 20 years if not more. It is not going to happen in the next years at least. Maybe after 2020.”

However, the country is seeking to diversify into renewable energy and decrease its reliance on fossil fuels. Algeria declared in February, its intention to invest 60 billions dollars in renewable energy projects in the next 20 years. The goal is to produce 12,000 megawatts by 2030, with the short term goal of 650 megawatts by 2015.

This production is not just for the European market, it is also to cover the growing domestic electricity consumption. “Electricity consumption should reach 16,500 to 20,000 MW per year by 2019, hence the idea now to produce electricity from renewable energy” argues Bouchekima.

This 20-years plan is divided into three short periods. The first one, three years, is devoted to the research. It aims to “identify technologies in renewable energy that are best adapted to climatic conditions in Algeria”.

The challenge is daunting

So, as the former Energy Minister Khelil declared years ago, Algeria has the human and financial resources, and the will to be in the race to control renewable energy technologies. And, it has the largest solar field in the world, with an estimated capacity of over 3000 hours of sunshine per year.

Ironically, what it is missing is the portfolio is an appropriate level of national technology and industrial development. It is not surprising then that one of the priorities of the Algerian policymakers is filling the technological gap with other countries.

Yousfi clarified that Algeria is not interested in joining international projects in renewable energy without some conditions. The important one is a technological partnership for the knowledge transfer. “We can not afford to develop renewable energy by importing technology and without having the ability to innovate and expand in this field” Yousfi declared last October. As Bouchekima summerizes: “The governments do not want that Algeria only serve as a basis for the installation of foreign equipment for renewable energy.”

For their proximity to Europe, South Mediterrannean countries, specifically Maghreb countries, are natural interlocutors for Europe in terms of business and cooperations. Relationships and interdependences exist between the two rives of the Mediterranean Sea on the hydrocarbons field.

Europe’s ambition is also, to create an EUMENA (Europe – Middle East – North Africa) green electricity market. From the European perspective Africa is an important partner in order to reach its ‘green’ targets. From the African side, Europe is seen as a market for the clean energy that might be produced.

While Morocco and Tunisia respond enthusiastically to the projects coming from EU, Algeria has reservations and poses conditions to join these projects. Darbouche underlines that “Algeria is in a slighly more comfortable position compared to other countries in the region, both in term of energy supply and revenues.”

In the last years, a lot was said about the participation of Algeria in the Desertec initiative, a pharaonic project that aims at producing up to 15 percent of Europe’s elecricity needs by 2050, with an investment of 400 billions euros. According to Darbouche, “Algerians did not respond publicly because the people promoting Desertec did not ask explicity”. But, the main reason for the delay is the priviliged position that the country could have in the negotiations compared to other countries from the region.

Can Algeria use this comfortable position to fill the technological gap between itself and European countries? Can Algeria exploit western countries’ technologies, through this kind of projects? At least, this is the goal that Algerian policymakers want to reach in order to be competitive in the race to control the green market.

Desertec and Algeria

The last 19th of May Minister Yousfi said, in a statement after a meeting with the Desertec CEO, Paul Von Son, that Algeria is defenetely interested in a long term partnership with companies involved in the project.

What is Desertec? Desertec is mainly an idea, a concept. The ‘dream’ of using the solar power in the desert is the backbone of the project. But, the Desertec Fondation, based in Germany, was created in 2003 to explore the potential of the Sahara desert. In 2009, twelve firms joined the Desertec Foundation in the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), in order to realize the dream of using the sun in the desert to produce energy. The motto of the Desertec is that “whitin six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than the humankind consumes within a year”. The representative imagine is a red square in the Sahara desert that represents the size of the solar plant necessary to provide the world’s total electricity demand. Actually, the idea is to build a power grid across the Mediterranean and several plants in the Saharan desert. Two technologies are the fulcrum of the project: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and High Voltage Direct Current power lines (HVDC). The latter is an option to deliver the energy generated in the desert with a loss of energy of 3% per 1000 km. The system that is currently in use in much of the world is High Voltage Alternative Current (HVAC) and it has bigger energy losses. CSP is a technology already in use in the world, but is not common. It mainly uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s direct rays to a receiver, which uses the energy to run a generator, which produces electricity. CSP differs from photovoltaic because it permits a production of electricity also during night.

The project aims to produce by 2050, 15 percent of Europe’ electricity needs and supply to MENA (Middle East – North Africa) countries consumption. 2050 is not a random deadline. The EU has the goal to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In the short period there is the 20-20-20 targets. By 2020 EU aims to have 20 percent of renewable energy in its energy mix, incraese its energy efficiency by 20 percent and reduce greenohouse emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990. The Desertec project goes in that direction. Elena Ricci, researcher in FEEM, an institution devoted to the study of sustainable development, said “If Europe wants to decarbonize its production of electricity in the short term, Desertec is a feasible solution. The implementation of large plants can produce large amounts of electricity without greenhouse gas emissions.” However, according to Ricci “from a striclty economic point of view, in the long period it would seem that it is not worthy invest in this market now”. But Europe, in order to contribuite to the challange of climate change really needs this green energy soon. It does not matter that it is very expensive to start this kind of investment now.

Everything seems to be working. After the investments there will be more energy avialable. And this energy will be ‘clean’. But the issue is more complex. Why does some of this energy have to go to the European market? One of the main critic to the project is that it represents a continued expolitation of African reseources for the benfit of the West. A new form of colonialism, critics say. “What to do with solar power in the MENA region? – is the main question, said Dourbache. “Energy consuption and water consumption in the region is growing very fast, has been growing very fast in recent years, and it will continue to grow very fast.” Critics also underline how the energy could be used to resolve water security issues and domestic needs before being directed to Europe. Algerians and Africans need more energy, their fossil fuels are running out and they want to be competetive in the increasing green energy market. Darbouche points out that Algeria is trying to approach this renewable energy possibility, in a way, to avoid the same experience they had with the hydrocarbon industry. “In other words, developing renewable energy industry that does not aim to export electricity based on solar energy and import everything else from outside.”

One of the characteristics distinguishing developed, developing countries and underdeveloped countries is their tecnhological levels. This technology permits that countries use the resources that they have in their borders. The difference between countries that have natural resources and that do not have them, is that the latters have to import these resources. Tecnhology, an ‘artificial’ resource to exploit the natural ones, is nowadays even more profitable than the others. With the technological partnerships that Algeria hopes to obtain, it can become a bridge between Europe and Africa. It looks to be a mirage. But, who would have thought that the sun in the desert could have produced such a great wealth? Algerians did not. But, after decades of being black as the oil, gold might became gold again. Gold as the sand struck by the sun in the desert. And Algerians know that gold is the best bargaining chip.

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E. Coli: The Aftermath

Photo credit: PlaxcoLab (CC BY-SA)

By Gabriella Vas

On June 12, 2011, yet another German died of kidney failure due to an E. Coli infection.

With this, the death toll of one of the world’s largest known E. Coli outbreaks rose to 36, while registered cases amount to 3325 in 13 EU states, according to the latest update published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Though the bacterium Escherichia Coli is generally a harmless inhabitant of the human and animal gut, its Shiga-toxin producing (STEC) strains can cause severe enteric and systemic disease in humans and lead to serious complications, such as kidney failure due to haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The disease spreads through contact with animals unaffected by the deadly strain, and through contaminated food or water. Person-to-person transmission, though also possible, has not been reported in this outbreak.

Even a small dose of the bacteria can set off the infection, with the first symptoms appearing after 3 to 8 days. Treatment consists mostly of rehydration; antibiotics may do more harm than good, triggering a further release of the toxin or a deterioration into HUS.

While similar infections usually affect children, the majority of patients in this outbreak are adults, predominantly women, a risk-assessment report by the ECDC revealed. Almost exclusively, cases are located in or have traveled to Northern Germany.

Farmers’ Clamors Successful

The outbreak was first reported by Germany on May 22 through the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) of the EU. Initially, cucumbers and other raw vegetables from Spain were suspected of carrying the bacteria. German authorities warned against the consumption of these, and they were promptly removed from the market.

On June 1, tests conducted by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) lifted the blame from the incriminated batch of produce, but by this time, Spanish agricultural exporters had already claimed a profit loss of 200 million euros weekly, and demanded compensation.

According to press releases by the European Commission, at the meeting of health care ministers on June 6, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli expressed regrets concerning the farmers’ damages, but pointed out that in such a case of emergency, quick updates to the public are just as important as verifying information.

The following day, at the EC meeting for agricultural ministers, Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos proposed a 150 million euro compensation to the affected producers from the common EU budget, amounting to about 30% of their damages. As several member states pushed for 100% compensation, the Commissioner promised to propose an amendment in the regulations that would permit this increase.

Given the relative success of European farmers to claim compensation for their loss of profit, the question arises: what about the people who have suffered a much more serious damage, that of health, due to the same outbreak?

History Repeating?

Precedents include the serial blunders of the leading Norwegian meat producer Gilde, with repeated cases of contamination between December 2005 and May 2006, which led to over a dozen children falling ill, one of whom died. Though, after several recalls and tests exposing outrageous hygienic conditions, the guilt of Gilde was beyond doubt, it in turn accused retailers, and even the Norwegian Food Safety Authority faced charges of mishandling the situation. Eventually, though, Gilde offered a compensation of 20000 to 175000 NOK (2500 to 22300 euros) to 18 victims, Aftenposten.no reported.

In a different case of food contamination, earlier this year in Germany, up to 3000 tons of animal feed additive were found to contain traces of dioxin, a substance known to cause cancer in humans, according to BBC Online. Though authorities declared that the level of dioxin in the affected products did not pose a health risk, consumers were advised to “keep an eye out” for possibly tainted eggs and poultry.

Harles&Jentzsch, the company that had produced the contaminated feed, was to be fined or face up to three years in prison based on German law, though officials pressed for a tightening of the regulations to impose stricter penalties.

However, as a May update by the Meat Trade News Daily revealed, Harles&Jentzsch might eventually get away with a 20000 euro fine. That is a relatively mild punishment, considering that the food scandal H&J brought about cost thousands of animal lives and a dramatic loss of revenue for the entire German meat and eggs sector.

To cite another example, in January 2011, victims of an E. Coli outbreak in Britain were granted eligible for compensation upon successful negotiation by the solicitors Hodge, Jones and Allen. It appears that in the summer of 2009, all of them had visited a farm in Surrey which keeps tame goats, cows and other animals for petting.

Faced with evidence that a deadly strain of E. Coli had been detected in the animals’ pens, and that it remained open for two weeks after the first infections had been reported, the farm declined to dispute its liability. 93 people contracted the disease, including some children who suffered so serious kidney damage that they may need organ replacements in the future.

No One In Charge

“I am sorry we cannot answer your questions”, confessed Dr Stefan Etgeton, Head of Health and Nutrition at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV). “This is not an issue we have been working on”, commented Ophélie Spanneut of the European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC) in Brussels.

“These questions are too specialized for me to answer”, reflected Márton Hajdú, spokesperson for the Hungarian Presidency of the European Commission. His colleague, Eszter Lantos added: “The issue of liability in case of such an outbreak is beyond the scope of the EC, which fulfills merely an overseeing role, and more likely to be discussed on member state level.”

Who, then, is in charge of liability and compensation issues in case of an international, food-borne disease outbreak in Europe? Like the gravy bowl at Thanksgiving, the question was passed around among food safety, health and consumer protection organizations, on a European level as well as in the most affected Germany and Denmark.

Eventually, a pattern began to emerge. The core principles of food safety and risk management are the same throughout Europe: observing the entire food chain, with regulations and inspections “from farm to fork”; traceability of all foodstuffs; and, most importantly, separating risk assessment from risk management.

To make sure that scientific research of such importance is not affected by political interests, risk assessment is the duty of independent institutions, which then advise policymakers in charge of risk management. Ideally, transparent risk communication takes place at various levels: within the research community, between government and industry, and, ultimately, towards the public. In order to minimise risk, precautionary measures may be taken even before it is fully assessed.

In the EU, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plays the role of independent scientific advisor to the European Commission, the EP and the European Council, working closely with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the European office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The German correspondent of the EFSA is the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), providing information to the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), which is in charge of food safety legislation and risk management measures. If there was any knowledge that would point towards a solution, it was at the BfR, where tests were being conducted to identify the source of the current outbreak.

No One To Blame

In the meantime, on June 10, the official warning against cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce was cancelled, and suspicion turned to sprouts produced by a farm in Uelzen, south of Hamburg. Up to that day, no claims for compensation by E. Coli patients or families of victims had reached the governments of Germany or Denmark – quite understandably, given the obscurity surrounding the origin of the outbreak.

“In order to confirm our hypothesis, the same strain of bacteria needs to be found on more samples”, explained Jürgen Thier-Kundke, press official at the BfR. “Currently we have some 4-500 sprout samples waiting to be tested. But with the suspicious batch of sprouts soon to expire, it will be increasingly difficult to find further samples. Maybe some leftovers tucked away in somebody’s fridge…”

He added: “In three quarters of food-poisoning outbreaks, the source is never identified. Furthermore, in the present case, so far, no sign of human failure or negligence has been found anywhere in the food chain. It’s quite possible that no one is to blame. The BfR pointed out as early as a year ago that raw produce, by default, carries the risk of bacterial infection. Not just of E. Coli, but salmonella, listeria, what have you.”

The following day, tests conducted with the remaining samples at the BfR went on to prove that it was in fact the sprouts grown at the Uelzen farm that had triggered the outbreak. The BfR press release did not conclude that the producer was in any way responsible.

Battle Over Liability Could Drag On

“E. Coli compensation claims are possible when it can be established that the condition was caused by a failure to adequately prevent E.Coli from being passed on”, it reads on the website of Hodge, Jones and Allen, solicitors dealing with personal injury claims such as E. Coli.

Partner Melanie Williams, and specialist on the issue, elaborated: “If claims are made in connection with holiday travel to Germany, patients can sue the travel agency; if they are linked to the consumption of imported food, the retailer is to be held liable, both under the Consumer Protection Act. In the latter case, the claimant must provide a sample of the defective product as evidence. As for the consumers’ eventual responsibility to stay informed of latest updates or to refrain from eating the indicated vegetables raw, the Consumer Protection Act is not concerned with that – it cannot be expected of people to take such risks into account.”

She added: “The Consumer Protection Act applies only within the UK legislation, but since it reflects EU law, all member states are bound to have similar legislation. That is, although the international nature of this outbreak certainly complicates matters, patients are most likely expected to file compensation claims within their respective countries. Procedures may take up to several years, depending on various factors, such as the opponent’s willingness to cooperate, the course of the disease and the length of medical treatment, as well as the number of people claiming damages. Usually, larger groups take longer to sort out.”

Outlooks Hazy

Fair enough, the story of this devastating disease is far from over, in fact, it evolves from day to day. True, an outbreak of such magnitude, crossing several borders, is bound to entail some confusion. Still, it is difficult to understand why such a crucial issue as health liability has remained practically unheard of so far.

The overall reluctance of officials and experts to deal with the problem is puzzling. All the more so, given the prompt reaction of the European Commission to the claims of the agricultural producers, promising them compensation while also defending, and standing in for, the counter-accused German authorities.

To wrap it up: not only is bloody diarrhea one of the nastiest diseases to die of or to lose a loved one to. Chances are, it’ll prove to be just as nasty when (if ever) it comes to eking out a compensation.

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Domesticating Human Rights Prosecution

By Joyce Fernandez

On June 1, 2011, Andal Ampatuan Sr., the former governor and notorious warlord accused of masterminding the 2009 massacre of 57 people in the Southern Philippines province of Maguindanao, was finally arraigned in a Manila court, a year and a half after his arrest, and 10 months after he can legally delay entering a plea.

More consternating to those already wearied by the leaden pace of justice was the fact that the arraignment only happened because Ampatuan, patriarch of the clan that has controlled conflict-ridden Maguindanao for generations, volunteered to have his day in court, allegedly to distract the public from a supposed $4.5 million payout by his fellow accused son for a favorable judgement on his own case. Not surprising to many, Ampatuan Sr. pleaded “not guilty” to 57 counts of murder.

Powerful people in the Philippines are generally thought to play fast and loose with the rule of law, so wanton is the disregard for justice and lawful conduct, in fact, that impunity can assume a snarky, almost comical aspect: In May, another provincial governor convicted of killing his long-time confidant was caught on security camera ducking into a family-owned building in Manila’s posh business district while serving a 12-year term in the national prison. When rearrested, the ex-governor insisted he was not escaping, merely having an ‘intolerable” toothache checked. How was he able to just walk out of jail? “There are eight gates (at the prison), which cannot all be guarded,” he told media.

Impunity is such that public horror over capers and tragedies alike tends to subside once the media spectacle has played out, giving way to a deep cynicism that justice can ever be served or that the rich and mighty can even be touched. The brutality of the Maguindanao murders—in which the victims were found shovelled into a shallow pit, with the women’s bodies horribly mutilated—shocked the nation, but many thought it would have been another case of bitter, election-related violence in the far-flung badlands of Mindanao had 32 journalists not been among those killed.

The mass killing of journalists, the biggest ever in the world in one single event, drew international attention and put pressure on then President Gloria Arroyo to order the arrest of her political allies, the Ampatuans. And even with the intense media circus surrounding the case, the continued inversion of justice has gnawed at the likelihood of conviction—a key witness has been killed, others have withdrawn, legal processes have been twisted like so much silly string. “An arraignment made dependent on the willingness of the accused to enter a plea weakens and undermines the rule of law,” says Harry Roque, lawyer for the victims’ families. “This is truly a sad commentary on the state of our criminal justice system.”

A roadmap to end impunity

In February, the Philippines finally ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, signifying its commitment to uphold human rights and international criminal justice. Recent trends in criminal law, however, suggest that a country battling systemic impunity and corruption like the Philippines can demonstrate stronger commitment to the rule of law by availing of a UN-backed “hybrid” tribunal that embeds international initiatives within a domestic context, similar to the commission created for the crime-ridden state of Guatemala now being hailed as a “groundbreaking” new model for international criminal justice, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG. Adopting a CICIG-like model can offer a roadmap for the Philippines to strengthen its legal system to end structural impunity and corruption under the impartiality of an international body.

Guatemala after its civil war became a no-man’s land of illegal security forces and clandestine criminal organizations, which had close ties to state institutions. The government was powerless to stop the murders, kidnappings, extortions and gang violence that increasingly threatened citizens. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, famously summarized the country’s chaos: “Guatemala is a good place to commit a murder, because you will almost certainly get away with it.”

Escalating lawlessness prompted Guatemala to seek UN help. A 2003 proposal for a similar commission to investigate illegal security groups judged unconstitutional by a Guatemalan court was re-negotiated to limit prosecutorial powers to joining cases only as a private prosecutor and became the basis for CICIG.

Since its creation in September, 2007, CICIG has achieved “notable and unprecedented short-term successes,” according to a recent report by the conflict prevention think tank International Crisis Group, including the dismissal and prosecution of several senior officials, the removal of a compromised attorney-general and the selection of a respected successor, the adoption of guidelines for the appointment of Supreme Court justices, and the enactment of legal reforms.

Headed by a UN-appointed foreign commissioner and incorporating international staff, the commission’s independence, objectivity, and expertise have given it great credibility among the Guatemalan public, making crucial cracks in the wall of impunity. “Guatemala definitely is better (because of CICIG) in terms of those engaged in corruption knowing they are more at risk,” says Mark Schneider, senior vice-president and special adviser on Latin America of International Crisis Group.

A similar history

CICIG’s significant innovation, according to a 2010 report in the Journal of International Criminal Justice, is a “demonstration effect” that translates its “ultimate deference to the domestic judicial system” to an opportunity to train local personnel and transfer technical capacities and push for legal reform. It also has the potential to dismantle organized crime “by successfully investigating and assisting in the prosecution of a small number of emblematic cases.”

CICIG’s effectivity was highlighted in the bizarre case of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a lawyer who engineered his own assassination to frame President Alvaro Colom for the murder of a businessman and his daughter. The accusation nearly toppled Colom’s government, and it turned to CICIG to investigate, and ultimately, resolve the case, which also led to uncovering police groups for hire as assassins.

The parallels between Guatemala and the Philippines are striking, and should augur well for the adoption of a similar commission in a country where the homicide conviction rate is 10 percent (Guatemala’s is a staggering 2.06 percent), where police and military elements are said to be involved in crimes ranging from carnapping syndicates and narcotics trafficking, to goods smuggling and illegal gambling, and where politicians’ heavily-armed private militias roam unchallenged in the regions.

Both countries have similar historical experiences, a common colonizer (Spain), a small elite and a massive underclass, an agricultural economy and land reform struggles, endemic corruption and tax collection inefficiencies, and a lack of basic services. Both even share the same year, 1986, when democracy was restored.

The similarities are such that the eight high-profile cases CICIG took on to galvanize public attention can easily find corresponding cases in the Philippines that will resonate with the public—in Guatemala, cases against the daughter of a congressman for human trafficking and illegal adoption, against military generals for embezzlement, against a senior prosecutor for obstructing justice, and, most notably, the embezzlement charges against ex-President Alfonso Portillo, likely will connect with Filipinos who have been fed a daily diet of government scandal in the press: the P73.85 million tax evasion complaint against the congressman-son of ex-President Gloria Arroyo, the alleged rubout by the national police of members of a notorious crime syndicate, and the supposed “deliberate inaction” of the public prosecutor on cases against close political allies of ex-President Arroyo. The close comparisons indicate that if a hybrid commission can work in Guatemala, it can do so in the Philippines.

A workable prospect

“We should really follow the CICIG model,” insists Harry Roque. “I think it is very clear that the Philippine government is simply not equipped to handle cases such as the multiple murders in the Maguindanao massacre. Our rules are antiquated.”

UN Rapporteur Frank La Rue, the Guatemalan human rights lawyer who had been a consultant to CICIG, according to Roque, is coming to Manila in September to explore the creation of such a commission for the Philippines.

While CICIG is virtually unknown in the Philippines, there are indications that such a novel arrangement may have avid takers. Corruption may be structural, and the population, jaded, but, the international profile of such a commission may be attractive to the Aquino government.

Observes long-time journalist and foreign affairs expert Jose Franco: ”Given the Philippine democratic setup—having a multi-party system, strong civil society movements, a zealous student activism and a vibrant environment for political squabbles—I have no doubt that the country will be among the first to replicate the CICIG. The Philippines, being a founding member of the ASEAN and the UN, has shown its astuteness in interpreting the various regional agreements and international conventions.”

A Philippine commission, moreover, can learn key lessons from CICIG’s mistakes and refine the model. Despite its successes, CICIG has been criticized for arbitrary case selection and failing to lay the groundwork for the eventual dismantling of illegal security groups. The commission also failed to secure long-term funding commitment from its UN donors such that CICIG’s direction depended on ”virtually annual forages of funding,” according to ICG’s Schneider. ”But CICIG clearly is a demonstrably useful and novel effort to bring independent and competent strengths to the battle against impunity and corruption. It may have to be modified for different countries but the core competencies should be retained and replicated.”

The model’s local judicial legitimacy, moreover, should remove any objection President Aquino may have to a hybrid commission on grounds of violating sovereignty, argues Roque. The existing European Union-Philippines Justice Support Program (EPJUST), which monitors extra-legal killings and enforced disappearances in the country, is already a precursor, he points out. ”Only a commission like CICIG’s (which has powers to promote prosecution, not just to investigate) will be more proactive.”

The Philippines, in fact, had already come close to a CICIG-like intervention when it asked the US government to determine the innocence or guilt of a Filipino housekeeper convicted of double murder in Singapore, which had sparked an intense diplomatic row between the two neighboring countries. The US investigating team upheld the conviction, and the two countries decided to resume diplomatic relations.

Political will or won’t?

All indications point to the country capable of making a hybrid commission workable, and perhaps, with its past experience, even more successful than Guatemala’s. The only question remaining is the Philippines’ inclination to do so. As with most initiatives in the country, in the end, the determining factor again rests on the much-debated (or much-awaited) political resolve of President Aquino, who has made fighting corruption the avowed cornerstone of his administration (His campaign slogan, “No Corruption, No Poor.”) He will have to summon the courage to stand up to the corrupt politicians and military generals and their organized-crime associates who will likely oppose the commission. His main advantage in this respect: Unlike his predecessors, he is widely thought not to be personally corrupt.

In such wait-and-see climate, some are understandably not so optimistic, given an equally deepening culture of  apathy. Guatemala got CICIG as a desperate response to a “rising fear of a narco-criminal state that drove even conservative forces to accept an international law enforcement intervention of this nature,” according to Schneider. Such “critical circumstance,” it is argued, has yet to happen in the Philippines, and the alternative, the President’s volition, remains an exasperating, Hamlet-esque speculation. Says lawyer Ray Paolo Santiago of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism: “Although there are parallelisms between the Philippines and Guatemala, the main difference is the complete breakdown of the government system. The Philippines has not reached that level. I think we are actually far from that.

“What is needed is a strong political will by the Chief Executive. It is not a question of whether it can be done. It is a question of whether there is will for it to be done.”

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