Saturday, September 17, 2005

Where is People Power?

Allowing an alter ego (i.e., President Arroyo’s national security adviser) to enter into a contract with a foreign lobbying firm to secure “grants” and “congressional earmarks” (from a foreign government, the United States) for purposes of influencing how the Philippines constitution should be changed, even assuming the contract contains other terms puportedly beneficial to the Philippines, constitutes as much a prima facie case of the impeachable offense of “betrayal of public trust” on the part of the President as her calling by telephone a COMELEC commissioner while the votes are still being counted, even if the purpose of the call is supposedly to safeguard her votes.

As we have learned from the last impeachment proceedings, “betrayal of public trust” is a “catch-all” phrase that in fact covers all the other impeachable offenses enumerated by the Constitution. This new revelation of just another “lapse in judgment” imputable to the President stacks up further the growing list of charges of abuse of presidential prerogatives that falls within the ambit of the constitutional provision intended to safeguard against such abuse. Unfortunately, even the impeachment process as the check and balance mechanism so provided in the Constitution for this purpose has been subjected to palpable abuse. These lapses, in fairly relative terms, are not in the nature of babaero, sugarol or lasengo but strike at the very core of the polity: fair and honest elections, self-determination and sovereignty, and the utility of the constitution to advance democratic values - hence, the saliency of the betrayal of the public for private gains.

Why betrayal of the public? Because a constitution is supposed to be the expression of the considered will of the people, upon earnest debates, negotiations and concessions, to achieve a strong and reliable government that is responsive to the national needs and the collectivity. If the final Charter bears the taint of mutual logrolling among scheming local leaders and elites on the hand and covetous aliens and foreign powers on the other, then the public is betrayed.

Executive power is largely potential. Accordingly, actual powers depend on the ability (or temerity) to leverage formal grant of powers. For instance, Ferdinand Marcos and Diosdado Macapagal ruled under the same constitution, the 1935 Constitution. But it was Marcos who had the presumptousness to stretch his powers beyond what was legally permissible because of his ability to measure the mettle of the people who could have put up a good fight within the constitutional framework - such people as the members of the Supreme Court before whom Marcos’ arrogation of dictatorial powers was challenged. Marcos persuaded the “Supreme Cowards,” the unpalatable label with which Vice-President Salvador “Doy” Laurel would deride the justices concerned, to go along with his sinister plan. The rest is history. However, judging from the conduct of the people’s representatives at the House during the impeachment debacle, it appears any historic lesson taught was heedlessly unlearnt.

Today, there are telltale signs we are seeing a “little” Marcos in Malacaňang even under a constitution that has somehow curtailed the powers of the presidency because of the Marcos experience: thorough marshaling of the apparatus of modern media either to makeover the President’s tarnished public image or befuddle the issues, threats and similar highhanded tactics against journalists and others critical of the regime, unexplained disappearances of critical witnesses, deployment of public funds to sway or sustain political allegiances, and even abuse of the appointing power, to name a few.

Where is people power, a veteran of two great struggles, in the midst of these abuses of presidential prerogatives? Fatigued, lost or simply too cautious?

Once again, mainstream media has overstated the danger of people power lapsing into mobocracy while underestimating the capacity of the so-called “middle forces,” both in the civilian and in the military component of civil society, for commitment to democratic values. Although taunted to act precipitously, apparently it is not taking the bait. It is weighing in potential consequences, which is healthy.

For now, people power is still all the Filipinos have. It might just be wiser to exercise it with greater awareness and awe of its own potency even as President Arroyo self destruct.

5 Comments:

Blogger fencesitter said...

I have been visiting your site as it is tagged from time to time by mlq3 in his own blogsite. I find your opinion and analysis useful in my own reflection since it gets me thinking on things that is affecting our political life.

I am just reading a news item announcing the death of Simon Wiesenthal, the Jew who dedicated his life tracking down Nazi criminal and fighting anti-Semitism in Germany. According to the news item Weinsenthal once said - "when history looks back i want people to know that nazis weren't able to kill millions and get away with it".

"When the Holocaust of 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember"

the reason i am quoting those lines is that it draws inspiration for vigilance.

How i wish we filipinos, as a people, will be like him, carrying in our hearts the undying spirit of bringing into justice and making accountable public officials who committed grievous transgression against our democratic right.

By expediency, the pragmatic amongst us choose to go on with our lives. As a consequence, we let the offenders get away with their offense.

I agree with you that when all constitutional processes have been exhausted and all else failed, people power is the only way we have to go.

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