Saturday, November 12, 2005

Just try a little bit harder

There are two developing narratives in the Philippines that may turn out as a watershed, flowing either backward or forward, in the country’s juridical and political history.

One is the “trial” of the charges against President Arroyo before the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability, practically the same charges thrown out by the House of Representatives dominated by pro-Arroyo partisans during the attempt to impeach her a couple of months ago.

The other is a presidential project to tamper once more with the Constitution in a fundamental way, that is, to shift from the present presidential-bicameral-unitary system to potentially a parliamentary-unicameral-federal form, through a Consultative Commission (for constitutional revision).

The Citizens’ Congress and the Consultative Commission are first a study in contrast by the way they have come about.

The Citizens’ Congress, for instance, is an initiative of Bukluran para sa Katotohanan, a broad coalition (for truth) of disparate groups which include civil society organizations, religious groups, political parties and students and other movements. The commonality of the coalition efforts appears to have emerged rather autonomously through collaboration and cooperation for the purpose of investigating the dismissed impeachment accusations against the President.

On the other hand, the Consultative Commission has been created or mandated via Executive Order 453 promulgated by President Arroyo; the members of the Commission, while supposedly to “come from various sectors of society,” are widely perceived to just follow the President’s bidding already spelled out in the order (i.e., to shift to a new government structure as above indicated and to “refocus” and “review” economic policies in the Constitution with a view to “[matching] the country’s vision for global competitiveness”).

It may be worth mentioning at this point that the present Constitution was drafted by another commission whose memberships, a cross-sectional representation of the reformist and progressive segments of the Philippine society, were a closer mirror of Bukluran’s rather than of the Consultative Commission’s.

It is also interesting to note that Arroyo did not run during the presidential elections held last year on any program that committed to revise or change the Constitution. By many accounts, Arroyo’s unexpected interest in revising the Constitution has been regarded as a designing political afterthought to deflect the cascading ouster momentum following the revelation of the “Garci tapes.” The controversial tapes might have recorded Arroyo’s direct participation in what majority of the Filipinos believe to be the grand conspiracy to alter the results of the presidential elections.

Still others have seen the charter change scheme as a political accommodation for two politicians, former President Ramos and House Speaker De Venecia, the critical supports of both before and during the impeachment were instrumental in keeping Arroyo in office. The interest of De Venecia in the parliamentary form is an open secret: to be the head of the government without being elected nationally as president. Ramos’ motivations are not as well contoured: some still regard him as the country’s elder statesman in the mold of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, or he could be, quite ambivalently, America’s strongest link to its former colony.

Returning to the main topic of this piece, a people’s court that the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability is supposed to be and so functions - the purpose of which is to unravel the truth suppressed by a highly partisan vote during the impeachment proceeding - is by itself an attempt to re-order the system. It is a clear instance of civil society asserting its primacy; as a mature manifestation of people power, it has a better chance of graduating from what had been seen as ad-hoc expressions of the power during the staging of “street parliaments,” whether small- or large-scale. Literally speaking, the whole exercise may be extra-constitutional, but it is not contra-constitutional. For one thing, aside from the people-powered conception of the 1987 Constitution, there are specific provisions in the present Constitution (e.g., Article VI, Section I in relation to Article 32, reserving to the people a provision for initiative and referendum, and Article XII, Sections 15 and 16 as well as Article II, Section 23, recognizing the national role of people’s organizations, NGOs and community-based organizations and facilitating the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms) that expressly admit of sharing of sovereign authority, a radical drift from the purely “representative form” under the older charters.

In another sense, the people’s residual and direct authority to try the impeachment charges in an alternative venue on the basis of the foregoing constitutional provisions as well as in pursuance of the underlying spirit of the 1987 Constitution may be considered as being akin to the putative and delegated authority of the judiciary to read into the Constitution certain inherent rights, such as the individual’s right to privacy that is not so provided in the explicit language of the Constitution.

In furtherance therefore of a transformative governance paradigm and moving still further forward, the coalition forces should take on the task of discovering more commonalities despite the disparate interests of their respective constituencies. The more expansive the common interests and the more persistent the efforts on other fundamental issues affecting the country whether social, political and economic, the greater would be their share of the sovereign authority and the less would be the need for the formalities of revising the written charter via some backward-looking fiat that could have been directed by personal interest or driven by the devious motivations of other agencies, whether individual, institutional, governmental, foreign or otherwise.

It is then hoped the traditional notion of centralizing sovereignty that underlies the debate about what form of government to adopt might ultimately give way to a People Power democracy that is anchored on solidarity, participation, inclusion and shared policymaking. The coalition will then just have to try harder to make a real difference.


Anonymous Steve said...

Actually, Mrs. Arroyo did mention constitutional change in the campaign:
2 July 2004 Inquirer:

"On Feb. 10, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., the principal proponent of amending the Constitution, quoted Ms Arroyo as saying that she was amenable to stepping down in 2007 to allow a transition to the parliamentary system.

"Ms Arroyo confirmed this. And while courting the support of El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde during the campaign, she entered into an agreement with him that she would convene a constitutional convention "immediately after the May 10 elections" to undertake the Charter amendment."

November 14, 2005 12:06 AM  
Blogger Rizalist said...

Hi there Abe!
Just like that I can pop on over to say hello, coz I saw you on my sitemeter. Fact is, I wish there were more people like you to converse about a million things. But the Filipino blogosphere is soooo tiny yet. We are all "early adapters" as they say, and to think some of us were blogging before 2000. (I was sending email when the Web was 300 websites...all DARPA). You're one of the few I wish I could establish more rapport with. The world is exploding (sorry no pun intended) with new ideas about where humanity should go. I have a feeling the answers lie partially in the classics, but also I sense that we are outgrowing our most sophisticated notions.

One thing I know is, what we think has a lot to do with what we read. And with billions of webpages, this leads to a multiplicity of belief systems that perhaps are difficult to share.

All we can do is share links in order to share experiences and create points for discussion.

I sense you are a thinker in the large, so if there is any topic you might like to share with me, not in a polemical or argumentative mode, but in a real attempt to come to a concensus about something important, please feel free to communicate with me by email or on the Philippine Commentary Website. I learn the most from people who disagree with me, and especially those who turn out to be right!

One technique I've used with others to establish such a conversation is merely to exchange favorite writers' names and give reactions to the work of each others' choice.

Dean Jorge Bocobo

November 14, 2005 7:04 AM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

Hello Steve,

Thanks for dropping by.

What I’m trying to convey is that Cha-cha was not one of GMA’s campaign platforms.

Hi Dean,

What can I say but that I’m flattered. Well, I’ve been actually an eager reader of your commentaries on PDI. Unfortunately, Inquirer (or has not been running your pieces lately; hence, I’m glad you are blogging.

I like your idea but remember I’m not an intellectual like you. You can say I’m an activist, have been one since I was 15.

Off the top of my head, I know I’ve read some of Confucius, St. Paul, De Tocqueville, John Locke, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Henry George, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Leo Strauss, Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini, Pope John Paul II, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Robert Dahl, Eric Hobsbawn, Howard Zinn, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Renato Constantino, Nemesio Caravana, John Steinbeck, Walter Lippman, Walt Rostow, Paul Kennedy, Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, Roberto Concepcion (primarily his court opinions), Enrique Fernando, William Greider, Joseph Stiglitz, Alan Wolfe, E. E. Cummings, Jose Garcia Villa , T.S. Elliot and maybe a handful more.

Right now, I’m reading Mahmood Mamdami’s “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim.”

Of course, I also enjoy the discourses of Randy David, mlq3, John Nery and Mario Taguiwalo.

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