Monday, March 20, 2006

Taxing the People's limits

Speaker Jose de Venecia has made a scoffing challenge to the minority bloc in the House of Representatives to come up with other charges against President Arroyo than those thrown out last year by the House majority for another impeachment this year to attract the signatures of 79 congressmen.

The main charge in last year’s impeachment, it should be recalled, was based on the “Garci tapes” scandal. Standing unrefuted by the President or explained only dismissively, the phantom of betrayal of public trust emanating from it would likely continue haunting her presidency. The 79 signatures or votes are the minimum required to bring the impeachment case before the Senate for a full-dress trial to banish the phantom away.

At this excruciating leg of a protracted political stalemate in the Philippines, where everything else including the economy seems at an impasse, President Arroyo, if confident of her innocence, should welcome the trial in the Senate. A favorable conclusion of the proceeding should put to rest once and for all the question of her legitimacy to rule. But, now, the President’s sounding board in Congress, the speaker himself no less, does again presage an early demise of any impeachment that would resolve this question. Obviously, this is what the majority in the House contrives to accomplish in the face of the ineluctable fact that the overwhelming majority of the Filipino people (65% to be exact according to the Pulse Asia survey of March 2006) want the President to step down or be removed on the basis of this issue.

Which minority is tyrannizing which majority? Or, conversely, which majority is tyrannizing which minority?

Philippine Daily Inquirer editorialist John Nery seems assured which one is which. He writes in Newsstand thus:
I think the political opposition should come to terms with the fact that the numbers game in the impeachment process actually favors the minority. The political opposition rationalized its failure to gather the 79 signatures it needed to push the impeachment case against the President on to the Senate as yet another sordid example of the tyranny of the majority. Nonsense. In impeachment cases, the Constitution actually allows a minority to trump the majority of congressmen . . . .
Mr. Nery, while correct, frames his thesis within the context of procedural democracy, or strictly in terms of the intra-governmental checks and balances mechanism that the Constitution provides.

Before the impeachment vote last year which I had expected to proceed along partisan lines, I also wrote, in the larger context of People Power democracy as I made allusion to social (rather than constitutional) checks and balances, the following:
What is beginning to come to light from the impeachment saga against President Arroyo is that intra-governmental checks and balances (e.g., the impeachment mechanism) are not sufficient to prevent the tyranny of a group of individuals (the anti-impeachment faction in the House) over a numerically smaller group (the pro-impeachment group), so that if unrestrained by external checks, a minority of individuals in the House will ultimately tyrannize over a majority (about 80 percent who favor the impeachment process as a peaceful regime-change alternative, according to reliable surveys) of the Filipino people.
Social checks and balances upon the exercise of governmental powers are limitations to such powers external to the Constitution. They come into play when procedural democracy founders on the rock by the simple raison d'être that the conclusions reached by the delegates, supposedly imbued with finality, are perceived by the bulk of the population to be in contravention of the people’s common sense and wisdom. One recent example to illustrate this point is how easily law enforcers determined a “probable cause” for purposes of arresting former DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman allegedly for violating a law against illegal assembly. But wasn’t such great dispatch also called for in the reported involvement of four U.S. Marines in the gang-rape of a Filipina, or in the multi-million peso fertilizer fund scam that the Philippine Senate has determined to involve Arroyo’s former agriculture undersecretary, Jocelyn Bolante? And if all are equal before the law, why the resort by the House majority to all the rigmarole of technicalities to determine the same probable cause in the commission of the impeachable offense of “betrayal of public trust” on the part of the president in the face of the existence of certain physical evidence (the “Garci tapes”) and at least one incontrovertible corroborating evidence (the President’s public admission to her “lapse in judgment”)? Who is tyrannizing who when these happen?

I have written a number of times that Philippine constitutionalism is based upon the American paradigm, or, specifically, on Madisonian democracy whose inaugural objective is the prevention of a tyrannical republic. But tyranny in the Madisonian sense is meant the tyranny of the majority, meaning the people. Arguably, the American constitution could be said to have been established to protect the minority, i.e., the wellborn, the wealthy and the propertied from the people’s tyranny. Madison believed that if unchecked (basically by constitutional limitations) the masses would tyrannize the elites, human nature being essentially depraved by desire for power.

At least the Filipino experience in two exercises of People Power democracy has proved the Madisonian fear to be unfounded. The Filipino people on both occasions have been gracious enough to let the powers that be reconfigure how the system could be made workable. And based upon the same experience, the people today have reached such a level of political maturity as to allow an even greater leeway for their chosen leaders like the House Speaker to make the constitution work. The people therefore, as the ultimate source of all political authorities, are as trustworthy as their delegates.

De Venecia and allies should by now know that the external check that can be triggered owing to another arbitrary digression from the constitutional route may lead to some uncertain contra-constitutional resolutions of the whole matter. Why they prefer to ignore these alarms, tauntingly in fact, is beyond me. One thing is however certain: only the people themselves can limit their own patience.

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