Sunday, December 31, 2006

Yes, Anonie, there's a Santa from the South

Yes, Anonie, there’s a better holiday package to answer our debt problem.

Anyway, in your wish list, which I’m quoting here verbatim, you mentioned two with which to deal with the matter: “(a) continue with Cory-FVR-Estrada-GMA policies (efforts to renegotiate the loan terms but follow world-banking procedures); (b) the Philippines to declare it will stop payments on the Marcos-’Nuclear-plant’-loans.”

At this point, I’m basically still hovering at macro level and I guess you are right on the money when you raised debt burden as a high priority issue.

I most certainly regard the Philippines’ gargantuan debt AND the lackadaisical performance of the economic elites as the two greatest obstacles to our economic takeoff and to a sustainable economic development. This means that problems often associated with dirty politics or certain perceived flaws of the constitution would be of second order. Therefore, in my view, to make the trapos and the constitution bear the blame for the ills of the nation, as many are prone to whine about, is to disguise the country’s real maladies.

How does our debt burden look like?

A bunch of Filipino economists (the “UP 11,” remember?) came up in August 2004 with a position paper affirming that the Filipinos - or logically the economic elites for that matter - hold most of the government’s peso-denominated debt and “a good chunk” of the dollarized domestic debt. The paper also indicated that the national debt at 3.36 trillion pesos as of the end of 2003 is “split almost equally between foreign and domestic liabilities.”

A more recent analysis by cvj in mlq3’s blogsite is equally interesting and shows that under the GMA regime, the Philippines has so far incurred US $3.8 billion in foreign debt and US $ 6.2 billion in domestic debt, both figures being in excess of those incurred by her immediate predecessors. What is however noticeable from cvj’s configuration is that the 40/60 split (versus the 50/50 split pursuant to the UP 11 report) has been the ballpark average of our public borrowings since Pres. Cory Aquino. Now, considering that only 60 or so families control the domestic financial market, may one likewise infer that, based on cvj’s figures, about 60 percent of the national debt is owed to a very small minority of economic elites?

Whether the debt burden is split 50/50 into foreign and domestic, or 40/60, would be of no moment because, as I see it, it remains indicative of the overriding interest on the part of the domestic wealth holders in renting their money at guaranteed earnings relative to otherwise risking such wealth in rational productive investments. With the debt service (the “income” to the lenders) calculated at about 30 percent of the national budget, the portion of the overall national revenues going to only some individuals is obscenely mind-boggling, or, to put it differently, enough to lull the rentier persona of the entrenched economic elites into passive investment.

Again, with about a third of the national budget being by law automatically earmarked for debt service, what incentives do these rentier families have, to take greater risks either to compete with their regional counterparts or to develop the real economy of the nation?

Little wonder, the Philippines’ richest guy, aside from his sizeable stake in the finance economy, appears content with building giant malls catering largely to the consumption proclivities of OFW remittance recipients. Meanwhile, the economic benefits derived from the country’s leading manufactured export (electronics) are practically set off by heavy import components. Shouldn’t we matter-of-factly be seriously thinking of setting the stage for attaining the competitive advantage of producing locally those import components? Or should we rather take the stance of blogger anna de brux and many others of similar persuasions who seem to “have no issue with anyone making loads of money provided their business is legit and that they’re paying the right taxes”?

Well, a couple of years ago, Senator Manuel Villar, Jr. as chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, explained at a Senate briefing on the 2005 budget proposal that banks would rather acquire Treasury bills and other sovereign debt instruments than lend to businessmen because aside from the rates being so attractive, the “investments are risk-free and protected from depreciation.” The preference of rich Filipinos to invest in the financial rather than in the real economy, deprives the nation of “a critical mass of projects that will be necessary to jumpstart and sustain the country’s economic development,” once frankly admitted by Trade and Industry Secretary Cesar V. Purisima.

We, as a nation, have to get our acts together if not for ourselves for the next generation. Scapegoating trapo politics or relying on primarily political solutions to essentially economic problem is a deliberate diversion from the true problem in which the nation is deeply immersed, i.e., the stark reality that the performance of our risk-averse economic elites is third-rate so that even if certain growth is seen in absolute terms, the Philippines remains a laggard in the region in relative terms. How our neighbors’ will to develop has readily bypassed our country in the short term, to become the covetable tiger economies in the region is now taken for granted. Yet, of very late one more comparatively stellar performance that’s mocking us to our face is the continuing economic surge from behind of once war-torn and debt relief candidate Vietnam.

Anonie, I call your first option above as the vicious cycle of generosity of “adjustment lending” from false Santas of the North. It comes with a dear price: externally imposed deregulation, privatization, liberalization and fiscal discipline, all meant to please foreign creditors and rating agencies. The net effects, as we are experiencing, are slow economic growth, heightened levels of poverty, forced cutbacks on vital physical and social infrastructures spending and increased unemployment from resulting de-industrialization.

We missed the second option boat during Cory’s time. Indeed, to raise a howl at this juncture about dictator’s debts or “odious debts” will be naughty and not nice.

I have had the chance to indulge in the rhetoric of a wish for a third option:
If then the paramount goal were to stop the escalating government debt as a proportion of GDP, won’t it be possible to attain it should the growth of GDP outpace the ever-rising debt? This would only mean that past the crisis and beyond some short-run government bureaucratic measures (such as new tax schemes and pork barrel curtailments), the wealth creators at the firm level must lead the march toward competitiveness and productivity growth, the intuition of the now famous “UP 11” that it would be “no more than whistling in the dark” notwithstanding. Therefore, rather than despair, perish or self-destruct, Filipinos must take the course that remains wide open for them - build and produce to earn enough to pay debts, provide basic needs, keep an efficient bureaucracy and build even more. When government capital expenditures are at a minimum, the private sector must take up the slack in investment to boost employment and enable the citizens to pull through a sense of confidence in the future.
Slowly, we have grown to perceive that the appropriate solutions to the country’s maladies require both funding and character change. With a sense of country and responsibilities for their own population, the economic elites, like patriotic Santas it is hoped, would resolve to give away both.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What the Opposition opposes and proposes

Anonie, commenting on my last blog entry, has taunted the Opposition:
The Opposition opposes . . . but has no "proposes."

. . . my discomfort with "lack of proposals" (in contrast to statement of complaints) is in regards the opposition-organizations and the mayors, congressmen, senators (the personalities that attract the voters) that belong to the opposition . . .
I agree that there are no substantive wedge issues markedly differentiating the party in power in the Philippines from the various mainstream opposition parties. But I'm not sure either whether GMA prior to being plunged into the presidency by EDSA Dos had been known to espouse any particular ideology other than the Washington Consensus (i.e., the development program of liberalization, privatization and globalization, advocated by the IMF, World Bank and WTO).

Within days after the uprising, GMA announced: "During my administration democracy and the market will be the guiding principles of my domestic and foreign policies."

This is what I have in part written as a reaction:
The pressure for radical transformation notwithstanding, and just two days after the upheaval of People Power II that swept her to power, GMA did not equivocate, in her first chance to articulate her vision, to say her "administration will resist the temptation to take (adventuristic) initiatives and directions for the sake of appearing to be innovative."

That was unfortunate, we thought.

The real political, social and economic challenges of GMA's administration, we contended, would be how to balance the market prescriptions (freedom from state interference) with social justice (freedom to self-realization) on the one hand, and, on the other, how to marshal and factor democracy, expressed in people power through consultation and consensus, in bureaucratic efficiency. We feared that GMA was about to lose one great window of opportunity by balking to fully legitimize People Power II and to venture into a fresh start, preferring to look backwards to the status quo ante, a situation her predecessor ousted by the revolt has continued to exploit. Thus we urged her to welcome and take the path of adventure, of being a visionary and a revolutionary, not just a "good president."

But GMA has insisted: "I have no grandiose ambition of being great. I just want to do my work well. I don't want magic. I just want to be 100 percent right-morally right."
The general perception in the country today is to the effect that the still unexplained Garci tapes (not to speak of other notorious scandals that have haunted the government of GMA) have also taken away her claim to moral uprightness.

Now, if you count the Catholic Church as an organized opposition in the Philippines, I believe the church hierarchy has posed a serious challenge to GMA's "guiding principles."

Please note in this regard one significant portion of CBCP's pastoral letter of July 10, 2005, which reads:
"3. At the center of the crisis is the issue of moral value, particularly the issue of trust. The people mistrust our economic institutions which place them under the tyranny of market forces whose lack of moral compass produces for our people a life of grinding dehumanizing poverty. They also mistrust yet another key institution - our political system. This mistrust is not recent. For a long time now, while reveling in political exercises, our people have shown a lack of trust in political personalities, practices, and processes. Elections are often presumed tainted rather than honest. Congressional and senate hearings are sometimes narrowly confined to procedural matters and often run along party lines. Politics has not effectively responded to the needs of the poor and marginalized."
My reading of disquisition 3 of the CBCP letter is the following:
Mistrust of the political system is trite (we hear the same grievance everyday from everyone), but bishops collectively calling the market a TYRANT that "produces for our people a life of grinding dehumanizing poverty," is not a "voice of moderation or temperance" but, while unsaid, a clear allusion to "Christian socialism" or at the very least to plain Thomism that calls for the achievement of Christian goals by social and political means. Going beyond the text, the true message of the pastoral letter, despite professing fealty to constitutional process, is the tacit reassertion of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum against market democracy (as well as Marxism) as a preponderant influence in the lives of the Filipino poor. The same message was articulated in the July 1, 2005 letter issued by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio B. Rosales specifically demanding that "Political systems that are prone to corruption must be swiftly and decisively reformed, and institutions built that can effectively respond to the aspirations of our people for a better life." . . .

More than just a break from traditional conservatism, Rerum Novarum's emphasis on social justice has been antithetical to the ideology of free market that follows, first and foremost, the dictates of rational greed.
On the other hand, please check here to see how Senator Mar Roxas, now in the Opposition, has, I believe, entered the great debate about attaining the elusive Filipino good society, or, specifically, on whether the vehicle to rely upon on that pursuit would be the government or the market.

I expounded in this manner:
Recall that President Arroyo had been straightforward on this issue at the very outset of her presidential career. "During my administration," she announced at her first Vin D'Honor on January 21, 2001, "democracy and the market will be the guiding principles of my domestic and foreign policies" (although two years later, Arroyo flip-flopped in a dramatic way saying that "unbridled globalization is no longer in vogue," globalization being meant, it would seem, as the agency that will carry the ball towards the utopia of the good society built around a free market).

On the other hand, presidential timber Mar Roxas showed his state-interventionist bent as a congressman at least as regards one critical piece of legislation, the Retail Trade Liberalization law: he was accused of inserting protectionist clauses in the law.

As Trade and Industry Secretary, Mar Roxas allowed another glimpse of where he could be on the ideological divide during a brush with then Finance Secretary Alberto Romulo on the question of giving government incentives to investors. Roxas saw "jobs generated," as well as "foreign exchange" and "technology transfer" created by the incentives whereas Romulo decried the "foregone revenues." And when Roxas perceived that the Philippine tuna has been subjected to tariff discrimination (by the US) in favor of the Latin American package, still as DTI Secretary he threatened (indeed a gutsy move by a former Wall Street investment banker) to withdraw Philippine membership from WTO.

Is there something more discernible about Mar Roxas' predilections from his Jaime Ongpin memorial lecture? Let's vet closer what he said:
"Our social compact is premised on the basic idea is (sic) that if people put something into their life, they should get something reasonably gainful out of it. We all 'bought' into this bargain and we look to the government as the chief implementer of the same. This is a simple but basic bargain that seems to work in meritocracies like the US and Singapore, but here in the Philippines, the gap between effort and output has steadily widened."
The first sentence I believe is a nuanced manifesto of economic liberalism (which argues that since men are the best judge of their own limits and capacities, it follows that the most rational use of the resources available to them will happen if they are allowed to follow their pursuits under conditions of free competition). This also dovetails with Mar Roxas' conception of "leader and leadership (being) within us." The second sentence which "look(s) to the government as the chief implementer of the (bargain)" is therefore a non sequitur (italics mine); it smacks of protectionism (or the old policy of mercantilism, the granting of special privileges to merchants and manufacturers to encourage the development of commerce and industry).

Shouldn't the suggestion that the meritocratic system in the US and Singapore are normative bother us too? (In the US government subsidies to wealthy farmers or aircraft manufacturers are mind-boggling and Singapore, as is well-known, is a single-party government.)

What else did we learn from and about Mar?
"Everywhere else in the world today, governments are gearing up to meet the challenges of the 21st century: the challenges of globalization, of integration, of achieving economies of scale. Nations are identifying and building up their comparative advantages-whether these be in agriculture, in manufacturing, or in high technology or science.

Or we can decide to truly make the domestic industry competitive: this will mean overhauling our thinking and premises on our economy. This will also mean adjusting our tariff policy, our energy policy, and our agriculture policy, among others."
Now, we are getting the point: government must meet the challenge of globalization in order 'to truly make the domestic industry competitive ….'"

If we haven not realized it yet, the phenomenon of globalization is the engine of turbocapitalism that is running over the traditional role of government in domestic affairs by the ascendancy of transnational forces erected around free market. Globalization sees the "withering away" of nation-states that surrender their powers to non-elected technocrats and rationalistic global actors like the IMF, WB, WTO and multinational players such as the TNCs. Globalization is therefore the antithesis of Rostovian developmentalism which relies upon governmental intervention "to provide the enabling, nurturing and invigorating environment within which private initiative and industry, meaning people taking responsibility for their lives, can grow and be properly rewarded," to borrow the language of Senator Roxas.
In response to DJB's comment on the same blog, I have posted the following:
I guess unstated in the above piece is my perception of Mar Roxas as possessing the tribalism of a leader as shown by his outburst against the WTO during the tuna controversy and the cosmopolitanism of a manager when he saw government perks to investors as net gains instead of "revenues foregone."

Also, Mar took his time seeking a senate seat and he was the first in the cabinet to abandon the Estrada ship. These rare behaviors (rare among political hacks in Philippine politics) make me think he can distinguish power (the ability to attain goals) from domination.

A Wharton education could be as disarming (to Big Uncle) as a West Point attendance, hence that places him at par with FVR. And if I remember correctly, Mar was one of the few senatorial candidates who looked at People Power with reverence (and that too is disarming to the activists).

Here's what I think places him ahead of the whole pack (which means including FVR). He recognizes that incrementalism "during this continuing crisis" is not enough. And if US thinks extreme poverty among Filipinos is as bad to RP as to US, then Mar is the Man. Here's what Mar on this score said in his speech:
"But here in the Philippines, we remain hobbled by an incrementalist, piecemeal frame of mind that will have spent more than P4 trillion over the last 5 years and will spend a trillion pesos next year without making any appreciable impact on society. We have amassed more than 4 trillion pesos of public debt for all kinds of programs and projects, and yet we hardly feel like a country striding forward into a bright new future.

"Beyond the politics of the moment, we need a common objective that we can all rally behind as a matter of national survival and as our strategy for leaping forward in this century."
Against the above standard, FVR, GMA and other presidential wannabes are incrementalists.

It is up to US too to meet Mar's challenge, because like GMA, Mar could turn to the awaking giant in the neighborhood to partner with for his country's sake, with one big difference between the two: the China card would be an economic decision for him, not a gambit for sheer political survival.
Arguably, the foregoing are not mere "statements of complaints" but, although yet on a macro level, are real alternatives.

Monday, December 18, 2006

People Power, part of the rules of the game

The banner stories: The interfaith rally at the Rizal Park (Luneta) last Sunday (Dec. 17, 2006) failed to draw the organizers’ expectation of half a million crowd.

But did it fail?

The rally was organized (by various civil societies with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines at the helm) to thwart the efforts of majority pro-administration lawmakers in the Lower House (of Representatives) to rewrite the constitution via a constituent assembly minus the participation of the Upper House (the Senate) of the two-house or bicameral Philippine Congress. The House move, which was in clear violation its own Rules interpreting the provision of the Constitution on the matter, generated nationwide public outrage. As the indignation threatened to ratchet up to a people power proportion, the congressional leadership spearheading the administration-backed Charter change undertaking promptly capitulated. So did Malacañang.

Nevertheless, upon modifying their protest action to a “thanksgiving” mass or a “watch and pray” gathering, the organizers proceeded to hold their rally anyway although the true purpose could be to highlight larger issues than Charter change and/or to prove that the main organizer, the Catholic hierarchy, is still relevant to the people power movement in the tradition of the leadership of Jaime Cardinal Sin.

Beforehand, the forecast by one civil society group, the Black and White Movement, of the “gathering storm” was quite optimistic: “It has all the markings of storm signal number 3. It may even be codenamed ‘EDSA 3’.”

Veteran columnist Amado Doronila, who once called people power as “a source of political instability that has undermined the strengthening of political institutions and democratic legal process,” had a volte-face on “people power fatigue” and loudly confirmed that that “people power movement is far from dead.”

The turnout was a “highly respectable” crowd of 40,000, according to Manolo Quezon of One Voice, another civil society group, almost apologetically; but Doronila the morning after was cynical again and wrote that by “Luneta standards” it was “a poor conveyor of the political impact of the messages of the rally.”

One should not lose sight of the fact that the mere warning snarls of People Power had already resulted in deterring the duplicitous scheming of the majority in the Lower House and some Palace operators before the celebratory rally. As a form of external checks and balances, the resurgent movement not only cut through the illogic of blatantly numeral ratiocination of the people’s representatives that had attended the two abortive impeachments against President Arroyo but also preempted the slow if measured pace of the power judicial review when invoked in the normal operation of procedural democracy. In this recent exhibition, the successful check was external but not extra-constitutional, which means that the institution of People Power has proven that it can operate within the rules of the game of the system in place.

It is well understood that the rules of the game allow political competitions of many sorts such as among political parties, and even inter-chamber contests. But often, these competitions do not guarantee the political choices of the majority although they have the effect of stimulating the vibrancy of the minorities (civil societies).

The preferences of the intense minorities, when communicated in an organized way, must be taken into account by the minority (the political and economic elites) in making political decisions. For, when People Power is institutionalized (and I do believe that since the Spirit of ’86 that had ended the Marcos dictatorship, People Power has ensconced itself as an institution in Philippine politics) the elites may only ignore at their peril the choices of the intense minorities.

This is my ideation of People Power democracy:
People Power democracy . . . is the exercise by the people—the Civil Society—of the republican principle of the last say which may result to replace (as in People Power I) or keep (as in People Power II) the existing system. It does not decide particular issues for that would notionally be direct democracy. The triumph of People Power democracy should be measured not upon its physical manifestation that successfully brought about the immediate change desired, which is an end in itself, but when the consensus formed by civil society or civil societies—those politically informed, active and diverse minorities groups such as the business sectors, political alliances, labor unions, religious organizations, and the like—is brought to be reckoned with by those formally vested with policymaking. It is thus a continuing transformative citizenship. Whenever civil societies are marginalized in the governance process, the result could either be the rule by the privileged minority (or the oligarchy) or by the multitude, irrespective of the agreed upon formalities of governance.
In my view, in a true democracy, the people (the multitude) and the minority (the oligarchy) do not rule; the minorities (civil societies) do.

On another breadth, former President Ramos’ observation in February 2006 may still be valid in terms of the Great Beast fully rising to its feet:
Still absent from the convergence of anti-government forces at this time is the involvement of significant elements of the Armed Forces and the National Police – which, as admitted by the opposition leaders, is the crucial component needed to topple PGMA. What most analysts overlook is the fact and the historical reality that, during the period 1986 to 1991, the Armed Forces (which then included the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police), effectively supported the Aquino government in defeating 9 coup attempts that were shoot-to-kill military encounters . . . The steadfastness of the present chain-of-command in defending constitutional authority and protecting the safety of the people should be gauged from the loyal support they (as junior officers) and their forebears gave the Aquino government, and not from their possible defection to the opposition today – as what happened during the Marcos and Estrada administrations . . .
My own take in the foregoing regard is as follows:
The Quezonian dilemma (of mlq3, I mean) comes into play at this juncture. “(W)hat is decisive in a People Power event: is it the people, or the military? Or: what makes a coup different from People Power?” Manolo answers himself: “the military, by themselves, can never decide the issue, just as the civilians, when it comes to toppling a government, cannot do it by themselves. A fine balance is required . . . .”

I suppose a military coup without the support of People Power will have legitimacy issue and People Power without the support of the military will have lesser chances of success or of succeeding peacefully. But People Power must be both “intense” and “legitimate” enough to earn the military’s support in the first place. It seems that by experience one million protesters meet the requirement of intensity. And to be credited with legitimacy, I surmise, the multitude should be sufficiently representative so that any fair-minded observer could regard it as a cross-section of the various components of the Civil Society.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Philippine beauty and the beast

Since the Spirit of ’86 that had driven Marcos into exile, People Power has ensconced itself as the Great King in the wilderness of Philippine politics. As such, even if often perceived in lurking mode, it has been watchful and ever on guard, its prying and piercing eyes overhanging as Damocles’ sword upon anyone intent with fiendish or improvident essay at tyranny in the very home of the power’s modern exteriorization.

Aspiring Marcos wannabes, blindsided by avarice and ambition, and seemingly less forthright today with their contrivances and designs, will ignore the lessons of history yet aglow, and make the mistake of underrating the potency of People Power. Mark it: they’d be pushed at their wit’s end, trounced and humbled.

The cold winds of an impending tyranny are proving to be the natural inflatus, the breath of life, of the quiescent Creature, and already the mere stirring of its becoming is unleashing a virtual tsunami that need not materialize to actually inundate the House of sin. But men (and women) love power. Recalcitrant and the promise of domination irresistible, they’ll continue to taunt the Sovereign’s fury.

This is apparently what has happened when the House majority of the Philippine Congress attempted to fiddle with the Constitution in the face of considerable negative public sentiments and in open derogation of settled constitutional practices. The immediate reaction has been public outrage forcing the Malacañang-backed plot, through an alliance of pro-administration congressmen, to abort - for now. But, the passion for control over others is dizzying and dazzling. The House Speaker and his cohorts as well as the Queen bee by the Pasig River, although stunned, are simply showing signs of hemming and hawing but not backing off.

The burning issue: whether the two Houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, should vote jointly or separately when as elected legislators they decide to wear different hats as members of a constituent assembly to propose amendments to, or revision of, the Constitution which requires “a vote of three-fourths of all its members” to do so. The answer, as spelled out in the House’s own Rules interpreting the constitutional provisions in question, is too plain to be mistaken.

Section 105 of the House (of Representatives) Rules has provided the following:
Section 105. Form of Proposals and Procedure for Adoption. - Proposals to amend or revise the Constitution shall be by resolution which may be filed at any time by any Member. The adoption of resolutions proposing amendments to or revision of the Constitution shall follow the procedure for the enactment of bills. (Italics mine)
Bills are enacted by Congress with the Senate and the House of Representatives “voting separately.” Hence, pursuant to Section 105 of the House Rules, any proposal to amend or revise the Constitution shall follow the same procedure for the enactment of bills, that is, the Upper House (the Senate) and the Lower House (the House of Representatives) “voting separately.” Not anymore.

On December 5, 2006, the majority bloc in the Lower House, by the tyranny of numerical superiority, conveniently removed the aforesaid second clause in Section 105 of its Rules and passed House Resolution (H.R.) 1450 to convene a House-only constituent assembly for the purpose of proposing Charter changes sans the concurrence of the Senate “voting separately” as is required in enacting an ordinary bill. As intended, H.R. 1450 violates settled constitutional practices of a bicameral (or two-House) congress. Hence, the public outrage, rousing the theretofore abeyant Power.

While Speaker de Venecia, his gang and their chameleonic Palace patroness are on a tactical flank maneuver - this time toward a constitutional convention scheme (instead of the now discredited constituent assembly) to attain their dubious ends - the jungle King, agitated, intently pries into their movements. (So do the hyenas in some corporate or other cloak lying in wait and salivating for the nation’s patrimony that Charter change proponents seem eager to lay bare for exploitation by speculators, alien or otherwise, among other objectives that remain problematic.)

The Multitude is therefore in admonitory groan, yet menacing enough to send chills up the spines of the schemers, momentarily halting the onslaught of the Charter change loco motive. The Great Power is likely to rise to the occasion, as in the past, if sufficiently provoked to protect the constitutional realm. But there are certain unpredictabilities.

In 2000, at the first bellows of the same public indignation that ultimately ushered in the forces of People Power II, I observed the following:
The events leading to the impeachment charges against President Estrada and the renewed mass movement in the streets of Manila offer another chance for Filipinos to come out reborn from yet another catharsis. These prove however that the purge following the first EDSA uprising had been quite selective and inconsequential, and the promise of People Power a teasing illusion.

Our short memory (or ever-forgiving heart) has seemed to gloss over the lessons from our long experience that gave us, among others, the post-EDSA reversal of roles and in fortunes such as those of the critics then and the cronies now.
How did it happen that erstwhile Marcos yes men, House Speaker Jose de Venecia and Congressman Luis Villafuerte, are so close today to setting up a tyrannical republic despite two People Power uprisings and, ostensibly unsinkable, might well be at the center of another brewing? What have we undertaken as a polity to sort out what allowed them, and others similarly situated, to reconstitute themselves and surmount the vicissitude of the wilderness since the uprising of 1986?

One only hopes this whole affair would turn on the country once more not in terms of aspiring for some ad hoc, procedural or otherwise self-regarding Charter adjustments but of serving as a prelude to serious collective soul-searching of what has really gone so wrong about our country. We have yet another unique opportunity to rediscover the true Philippine Beauty leading to a national catharsis without the Beast rising to its feet.

Monday, December 04, 2006

'A clarity of vision being dimmed'

I do not see anything legally or constitutionally objectionable to the draft Rules of the proposed Constituent Assembly (as posted by mlq3 and DJB).

Rule I in fact clearly recognizes the basic two-step process involved in order for the Congress of the Philippines to PROPOSE amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution by constituting itself as a constituent assembly.

The FIRST process is the CALLING of a constituent assembly out of the members of Congress. The resolution to call must be voted by three-fourths of all the members of Congress.

The SECOND process is the APPROVAL of the proposed amendments or revisions deliberated upon by the Constituent Assembly. The resolution to approve the proposal or proposals must be voted by three-fourths of all the members of Congress.

Neither Congress nor the Constituent Assembly may do away with the constitutional requirements of the foregoing two-step process. Violations of these requirements may be challenged before the Supreme Court and the Court may not evade its responsibility to pass upon the matter, it being clearly a justiciable controversy, and not a political question.

In between the first step and the second step would be the adoption of certain rules (e.g., Rules II through VIII of the draft Rules) concerning the parliamentary procedure for deliberating the intended amendments or revisions. These rules are political in nature and, being subject only to the discretion of Congress convened as a constituent assembly, are beyond the ambit of the Court; unless, otherwise, breaches of fundamental rights are involved such as those that may call for the application of the due process and the equal protection clauses (e.g., a gender-based voting requirement).

Where’s the rub?

First, what is the manner of voting as provided under the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions with respect to the two-step process?

The 1935 Constitution, which provided for a bicameral congress (i.e., a congress with two Houses, the Senate and House of Representatives), required thus:

“The Congress in joint session assembled, by a vote of three-fourths of all the Members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives voting separately, may propose amendments to this Constitution . . .” (Article XV, Section 1)

The 1973 Constitution, which provided for a unicameral national assembly, set forth the following:

“Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by the National Assembly upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members . . .” [Article XVI, Section 1(1)]

The 1987 Constitution, reverting to a bicameral congress, provides as follows:

“Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by:

(1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members . . .”
[Article XVII, Section 1(1)].

While the pertinent provisions of the 1973 Constitution and the 1987 (the present) Constitution are identical, the very natures of these assemblies under the two constitutions are not. The National Assembly under the 1973 Constitution being unicameral would have no choice but to vote jointly because for all intents and purposes it was just one assembly. It is not so as regards the present Congress under the 1987 Constitution, which is essentially composed of two houses or assemblies internally checking each other.

The Congress under the present Constitution is no different than the Congress under the 1935 Constitution. Therefore when the 1987 Constitution does not specify how Congress shall vote when constituting itself as a constituent assembly for the purpose of proposing an amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution, it is simply assuming the obvious, that is, that it will vote as a bicameral body as in the 1935 Constitution and not as a unicameral assembly as in the 1973 Constitution.

I have no access at this point to the debates among the commissioners who drafted the 1987 Constitution. But do those debates even matter if the people who ultimately approved the 1987 Constitution had in mind the structure of government under the 1935 that had served the country well rather than the discredited Marcos constitution of 1973 which they rejected?

As Justice, and later Chief Justice, Fernando used to say in our Constitutional Law class, “this simply indicates the clarity of vision being dimmed.”

Dimmed by what? Your guess is good as mine.