Thursday, June 18, 2009

Prime Minister, anyone?

One reason, it is said, why Ferdinand Marcos stayed in power far beyond his unprecedented second term was because he had seen how badly our former presidents and especially former first ladies were treated by the snooty rich and he would have none of it. Now, one question being put to our prematurely campaigning presidential aspirants in some inane TV forum is, “If elected, will you send Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to jail?”

That is no incentive for the outgoing and termed-out president to think of riding into the sunset or writing her memoirs. One current text message fires its own bullet: “Amend the Constitution now and allow two terms for the President: the first one in office, the second in jail.” Mrs. Arroyo has to think of life after Malacanang, and that’s what we are seeing right now.

It would be a violent trampling of the Constitution if Mrs. Arroyo tried by any means to extend her term as president. She knows it will not fly, so she won’t do it. But nothing prevents her seeking a change in the Constitution to allow her to stay on. The Russians and some Latin Americans have done it, so Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives are eager to have a constitutional shift to parliamentary government where she could----not necessarily would---- become prime minister (PM).

There are several steps. 1) The House proposes the appropriate constitutional amendments without the Senate; 2) the Supreme Court (SC) rules that the procedure, if and when questioned, is constitutional and correct; 3) a plebiscite is held and the people ratify the proposed amendments; 4) parliamentary elections are held in which Mrs. Arroyo is elected Member of Parliament (MP); and 6) Mrs. Arroyo is elected PM by her peers.
The plan could miscarry if: 1) the House excludes the Senate from the process and the SC says no, it cannot be done; or 2) the SC says it is all right but the people rise in protest and throws out the entire government, including all the justices; or 3) the process goes all the way up to a plebiscite but the people reject the proposed shift, and their votes are counted and reported accurately by the Commission on Elections (Comelec); or 4) their votes are misreported and they rise in revolt.

The parliamentary scenario is repugnant to many, not necessarily because of what is being proposed but rather because of its timing. Not now, says the sign in many places. They do not want Mrs. Arroyo to benefit from it, that’s all. “Kami naman,” they say. Despite her reputed unpopularity, however, Mrs. Arroyo remains the strongest political player who is in a position to dictate her terms. She has survived all challenges and left no real challengers standing except for a few showbiz-oriented characters who are busier posing for their TV ads than having a real impact on our people’s lives.

She will stay in power if she can, and we will just have to stop her if we can. As the process is constitutional, we will have to use constitutional means. That means meeting the parliamentary proponents in open debate on the floor of the House, in the media, and ultimately in court. Should we fail, we could either submit gracefully or take up active resistance. But the result of the latter is not predictable and the consequence of failure incalculable and usually more than unpleasant. And what if the people do not respond at all?

Should the initiative prosper and the people accept it, we will have to elect MPs, one for each district. Mrs. Arroyo could then run in Pampanga, Pangasinan, Quezon City or Iligan. If Pampanga, which is our best bet, Governor Ed Panlilio, the priest-turned-politician who now wants to become president also, will have a rare opportunity to frustrate her bid, if he is truly as popular in Pampanga as he appears to be in some unorthodox small circles in Metro Manila. That would cut her off the prime ministership, without necessarily making the giant-killer a prime ministerial candidate.

Should Panlilio fail to stop her, she surely becomes material for PM. But only if her party wins most of the seats, or failing that, if her party coalesces with other parties to form the majority bloc. Becoming PM then is not a given and cannot be assumed as such. It will be up for grabs, and Mrs. Arroyo will have to fight for it. Others could contest the prime ministership.

For example, Danding Cojuangco of NPC, who missed the presidency in 1992, could become an MP and seek the PMship. So could former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, without having to worry about the legality of his becoming head of government again. So could former President Fidel V. Ramos, if he’s still strong with Lakas. So could Manny Villar, Mar Roxas, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, MMDA’s Bayani Fernando and everyone else who wants to become president. Even Smart’s Manny Pangilinan and former Speaker Jose de Venecia could also join the fun. They could all coalesce just to deny Mrs. Arroyo the PMship, if they want.

The only real problem is that these are politicians divided by a common ambition, and they seem to have carved their political motto upon stone: “Divided we stand, united we fall.”

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Will you march for the senators and “presidentiables?”

We hold an unbroken record of losing our battles to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but there is still no sign we have learned our lessons well. We call her names, crack all sorts of nasty jokes against her, denounce her as evil, but she has outplayed all her adversaries and she could very well do it again.

The latest row is about House Resolution 1109 “calling on members of Congress to convene for the purpose of proposing amendments to or revisions of the Constitution.” This has produced a rally in Makati, screaming news headlines and fiery broadcasts, editorials and commentaries, but very little understanding of the real situation on the ground.

The resolution has all the virtues of a beginner’s piece in English composition, but it is not criminal at all. It is suspiciously devious, but it contains no constitutional proposal at all. It does not say the House of Representatives alone will propose constitutional changes without the Senate, even though that could be the congressmen’s intention. The protest anticipates the offense.

HR 1109 recalls that under the 1935 Constitution, “the Congress in joint session assembled, by a vote of three-fourths of all Members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives voting separately may propose amendments.” Under the 1987 Constitution, however, “any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members.”

This means that while the Congress previously could not propose any constitutional amendment unless the two Houses first assembled in joint session, it can do so now, without the two Houses sitting together. There is no need for HR 1109 at all. The only thing needed is for every proposal to be supported by at least three-fourths of all the members of Congress, which is bicameral.

This means 18 of the 24 senators and 201 of the 268 congressmen, or a total of 219 lawmakers out of the 292 total membership of the two chambers. Now some congressmen theorize that if the House could muster all of the 219 votes from among themselves alone, then there would be no need to involve the Senate at all.

That view appeals to some, but overlooks one thing. Even if all 268 congressmen should support an amendment, that would represent the vote of one House only, i.e., one-half of the Congress, and not the entire. If the two Houses sit together and vote as one, that’s another story altogether. But since the Constitution does not require them to sit in joint session, they have to vote as they sit where they sit, which means separately. Should they decide to sit together for reasons of convenience, they would still have to vote separately as though they were not sitting together.

As of now, the House has done nothing to create a justiciable issue which the Supreme Court (SC) may be asked to rule upon. My fear, however, is that should the House proceed in that direction, there could be any number of decent people who would not mind the SC upholding its position just because they believe the Senate, which cannot seem to enforce its own rules on almost anything now, and has the most number of prematurely campaigning “presidentiables,” has become a major part of the problem and may have lost its reason for being.

The senators who are promoting themselves to become the “opposition’s” bet in 2010 are the very same ones who destroyed the opposition in 2007. That is their undisputed achievement. They were part of the farce where three political parties ran senatorial candidates in the two opposing camps. The NPC had Tito Sotto and Tessie Oreta in the administration and Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Sonny Osmena and Nikki Coseteng in the opposition. Manny Villar’s NP had Ralph Recto in the administration, and Villar and Alan Peter Cayetano in the opposition. Mar Roxas’s LP had Mike Defensor in the administration and Noynoy Aquino and Kiko Pangilinan in the opposition. (Kiko later declared himself independent.)

We had not seen anything as gross and as unprincipled before, but not a single one of them said it was wrong. That was the first death of the opposition.
After the election, Villar confected an alliance with the administration senators in order to become Senate president, thereby reducing the numerically superior opposition into a minority. That was the second death of the opposition. Now Villar, Escudero, Legarda and Roxas want to be seen as the luminous knights of the “opposition”? It ought to be a capital offense for any politician to presume they can fool all the people all the time.

The conflict today is no longer between the administration and the bogus “opposition.” They are all in it together, divided only by their common ambition to continue Mrs. Arroyo’s program. Not one of them wants to dismantle the status quo, not one wants the system changed. The real conflict now is between the sitting national politicians and the Filipino people. The people are the real opposition now ---opposition to the administration and the bogus “opposition.” Many of our people would still take to the streets if needed, but not likely for the preservation of the Senate and its sex video-viewing members or for the glory of any of the “presidentiables.”