NO TO CHA-CHA NOW. YES TO REAL CHANGE
A Peaceful Transfer of Power in 2010 Through Elections
June 9, 2009
ONE VOICE is a non-partisan movement of citizens who are very concerned about the political developments in our country since EDSA 1, especially in the aftermath of the 2004 elections. We all agreed, regardless of our personal preferences on other issues, that the solutions that were being offered to address the political situation appeared to serve personal or group interests more than the common good, and even endanger rather than strengthen our democratic institutions.
In July 2006, ONE VOICE opposed the so-called People’s Initiative on the ground that it was not a “genuine” people’s initiative (PI), was legally flawed and that the kind of parliamentary system being proposed would worsen the concentration of political power in the country. We opposed it all the way to the Supreme Court, as lead counsel for the oppositors, jointly with the Senate. The Supreme Court struck down the PI as unconstitutional,
The House of Representatives then attempted to convene a Constituent Assembly by arguing that the constitutional requirement of a “..a vote of three-fourths of all its members” can be met by the House alone by a vote of at least three-fourths of the combined number of congressmen and senators. The House attempt was withdrawn in the face of a national protest.
We had thought that, with the relative stability that followed the 2007 national elections, the government would pursue with purpose a non-partisan development agenda to address the growing poverty problem and inequalities, with a system that would develop and nurture leaders, and the bureaucracy, with a strong sense of the common good.
We continued to be open to the holding of a constitutional convention but the administration seemed to be disinterested in the idea.
We agreed to give political space to the Arroyo administration to take the necessary steps to restore the trustworthiness of our democratic institutions.
Instead, governance continued to deteriorate, institutions became weaker, and self-serving politics was increasingly the norm of behavior in public life. The administration repeatedly tested the constitutional boundaries of Executive power and stonewalled efforts to gain full public access to information involving questionable decisions/contracts amidst allegations of corruption in high levels of government.
And lately, even as the country began to feel the effects of a worldwide economic slowdown, with the poor being affected the most, even as key indicators showed that the economic gains that the country had been experiencing had by-passed the poor, the House of Representatives has chosen at this critical time to engage in political adventurism.
We had hoped that, by this time, the administration would be preparing the way for a peaceful and graceful transfer of power by June 30, 2010.
And so we ask: why is the administration resurrecting, through its majority coalition in the House, proposals for constitutional changes by the hasty approval of House Resolution no. 1109? The denials by Malacanang in this regard are simply not believable.
Many of our fellow citizens have commented on H.R. 1109 based only on what they have read or heard in media. We are therefore attaching H.R. 1109 as Annex A. and a list of those who signed it as Annex B.
What One Voice thinks about H.R. 1109
ONE VOICE views the contents of H.R. 1109, and its related developments as follows:
- We contend that there is no need for a formal call to convene a constituent assembly. Each legislative chamber, meeting separately, can conduct its own proceedings to pass amendments/revisions to the Constitution, with a three-fourths vote of its own members. Upon a reconciliation of the two versions in a bicameral conference committee and ratification by each chamber, the amendments can be forwarded to the Comelec for the holding of a plebiscite.
- Should “The Congress” (meaning both the Senate and the House in a bicameral legislature) choose to meet in joint session assembled and secure a three-fourths vote of each chamber, voting separately, the holding of a plebiscite would also be in order.
- Clearly, what happened is that the majority coalition could not secure enough congressmen amounting to three-fourths of the combined number of the Senate and the House to sign H.R.1109. If they had the numbers, the House could have passed the amendments / revisions and forthwith transmit the resolution to the Comelec for a plebiscite. At that point, there would have been a “justiciable controversy” on its validity.
- Any petition now on the basis of H.R. 1109 or after a House vote on an amendment / revision that is less than three-fourths of the combined number of the House and the Senate will likely not be entertained by the Supreme Court because it should not be a source of opinion on every potential controversy on the interpretation of any provision of the Constitution.
Possible motives for H.R. 1109
Why then did the majority coalition push for the approval of H.R. 1109? The answer is open to speculation and various scenarios, but the more probable motives are:
- H.R. 1109 is the latest attempt by the administration to test the boundaries of the law and of public opinion with the objective of staying in power;
- To provoke extreme action by those who oppose any constitutional amendment/revision at this time to excuse extreme counter-measures “in the interest of national stability”;
- To test the solidarity and loyalty of its political machinery for the coming presidential elections or any other political exercise;
- Because a deal has already been struck with enough members of the Supreme Court to give due course to any petition that raises the issue of justiciable controversy so that a ruling of a “joint vote” can be rendered.
Number (1) is the probable primary motive, given the political maneuverings of the administration in the past. Number (2) will result in turmoil and turbulence if those opposing H.R. 1109 take the bait and engage in non-peaceful protest. The statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in this regard emphasizing peaceful protest is therefore most timely.
With regard to Number (4), time is running out on the House. So those opposed to H.R. 1109 should not help trigger any action by the Court and instead wait for the House to create a real justiciable controversy. Should the Supreme Court allow Number (4) to happen, it would precipitate a constitutional crisis because that would be perceived as signalling the demise of an independent Court. The co-optation of the Court would be reminiscent of what happened during the Marcos dictatorship, the darkest period in our nation’s history. It would drive many people, especially the poor, into the camp of those advocating a change from the present democratic system to a “revolutionary government” that, as history shows, almost always evolves into an authoritarian state.
ONE VOICE is not against any amendment / revision to the present Constitution. ONE VOICE is not saying that any amendment / revision should only be done through a constitutional convention. But ONE VOICE believes that if the amendments/revisions involve major structural and policy changes that affect a substantial number of the provisions, such as a shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system or from a unitary to a federal system, or a change in economic policies that depart from the more nationalistic design in the present Constitution, or a change in the system against over-concentration of power, then such changes should be done through a constitutional convention rather than through a constituent assembly
Major changes by a constituent assembly, while allowed in the Constitution, will always be suspect under the present political environment. Amendments involving huge economic or political stakes can be the subject of back-room dealings, political trade-offs, even corruption. In a process, where changes can be done piecemeal like ordinary legislation and in private, the great majority of the people who are poor will have no voice. A constitutional convention on the other hand is conducted in public and continuous proceedings before the full glare of media and public scrutiny.
In this regard, as we suggested before the 2007 elections, the Congress should consider inserting a question in the 2010 elections asking the people if they want to hold a constitutional convention. If the answer is “NO’, it should settle the matter for the near future.. If the answer is “YES”, that should trigger, after the 2010 elections, the process of public education and discourse, and legislative committee hearings and consultations on proposed specific changes in the Constitution.
Constitutional change does not make sense now
This is not a time for major changes in the Constitution because of the high level of distrust by the people in the present administration. Why should they trust the administration, given its changing faces on the matter of amendments? Consider the following:
- It first proposed a shift to a parliamentary system with onerous transitory provisions in the so-called people’s initiative and told the people that the shift is the solution to all our problems.
- When that proposal was struck down by the Supreme Court, it then proposed a shift to a federal system on a nationwide scale as part of the implementation of the preliminary agreement with the MILF, which was subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional;
- Lately, the administration proposed the revision of the economic provisions of the Constitution as the solution to our economic problems for which a constituent assembly has to be convened with plenary powers to change anything in the Constitution.
We ask, why this particular proposal now? Foreign investors have time and again said that the critical factors to foreign direct investments (FDI) are:
- adequate infrastructure,
- skill levels (human capital),
- quality of general regulatory framework,
- clear rules of the game,
- fiscal determination,
- peace and order.
Changes in the constitution are not considered critical to their decision to invest. Moreover, for all intents and purposes the doors are open, such as 75 years lease for land, legislation (i.e. EPIRA which allows 100% foreign ownership in power generation), liberal interpretation of the rules (definition of capital), and the use of creative financial instruments (such as global depositary receipts).
With such deceptive tactics and fallacious reasoning, how can the people believe that the administration does not have another agenda and that it will abide by the self-limiting qualifications in H.R.1109 on amending the political provisions?
More important, the distrust is heightened by the track record of the administration on matters of greater or more direct concern to our people, such as:
- Its underperformance in the social justice agenda of the Constitution, such as in asset reform, i.e. agrarian reform, urban land reform and housing, ancestral domain and fisheries, as well as on education, health, and people empowerment;
- The increases in the incidence and numbers of the poor, and the increasing disparities in income and wealth, because the economic growth of recent years has by-passed the poor, unlike our neighbors
- The high incidence of extra-judicial and agrarian related killings in which the complicity of the military/police in many cases is suspect according to the reports of the Melo Commission and the UN Rapporteur;
- The damage done to our institutions and to the bureaucracy, especially to frontline agencies (civil service, office of the ombudsman, the courts) on the rule of law, by partisan political appointments and by the direct and indirect interference from, or circumvention of rules by, the appointing authority, which are part of the findings of the recently released Human Development Report 2008/2009 on Institutions, Politics and Development.
- The pervasive corruption and the increasing lack of transparency in public accountability, with all their adverse consequences to the plight of the poor. The Philippines has not been considered a functioning electoral democracy since 2007. (Freedom House Index)
Filipinos must be vigilant
ONE VOICE believes that, given the foregoing, this is not a time for political adventurism. This is a time to think deeply about the situation in our country and the common good, and to act resolutely to regain the promise and vision of EDSA 1. Twenty-three years after those glorious days, the promise and vision of a just and progressive society has not been fulfilled. In fact, in many ways, our politics and governance have retrogressed to the bad habits and addictions of the past. Somewhere along the way we lost the dream of a nation.
The road back to that promise and vision require:
- The 2010 elections must be held,
- Voters must register to exercise their right to vote,
- The elections must be free, fair and credible,
- The Arroyo administration must step down by June 30, 2010.
- We must choose new leaders with a total commitment to social reform, who have proven competence in governance and have the political will to do what is right by the people, regardless of the consequences to their interests. Otherwise, it would be more of the same thing with different faces, and the people cannot wait much longer.
These are the tasks to which we must devote our energies. These are the tasks in which we must all participate to accomplish, individually and collectively. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by unproductive posturings, or to be misled or to lapse into inaction by the political maneuverings and the rhetoric of self-aggrandizing politicians from all sides.We the citizens must start in the real tasks now.
We must, therefore, join the voices of others to make known to the Administration, the Supreme Court and the AFP/PNP that we are vigilantly watching them and further developments, however legally inconsequential H.R. 1109 may be.
Any attempt to derail, postpone or change the character of the scheduled 2010 presidential elections, or to introduce any form of authoritarianism, or to put priority on self-serving political objectives over the long-delayed social reform program, should not be allowed to prosper.
IT IS TIME TO REGAIN THE VISION OF EDSA 1. MAKING THE JOURNEY IS HALF THE BATTLE WON.
Panel of Authors of this document are: Christian S, Monsod (Chair, One Voice), Benjamin T. Tolosa (Ateneo Political Science Department), Manuel L. Quezon III (PDI columnist), Susan V. Ople (President, Blas F. Ople Institute), Vince Lazatin (Exec. Director, Transparency and Accountability Network), Rene B. Azurin (BusinessWorld columnist), Carlos P. Medina Jr. (Exec. Dir. Ateneo Human Rights Center), Grace G. Jamon (President,.Asso.of Schools of Public Administration), Yoly Ong (Chair, Campaigns and Grey)