As if we needed another reason to have nonviolent discipline.

This column appears every Thursday in BusinessWorld. The one below appeared on  June 11, 2009.

René B. Azurin


Obscene is the word that best describes what the public saw. But it wasn’t a “gang rape” as some thought to describe it. What we saw were 174 whores spreading their legs or bending over in unison in exchange for stolen loot. What politicos will do to obtain releases of their pork barrel is obviously without boundaries. Unlike honest prostitutes just trying to make it out of poverty, these political whores will not only sell their bodies, they will hock their unprincipled souls. Mephisto must have had a good harvest that day.

Exactly what is wrong with a unicameral parliamentary system was showcased vividly with the airing of House proceedings where representatives belonging to the pro-administration majority bludgeoned the minority and rammed through passage of a resolution for members of Congress to convene as an assembly to amend the nation’s Constitution. If we had in fact a single-chamber parliamentary government, then it would be all over and the ruling politicos would already have what they desperately want.

After viewing the vulgar display of how politicos will so readily sacrifice public welfare to advance selfish interests, no thinking Filipino should ever consent to a system of government where those in power can screw the public with even fewer restraints than are now in place.

But what exactly was the object of House Resolution 1109? If it was in fact to effect the desired shift to a parliamentary form of government or an extension in the term of the president by removing the ban on presidential reelection, it did not really advance that agenda one bit. With no more time to waste for that enterprise to succeed before the scheduled May 2010 elections, the imperative move was to already take up and approve the proposed shift to a parliamentary system or, alternatively, the deletion from Section 4, Article VII of the present Constitution of the sentence, “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection.” Of course, we know now from House insiders that the pro-administration majority could not then muster the required three-fourths vote to pass such a charter-changing bill. That being the case, one must wonder why they bothered to railroad the insignificant resolution 1109 and risk stirring up the public prematurely and, for their purposes, unnecessarily.

In fact, allocating reasonable periods of time for each of the processes necessary to implement the desired charter change will lead to the conclusion that this change is virtually impossible within the required time frame. For it to happen, the desired charter-changing bill must be filed and approved immediately after Congress resumes its sessions on July 27. This means that they must, by then, be able to muster 220 congressional votes. The Supreme Court must then favorably resolve in record time the main legal issue that will be raised against the bill (the “voting jointly versus voting separately” issue) and dispose (likewise in record time) all incidents and motions for reconsideration, the Senate must quickly approve a bill calling for a plebiscite and approve a budget for the same, the Commission on Elections must immediately schedule such a plebiscite in the prescribed “not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days” thereafter, the Supreme Court must quickly dispose any legal issues that will be raised against the conduct of the plebiscite, the Supreme Court must also quickly dispose any questions raised to it during the canvassing of the results of the plebiscite, and the results of the plebiscite must be proclaimed by the Comelec without any significant delay. All this must happen either before any candidate files a certificate of candidacy for the May elections in November or before the campaign period for the May elections starts in February (this timing is another issue).

The sheer formidableness of the time (and other) constraints against a successful charter change initiative at this time has led some rabid proponents to entertain the notion that the required plebiscite can be done simultaneously with the voting for the May elections. Under this scenario, the charter change proposal will incorporate a transitory provision that will effectively say that, if the charter change amendment is approved in the concurrent plebiscite, then the winners in the May elections will occupy certain new positions consistent with the amended Constitution, e.g., senators and representatives become members of parliament. Certainly, the legality of this will again be questioned in the Supreme Court. It would be conceptually simpler, probably, if the proposed charter change amendment will simply seek to remove the ban on presidential reelection.

In the former case, Mrs. Arroyo must presumably run for Congress in the May elections so that she will be a member of Parliament if she wins in her district and the shift to a parliamentary system is ratified in the plebiscite. In the latter case, Mrs. Arroyo must presumably file what is essentially a conditional candidacy for president, to become operative if the removal of the ban on presidential reelection is ratified. In both cases, this seems to be uncharted legal territory and serious legal questions will definitely be raised. A related (and crucial) one will be whether Mrs. Arroyo must resign her current presidency to run under a potentially amended charter.

It seems to me unlikely that presidential strategists will place their bets on all these difficult issues getting resolved and all these twisted pieces falling into place in the available time. In truth, the enormity of the hurdles to be breached leads me to believe that charter change is not the real object of the exercise. Any competent strategist will not put into motion a series of events if the chances of the desired final outcome are virtually nil and the potential consequences of failure are serious.

What then are they thinking? If we assume that hanging on to power is the primordial and non-negotiable object, the more realistically attainable option is a declaration of martial law. Under the current Constitution, this only requires a presidential proclamation that “the public safety requires it”. This initial declaration of martial law can stay in force “for a period not exceeding sixty days” but Congress, “voting jointly” and by a simple majority vote, may “extend such proclamation… for a period to be determined by Congress”. Of course, a provision exists allowing any citizen to question before the Supreme Court “the sufficiency of the factual basis for the proclamation of martial law”. Notwithstanding, what is required from both Congress and the Supreme Court under this option is conceivably easier than what will be required of them for an amendment of the Constitution in the manner envisioned.

On this track, the martial law declaration must ideally take place because of widespread violence erupting as a result of disputes related to the May elections. A failure of elections can then be used to justify (or at least rationalize) the continued holdover of incumbent officials, including the president.

In the end, what all this means is that most of our politicians do not seek or occupy their positions of power because of principle or policy goals. They are there simply because positions of power allow them to put their snouts in the trough of political spoils. This is a tragedy.

A list of the congressmen who voted for Resolution 1109 is circulating in the Internet. Get a hold of this list so you will know who these political whores are. Then, you can choose to not play golf with them, not talk to them at social gatherings, and not vote for them come May. They must be considered enemies of the people.

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