A Time to Be Vigilant

Manila Bulletin, February 27, 2003 | Go to article overview
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A Time to Be Vigilant


MANY events transpired in February which perhaps explains why we have forgotten to celebrate Constitution Day.

Instead, several initiatives to amend the Constitution by Congress and private groups were organized. These include the Ambassador's Club together with the University of Asia and the Pacific and other like-minded groups which held a forum on constitutional amendments last Valentine's Day with former Ambassador Jose Romero, Diosdado Macapagal Professorial Chair holder as main lecturer. There were equally eminent speakers who presented the positive aspects of a parliamentary and federal form of government. This was followed by a Consultative Assembly on Constitutional Reforms together with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation which called for the Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass) as the mode for amendment. About 20 NGOs and 30 heads of organizations also came out in support of democratic and participatory constitutional reform and to Stop NoEl (No Elections), oppose the Con Ass, and Elect Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) Delegates in 2004.

It was also in February when violence erupted in Pikit, Cotabato leading to death casualties from both sides - the MILF and the government forces and hundreds of displaced families. I remember Pikit very well as I had visited the place at least twice - once during the Literacy awards for outstanding non-formal education teachers held at the Elementary School. It was a quiet and pleasant place then and I can imagine what the MILF attack had done to traumatize hundreds of school children caught in the crossfire. The MILF had terminated talks with the administration saying that any communication should be coursed through Malaysia. The government gave this ultimatum to the MILF - that if they strike again, they would be declared "terrorists." Hashim Salamat just recently declared war against the government and put a stop to ongoing peace talks.

How did we get into this state? How could our leaders have placed us in this mess? How could they have allowed the US government to deploy its troops numbering around 1,700 to actively fight the Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic insurgents? Our officials say that the soldiers are there for the 03-1 Balikatan exercises but some reports state that the officials in Washington had stated that they are there to participate in actual combat operations as per agreement between President Arroyo and US President Bush. In separate press conferences, Senator Aquilino Pimentel and former Sen. Francisco Tatad accused the President and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes of treason as they believe the latter had violated the Constitution.

Then there's the case of the consultancy and lobby group, Agile. We understand that as a lobby group which had worked with the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary in crafting bills and getting them passed, they were quite effective and powerful. During normal times, there would have been less paranoia about foreign-funded groups.

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