Prospects for the Philippines

Manila Bulletin, January 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

Prospects for the Philippines


(Keynote speech at the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) January 16, 2006, Mandarin Oriental Hotel)

THE Philippines will be confronted with the following issues, which have to be resolved before the end of 2006.

The move to change the Constitution. The real battleground will be in the Senate.

What is the real agenda behind Charter change?

Again, we witness the proverbial "fixers" peddle exaggerated claims about the parliamentary form of government as our only deliverance from poverty and national decay and how Charter change is synonymous with progress.

To begin with, the cure to poverty is neither Charter change nor the parliamentary form of government.

There is certainly no link between the form of government and individual economic advancement.

It is indeed tragic that the goals of our political leaders and popular aspiration do not coincide. The people aspire for improved material welfare; they want justice, peace and equality. But with our leaders sunk in political careerism, we see the degradation of Congress into a mere maelstrom of appetites. Their maneuvers and objectives are far from subtle and their opportunism audacious; change the Constitution and shift to the parliamentary form of government to strengthen and preserve their hold on power.

What are the stakes? There are promoters of Charter change driven by nothing more than their insatiable desire for power and self-aggrandizement. They see the shift in the form of government as the backdoor entry to national leadership, where their presidential ambition had been once before irrevocably blighted by a magnificent defeat in the elections.

For GMA, it gives her the chance to hedge her bets on a temporary palliative of a soft landing, in case the clamor for her resignation or ouster escalates, or in the event the colossal weight of the Filipino people is once again unhinged by People Power.

GMA is well aware that the crust of the stability of her administration has been worn thin by the spate of scandals, the most recent of which is the Garci controversy. And the deepseated public cynicism about the motives of her government makes her hold on power all the more brittle. Charter change offers her a convenient exit scenario, albeit an alchemy solution that likewise transmutes her personal interest into a shining, self-effacing patriotic value.

GMA is haunted by the great irony of our history: That very instrument that brought her victory and delivered her the presidency, People Power, has also become the manacles of her destiny.

Come to think of it, the scheme works well for every one of the stakeholders; Charter change appeals to their own idea of glory as well as gain.

After all, as St. Augustine said, even a band of robbers must be equitable in its internal conduct.

I am opposed to Charter change. Charter change is the wrong idea, espoused by the wrong people for the wrong reason at the wrong time.

The only properly reverent reason for amending the Constitution is to revive those constitutional values that have been attenuated by time and political developments. In the United States, for example, there is a legitimate and valid move to amend their Constitution to provide for the explicit prohibition of the use of torture on all prisoners and detainees under custody of the U.S. Government.

Is the much-vaunted parliamentary form of government the guaranty for economic development and political stability?

The parliamentary form of government, whether the classical model or the French model, is ill suited for a country that does not have a strong party system securely anchored on party ideology and party platform.

Neither do we have a merit-based bureaucracy that should ideally provide the continuity and the backbone of public administration in the midst of the constant changes of government in a parliamentary system. …

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