The Manila Times

A debt we owe ourselves

Second of 3 parts


WE don’t have the time or space now to go over all the constitutional issues that should be revisited at this point. Some are current and prospective; at least one has lapsed, and is now defunct. This refers to the provision that allowed Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel to claim they were “elected” in the Feb. 7, 1986 election — instead of having been merely proclaimed by the generals as “revolutionary president and vice president” during the EDSA revolt — and to continue in office by another six years, after their revolutionary stint was over.

This should not have happened, but it is beyond us now, and the parties, being both deceased, can no longer be punished for their offense.

The end-point of our discussion is the proposed shift from presidential to parliamentary government. What Cory Aquino’s concom failed to do in 1986, a new con-con should be able to do now. This means we will have to educate ourselves on the merits of the presidential and parliamentary systems. Despite the massive welcome for Bongbong Marcos Jr.’s (BBM) unprecedented presidential mandate, one cannot help but note that his presidency is not the same as, say, Rishi Sunak’s parliamentary government.

All comparisons are odious, but just to make one small point, after the 42-year-old Sunak became British prime minister on Oct. 25, 2022 he was able to form a complete government within days. For his part, BBM came to power on July 1, 2022, but until now has not been able to complete his cabinet. Amid rumors of a possible war between China and the US, with the possible involvement of the Philippines as an American ally and a provider of EDCA military sites to the US forces, the position of Philippine secretary of national defense remains unfilled, with a senior undersecretary acting as officer in charge of the Department of National Defense.

Amid an incipient food shortage and a recurring agricultural crisis, the President remains in charge of the Department of Agriculture for lack of a competent man to do the job; the Department of Health remains headless while trying to lead the country out of the Covid-19 pandemic; several early appointees to sensitive positions have either resigned or been fired for serious causes; and a number of high-profile murders have raised questions about state security, public order and peace.

Are the leaders of Congress trying to draw attention away from all these problems into something more positive? Thus, the entire House membership, from Speaker Martin Romualdez down to the last party-list member, has co-authored House Bill 7352 calling for the election of con-con delegates by October this year.

The only possible obstacle could come from a Senate group that might want a constituent assembly (con-ass) rather than a con-con to propose the revisions or amendments. This could be fueled by some senators who fear that a unicameral parliamentary system could abolish the Senate. Indeed, this is a real possibility in a unicameral parliament.

But the more important change, whether unicameral or not, is the shift from personality-oriented politics to issues-oriented politics, where the people can hold the government directly accountable on all the issues, and the prime minister, as head of government, can answer all questions in parliament during the Question Hour, and stay in office only for so long as he enjoys the confidence of parliament, and not because he has a fixed electoral mandate.

If the Senate must be abolished, we should try to live with it, as honorably and as painlessly as possible, fully aware that this great and noble institution, for all the many good things it has done, and for all the great and noble souls it has gathered under its wings, is not at all without blemish or guilt for which it has yet to make full amends.

In the 2012 Corona impeachment trial, then President B.S. Aquino 3rd paid off 19 senator-judges of the Senate impeachment court to convict and remove then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona on one questionable impeachment charge. They all came out smelling like roses at the expense of the poor and hapless chief justice. None of them disputed the official disclosure of the payoff, and only one or two apologized for it.

I thought that the uncontested disclosure should have voided the impeachment trial, led to President Aquino’s impeachment or ouster, and to the dissolution, or at least some extended prorogation, of the Senate. None of these happened. As we look forward to the incoming debates, I hope somebody will ask what really happened after EDSA ‘86.

As a former member of the Senate, I am looking forward to a spirited debate. In 1981, after I left the Cabinet, I remained in the Batasan and got drawn into the hottest public debate over the proposal to change the Marcos-type parliamentary government as written in the 1973 Constitution to a mixed system with a symbolic prime minister and a strong president. It was the opposite of what some lawmakers would like to propose now.

In the only all-media public debate on this issue at the time, I took the opposite side of the administration, as championed by a Bicolano former cabinet colleague who was also a dear friend. We met at Plaza Rizal in Naga City with representatives of the region in attendance. Within one hour into the debate, I was interrupted by applause 52 times, and after the debate, bodily borne on the shoulders of enthusiastic strangers from center-stage into my car.

When the people finally voted, they gave the amendment an overwhelming win all over the country, but dealt it a crushing defeat in Bicol. (To be continued on Friday, March 31, 2023)

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