MANY people thought that Consultative Commission (Con Com) members had pulled a slimy trick in recommending that there be no elections in 2007, a move familiarly coded as No-El. They were supposed to be recommending changes to the Constitution yet they behave as though Charter change is fait accompli and a new Constitution is now being implemented.
In the first place, their entry into the scene is an aberration. Charter change is something the legislative body is supposed to initiate. But here is Madame Gloria M. Arroyo, who had heretofore showed resistance over Charter change and its direct impact on reducing her term, now creating a Con Com even if this is outside of the jurisdiction of the executive branch of government. Moreover, there is no budget allocation for the creation and operation of such an oddity as the Con Com.
First, the Con Com usurped the congressional function of amending the Constitution. Now, Madame Arroyo’s Con Com proceeds to override the provisions of the 1987 Constitution that mandate the holding of elections in 2007 for all local government and congressional seats and half of those of the senate. For a nation that has never ceased to be shocked at seeing the extent to which Madame Arroyo is willing to go just to remain in power, this latest episode does not come as a shock at all.
The forming of the Con Com raised many eyebrows. The suspicion that it was formed in order to serve Madame Arroyo’s personal agenda could not be avoided as the list of nominees included some of her staunch defenders as well as people representing allied interests. Other than the controversial No-EL proposal, the Con Com draft included provisions that would undermine the freedom of speech – a move that Madame Arroyo has been undertaking in many forms which include her Executive Order 464 (effectively banning officials of the executive branch from appearing in congressional investigations).
So we ask ourselves:
1. How come Madame Arroyo is so keen on steering the Charter change process with the creation of the Con Com?
2. What is the big deal behind the No-EL proposal?
Why the Con Com?
Despite Madame Arroyo’s previous aversion to Cha Cha for the simple reason that this is one bloodless but sure way of shortening her term, creating a friendly Con Com promises to secure her against her fears. Since she can’t beat the existing process, she customizes a Con Com which will allow her to be in control.
When former president Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) and Speaker Joe de Venecia (JDV) proffered Charter Change (Cha Cha) as a most feasible face-saving alternative to overwhelming calls for her resignation in July last year, the proposition carried with it the unsavory prospect of an abbreviated presidential term. Since it was Joe de Venecia’s Congress that saved her from impeachment, she could not too easily renege on her word to abide by Cha Cha.
Of course since these two proponents (FVR and JDV) of a shift to a parliamentary system are also the most likely claimants to the throne of prime minister, it goes without saying that Madame Arroyo would have become very wary of the two people who stand to benefit directly from the move to reduce her term.
However, the shift to a parliamentary system is not altogether unpalatable for Madame Arroyo; not when one considers the temptation to further stay in power even after 2010. Thus for Madame Arroyo, the Cha Cha is acceptable if the following can be arranged:
1. That she is allowed to stay until 2010.
2. That she can run for parliament after 2010 and aspire to be prime minister.
Thus the creation of the Con Com is the first big step to control the process that will effect Charter change. Having set the agenda through the Con Com’s recommendations, Madame Arroyo can easily outmaneuver JDV’s forces in Congress to follow the Con Com draft. After all, Presidential patronage can always outbid the one offered by a House Speaker.
Why the big fuss about No-EL?
The 2007 elections are being scrapped not to hasten the creation of a parliament but to prevent the opposition from defeating the administration candidates in the mid-term elections and gaining the majority, especially in Congress where impeachment is initiated. In fact, Madame Arroyo’s desire to stay on until 2010 is served by delaying the transition to a new Constitution. However, the scrapping of the 2007 elections has a more compelling rationale – one that is dictated by the demands of political survival.
The political milieu following the Garci tapes scandal found over 60% of Filipinos wanting Gloria Arroyo out and about 80% believing that she is not the duly elected president. Add to that the threat of junior AFP officers to intervene and an increasingly hostile Senate. All these bolster the prospects of the opposition in the local, congressional and senatorial elections of 2007. It does not take a political genius to see this happening and under this current climate of public outrage – not even Garci’s return to the COMELEC can prevent it.
An opposition rout of the administration candidates will be like déjà vu of the opposition’s victory over Marcos’s Nacionalista Party in 1971 which left Marcos no other recourse but to declare Martial Law in 1972. Following the Plaza Miranda bombing of the Liberal Party (the then opposition party) proclamation rally, an expected 6-2 Nacionalista Party win in the 1971 Senate race turned out to be a 6-2 Liberal Party victory instead. Marcos, who was planning to field his wife Imelda in the 1973 presidential elections as his plan A for staying in power, had to revert to plan B – declare Martial Law.
In the likely event of an opposition sweep of the elections in 2007, Madame Arroyo will be facing the gruesome prospect of an impeachment case against her, one which will most likely prosper. Arroyo’s allies will want to escape the punishing effects of a backlash and will be forced to abandon ship. The opposition will not need to win over 100 seats in Congress to clinch the majority because many of the 158 ‘junk-impeachment’ congressmen will be switching sides in order to remain in office.
In the eyes of the world, the results of the 2007 elections – assuming an opposition win – will convince them that Arroyo never had a 2004 mandate and should therefore go. For the majority of Filipinos who prefer to abide by processes that they are familiar with – elections being one of them – the 2007 elections will be the means by which they can register their disgust over the stealing of the 2004 elections and the massacre of the impeachment case against Gloria M. Arroyo.
Expect a re-alignment of opposition forces in 2007. The opposition will not just be the Marcos and Estrada remnants that are ensconced underneath the protective shelter of the LDP, PMP and PDP-Laban parties. There are the Liberal Party and the Nacionalista Party to reckon with. In fact, the Liberal Party and the Nacionalista Party offer a far greater threat to Gloria Arroyo than the three opposition parties of the LDP, PMP and PDP-Laban.
The LDP, PMP and PDP-Laban are tainted which is why Madame Arroyo could not be ousted. They neither inspire confidence nor deserve public trust for fielding Joseph Estrada in 1998 and Fernando Poe, Jr. in 2004. On the other hand, the Liberal Party and the Nacionalista Party do not carry such a baggage and can harp back to a period when they produced some of the brightest stars of the old republic when the Philippines was the showcase of democracy in Asia.
Although the Liberal Party and the Nacionalista Party are extensions of the elitist brand of politics that underpin our failed democracy, still they boast of having produced leaders whom the people respected and trusted – Presidents Manuel Quezon, Sergio Osmena, Manuel Roxas, Ramon Magsaysay and Senators Claro Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, Benigno Aquino, Jr., Jose Diokno, to name a few. These are names that the younger generation of Filipinos read about and learn in school as the founding fathers of Philippine post-World War II independence and democracy. It was during their era when the Philippines held the rank of being the second leading economy in Asia.
These two parties can easily weave a romantic tale that our disillusioned people will gladly grab. They can claim a past that most Filipinos can latch onto as a way of bridging to a better future. This, of course, is far more enticing than the hopelessness of the present under the Gloria M. Arroyo era.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org