Friday, July 08, 2005

"O NGAYON, PA'NO NA?":A University of the Philippines Public Forum on the Current Political Crisis

(A blow-by-blow account of the forum held this afternoon in UP Diliman)

Typical of many UP gatherings of this kind, the opening remarks of the forum were greeted by boisterous calls ringing from outside the Faculty Center. I could only make out “Patalsikin si Gloria” and “Walk out! Walk out!” from the campus’ more militant youth organizations.

The speakers present were Congressman Joey Salceda speaking for the Arroyo administration, Joel Rocamora of the Institute for Popular Democracy speaking from the more progressive sector of Civil Society, Sanlakas national president Wilson Fortaleza from the more radical sector of Civil Society and College of Law professor Marvic Leonen.

Reactors present were UP Professors Teresa E. Tadem and Serena Diokno.

Congressman Joey Salceda:

“I am a husband caught in a loveless marriage. But I must stay for the sake of the children, and I am not leaving because there is no other woman.”

I do not envy Representative Salceda for having to come to UP, a know bastion for “radicalism,” in defense of the current administration. I do laud him for having tried his best to make GMA’s “offenses” forgivable. In an eloquent, articulate manner, he does not deny that there is cheating in elections. However, he vehemently denies that GMA called that certain Comelec Commissioner to change the result of the elections. Here is how he makes his case.

First, he laid down the wider context of how we came to our present predicament. We find ourselves in an economic bind because in the last four years we experienced (through no fault of our own or the present adminstration) the following:

1. Oil price increase to $25 to $60 today
2. The Federal Reserve’s nine-fold increase of interest rates (making our external debts increase also)
3. Increasingly rabid competition for international export markets (decreasing our ability to earn foreign exchange - dollars)
4. Four successive credit downgrades by ratings agencies such as Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s

This wider context has made GMA widely unpopular for the impacts all Filipinos must suffer. This compounds the President’s current predicament. The Congressman then says that while Cheating may have occurred in the 2004 elections, “it did not dictate the election outcome.” He then says that GMA made the calls to that Commissioner in order to assure that the Election Returns (ER) match with the COCs (Certificates of Canvass) then being tallied by the House of Representatives. He says that the issue is not about Cheating but about an Improper Conversation.

The Congressman from Albay then says “Let’s seize the moment to implement change.” And by change he proposes the following:

1. Reform
2. Perform
3. Go

By Reform, Salceda proposes we give GMA a 6-month probationary period to get her act together. He proposes a constitutional convention and a fact-finding commission.

Institute for Popular Democracy Director Joel Rocamora:

To Congressman Salceda: “The President really is in trouble. You seek to defend her without really defending her.”

Mr. Rocamora of the IPD speaks with the demeanor of one who has long been engaged in the struggle for social change. He speaks with calm, measured tones of one whose optimistic will battles with his pessimistic intellect. He makes his case as follows.

While GMA’s public apology may appease certain sectors of society, we must apply higher, more stringent standards of proper conduct from the President of the land. She is after all, the single most powerful individual whose decisions affect us all. A simple “sorry” is unacceptable.

Since 10 o’clock this morning, says Rocamora, the rules of the game has changed (“Iba na ang laro”). The question is no longer, “Should GMA resign?” but “How long will it take for her to fall?”

He continues, the cabinet members who resigned this morning are linked to the segments of Philippine Society who brought us EDSA 1 and 2. These people are the administration’s economic managers: the Finance Secretary, the Budget Secretary, the Trade Secretary, the Commissioners of the BIR and Customs. After their press conference they then proceeded to the Heritage Library in Makati. This, he says, may be interpreted as the tacit agreement of the Makati Business Club.

On our international credit ratings, we can’t afford the 6-month probationary period proposed by Congressman Salcedo because surely, our ratings will fall.

On Mrs. Aquino, Rocamora says she has been tasked to “neutralize that other widow – Susan Roces.” On the military, while the Police Generals from Crame has shown their loyalty to the President (as can be publicly seen on the Inquirer’s front page today), Camp Aguinaldo and the Armed Forces are an uncertain element. General Abat himself has proposed a military junta.

On the other political personalities jockeying for position (Jose De Venecia and former president Fidel Ramos): “The further you are from power in the next administration, the more you will push for constitutional change, and the more you will fail to do so.”

Lastly, Mr. Rocamora calls for a unification of Civil Society groups organized in UP and Ateneo (Kompil). If these two groups come together, they can inspire ordinary people to work for change of the system.

Sanlakas President Wilson Fortaleza:

“We want a transitional revolutionary government.”

The impassioned militant leader of Sanlakas rejects the following scenarios that may ensue should GMA resign:

1. Vice-President Noli de Castro takes over
2. Snap elections which will ultimately result in the same “trapo” leaders
3. Military junta led by General Abat

The transitional revolutionary government will hopefully lead to a change from elite rule to a true democracy, he says. The greater problem goes beyond the issue of GMA’s supposed cheating.

History Professor Serena Diokno’s reaction:

Professor Diokno animatedly says; it is more urgent to think of a post-GMA scenario. “The elite want to abide by the Constitution, but the constitutionally legal replacement is Noli de Castro, and they don’t like him either.”

More importantly, the good professor points out that people should not be afraid of the term “revolutionary.” When one hears the term one probably has mental images of angry red flags and burning effigies. Revolutionary was Cory Aquino’s provisionary government until the 1986 Constitution was finished. There is no reason to be afraid, she says.

UP College of Law Professor Marvic Leonen:

“Even if we reach EDSA 20, there is nothing wrong with making Presidents accountable.”

In an erudite and lucid manner that somewhat restores my respect for lawyers, the Law Professor states “Constitutional” does not just mean Impeachment. That is only one interpretation.

While Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law was challenged, it was ultimately adjudged “constitutional.” The 1986 revolution and radical change of government were deemed “constitutional.” Erap’s ouster in 2001 (even when he did not resign) and his replacement with GMA were also deemed constitutional by the highest court of the land.

In short, the present constitution is “flexible” in that it can accommodate an array of possible legal and constitutional measures.

On the question of whether the President has broken the law, Professor Leonen asserts that by merely calling a junior official of the constitutionally-mandated independent Comelec, GMA has breached the constitution.

Of the many impeachment options, the President is culpable in four:

1. Culpable violation of the constitution (for calling Garcillano). The Constitution assures the independence of the Comelec from political influence of all three branches of government. That is clear. “How can she have a lapse of judgement?”
2. Betrayal of public trust.
3. Bribery.
4. Graft and Corruption – persuading another official to do something contrary to law.

Lastly, Professor Leonen states that radical changes can also be constitutional. The constitution itself contains a radical element; you cannot check whether the new constitution coincides with the old one. Only in having genuine structural changes can we have a genuine democracy unlike the American model.


Professor Diokno: In speaking with the former Comelec Commissioner, Christian Monsod said Cory Aquino never ever called the Comelec and Erap called once to inquire about “procedures.”

Joel Rocamora: There are two questions we must answer.
1. What system should we change?
2. Who will lead this change?

Two core elements of Rocamora’s proposed Transitional Revolutionary Government (TRG) are:
1. Change of the political system to even the playing field, allowing for many other sectors to participate in government.
2. Anti-elite, a change in the balance of power in and among the many different classes.

In answer to his second question posed above, Rocamora says the “WHO” will be determined by the political and social struggle in the coming weeks.

This Blogger’s Own Thoughts:

It has taken me a long time to write anything about the Jueteng and Garci tapes fiasco. Perhaps suffering symptoms of People Power fatigue as many other members of the “middle class” (and I hesitate to use this term because whether an actual MC exists in the Philippines is debatable), I waited for more proof and more palatable options. Unlike 2001 where there seemed to be a tangible dragon to slay, today, enemies seem to come from all directions.

As my mood has been since the start of this year, I was deeply pessimistic of any outcome. A change in President does not assure a change in the system. It has happened twice before, and the results are the same. But who says we can't mount as many EDSAs as we want? Who says we can't oust as many Presidents as we want? The danger is in how the events of the coming days will unfold and Who will seize power. Noli? Loren? Erap? Susan? Abat? Lacson?

Who says the WHO can't be us, ordinary people? The only key, and perhaps the most difficult to do is, to take action now and to be not afraid.

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