Analysis by Raïssa Robles
Let me first greet you all a Happy and Fulfilling New Year!
Despite the harassment that’s been happening, I’m feeling optimistic about this year.
You see, I sense that Filipinos are slowly waking up to what’s happening – the killings, the viciousness, the thick faced impunity, the crude and blatant sharing of spoils, the corruption, the unfulfilled promises – and they’re speaking out more against these.
Which is why President Rodrigo Duterte and his political allies will try to move quickly this year to consolidate gains and political power. They cannot wait for 2019, which is when mid-term elections are scheduled.
They do not know if the political winds will suddenly shift against their favor and usher in an opposition-dominated Senate, at the very least.
Which is why House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has already announced that amending the 1987 Constitution is at the top of Congress’ agenda. Congress will try to place any proposed constitutional change as an additional issue that voters will be made to decide on in the coming barangay elections, which were postponed to this year precisely for the purpose. That I’m pretty sure.
Placing this as a rider to the barangay polls will distract people’s attention from the government’s charter change agenda.
Once the proposed constitutional change is passed, there is no longer any guarantee that the 2019 mid-term elections will push through.Because even now, Duterte’s allies are batting for a “transition period”, which of course will be under Duterte.
A “transition period” from a presidential form of government to whatever other form is a twilight zone where anything can happen. The 1987 Constitution with all its democratic safeguards will no longer be operational while the new form of government is yet to be operational.
All the powers of government will be in the hands of one man – Duterte.
The Philippines has entered this twilight zone twice before: in 1972 when President Ferdinand Marcos caused a new Constitution to be drafted according to his specifications, and in 1986 when President Corazon Aquino did the same but specified that the new Constitution should put up a democratic form of government with checks and balances. [The only area where the Cojuangco family probably meddled was in the constitutional provision on agrarian reform.]
The Filipino people have been fooled once with a “transition period” when Marcos never really transitioned from presidential to his promised parliamentary form of government. What Marcos set up was a dictatorship disguised as a parliamentary form of government.
All indications point to the fact that Duterte – no matter how he denies it – would like to hold authoritarian powers that would enable him to, among others,
1) approve joint oil exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea, which violates the 1987 Constitution;
2) enable China to lease vast tracts of land for decades (which would be tantamount to owning them). Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried to do this but was stopped by public opinion;
3) quickly approve build-build-build infrastructure projects without public bidding, in violation of existing laws;
4) choose his political successor, which violates the 1987 Constitution;
5) transfer public money at will without the current restrictions of the 1987 Constitution;
6) quiet most vocal opposition to his plans which violates the 1987 Constitution;
7) act without accountability by having a quiescent legislature and a gagged or compromised mass media.
Over the holidays, I was looking through the first ever book I had written. It was on the late President Elpidio Quirino entitled, To Fight Without End: The story of a Misunderstood President. I had meant it to be a study on state corruption.
A section leaped out from a page.
Following the Second World War, many residents of the Philippine capital Manila became nearly paralyzed with the prevailing fear of being overrun by the Huks, a communist guerrilla movement that leaned toward the Soviet Union and consisted mainly of peasant farmers from Central Luzon, the country’s rice bowl.
Lorenzo Tañada, who was then a young senator, sought to allay the fears and instill courage and action in the population. He said, according to the Philippine Free Press issue of December 31, 1949:
“The people can be aroused to the defense of democracy. They can be indoctrinated and organized. The Communists can do it with regard to communism, why not with regard to democracy.
* * * *
“The feeling of helplessness today constitutes one of the greatest problems of those who would save democracy in the Philippines. The people must somehow be taught that if they do not struggle, if they do not resist the forces of evil, then that is the end of their liberties. The thing to do is for men of good will to get together, to organize…When the right moment presents itself, we maybe able to take advantage of it…”
Tañada walked his talk. He resigned from the ruling Liberal Party, formed a Citizen’s Party, ran as an Independent and won.
Nothing is too daunting for the those who persevere and act.
Happy New Year!