Burying People Power

News Philippines Jan 1, 2006 at 2:11 pm

By Center for People Empowerment in Governance

Constitutional amendments via a Constituent Assembly are likely to take place despite Senate resistance. When this happens it will finally put an end to the progressive legacies of EDSA 1 as these are contained in its most outstanding achievement, the 1987 Constitution.

Although EDSA 1 as an expression of People Power has been correctly criticized for its many failures, it nevertheless did produce a Constitution distinguished by nationalist provisions, a Bill of Rights that enhanced Constitutional protection of free expression, and the provision for party-list representation as a means of broadening the base of the elite-based political system.

As has been evident since agitation for amendments was initiated by former President Fidel Ramos over a decade ago, among the provisions of the 1987 Constitution being targeted for amendment are paragraph (2), Section 5, Article VI, which mandates party-list representation in the House of Representatives; Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony) which among others limits certain areas of investments to corporations that are 60% Filipino owned, and prohibits the grant of public utility franchises to corporations that are wholly foreign-owned; and paragraph (1) Section 11, Article XVI (General Provisions) which bans foreign ownership of the mass media.

This is in addition to the oft repeated and already proposed amendments to Articles VI (the legislature) and VII (The Executive Department) which would effect a shift from the presidential to the parliamentary system of governments and install a unicameral legislature. Additional provisions to effect these changes as well as the possible creation of a Federal system are likely to be proposed. All are likely to be adopted by a Constituent Assembly made up of the same self-seeking politicians now resident in the House of Representatives.

Constitutional amendments have been described as part of a supposed reformist effort to address the “weakness” of the 1987 Constitution. But they will make reforms not only even more difficult than they already are. They will make them almost impossible, not because Constitutional amendments are necessarily regressive, but because those proposing them—the worst of the country’s traditional politicians—are not interested in reform, but in stifling them.

Although it is not its primary aim, preventing changes in government through “People Power” uprisings is among the reasons for the proposal to shift to a parliamentary system, in which changing governments will supposedly be institutionalized rather than left to direct people’s action.

Former President Fidel Ramos and company began agitating for amendments to the Constitution over 10 years ago to keep Ramos in power. The target at the time was the abolition of term limits, which would enable Ramos to run for a second term.

The ban on a second presidential term was driven by Philippine experience, in which presidents used their first terms to campaign for a second. The framers of the 1987 Constitution rightly felt that one six-year term would be enough for a president to focus on his program of government rather than on being reelected.

The wisdom of that view has been validated by the case of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who came to power in 2001 with three years to complete Joseph Estrada’s unfinished term. Mrs. Arroyo spent the entire period preparing for 2004, utilizing in the process not only government resources but also the considerable clout of the presidency to prevail in the May 2004 elections.

Mrs. Arroyo herself joined the Cha-Cha charade only last July, when her presidency was on the brink of collapse. Charter change was the life-line Ramos threw her then, when he proposed that Mrs. Arroyo commit to them in return for Ramos’, House Speaker Jose de Venecia’s, and the ruling Lakas-CMD coalition’s support.

In her July 25 State of the Nation Address, Mrs. Arroyo thus threw her support behind Cha-Cha out of sheer self-interest, claiming that it wasn’t the political class and dynasties to which she belongs that are blocking reform and making elections a farce, it was the presidential system.

The Ramos-De Venecia-Lakas CMD scheme was simple enough. A shift to the parliamentary system would give Mrs. Arroyo a graceful exit if she wants it—or, as proffered her by the 55-person rubber stamp Consultative Commission she appointed, allow her to finish her term by making her head of state and president from 2007 to 2010. Depending on who does the amending of the Charter, every politico who will have to give up power under the elaborate system of term limits the drafters of the 1987 Constitution devised could stay in his or her post, and run again, this time under unspecified terms, and without any limit.

Ramos, De Venecia and company, with the not disinterested support of Mrs. Arroyo, also want to accelerate the globalization process primarily through the elimination of the nationalist provisions of the 1987 Constitution. The benefits the unrestricted entry of foreign capital can mean to the second most corrupt government in Southeast Asia are not likely to have been lost to them and their allies either.

The campaign for Constitutional amendments is thus being driven by the traditional politicians’ discovery, as early as the 1990s, that as imperfect as they are, most of the provisions of the 1987 Constitution meant to minimize control by the political dynasties and to limit their power, open law-making to marginalized sectors, and stem the tide of globalization, were somehow working.

It is the traditional politicians who are now moving heaven and earth to amend the 1987 Constitution. What their amendments will do is bury People Power forever by once more consigning the poor and their representatives in the margins of the political process, and restoring the monopoly of political power to the handful of families for whom the legacies of EDSA 1 have become a hindrance to their and their foreign patrons’ total dominance of Philippine politics and government.