The entire country should no longer be outraged by the remarks, acts and decisions of Raul Gonzalez, the so-called secretary of justice. The great tragedy of mankind—and it seems especially true of that part of it called Filipinos–is that it can get used to anything, whether great suffering, meaningless deaths, corrupt politicians, or putrid governance by incompetents. Apparently, however, Gonzalez still takes getting used to. That is why his “advice” to Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban last week outraged many sectors, including those opposed to amending the Constitution.

In response to Panganiban’s admission that the Supreme Court was being pressured on the “people’s initiative” issue by “people who are interested,” Gonzalez said Panganiban should limit his socializing as well as his contacts with the media.

“I don’t think the Chief Justice should be attending socials, except those related to the functions of his office,” Gonzalez said. Neither should he be revealing, or commenting on, the pressure the Supreme Court’s getting in connection with the Malacanang and House drive to amend the Constitution.

Gonzalez could of course take refuge in his right to free expression—or the very same right his department and the Arroyo regime would deny others. But his advice did seem presumptuous. The Chief Justice is after all still the most respected official of the Philippine government, and Panganiban’s a veritable god compared to the likes of Gonzalez and his fellows in the Arroyo Cabinet.

Sure, Panganiban’s an Arroyo appointee himself, but when it comes to the Supreme Court, critical Filipinos are prepared, and even eager to believe, in the independence of its justices.

That belief did suffer some damage during the Marcos years, when, in an unfortunate “lapse in judgment,” the then Chief Justice shielded Imelda Marcos from the freckling rays of the sun by holding a parasol over her head. But despite some doubts over some Court decisions since 1986—for example, when it reversed itself in 2005 over the Constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995 (RA 7942)—it has regained some of its reputation for the independence and fairness it enjoyed before the martial law period.

Gonzalez’ own reputation hardly qualifies him to offer advice to the Court, not only his appointment, but most of his statements and decisions on matters of law as well being so outrageously partisan he’s making the word “justice” as meaningless as “the rule of law”.

Not that Gonzalez was the only one “advising” the Supreme Court last week. The de facto President of the Philippines also made it perfectly clear how she wants the Supreme Court to decide on charter change last week, and so did the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Both in effect urged the Court to reverse its 1997 ruling on the “people’s initiative” issue, when it declared RA 6735 inadequate to permit a people’s initiative in amending the Constitution. And both did so at the same forum where Panganiban himself was in attendance.

At a dinner for delegates to the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity hosted by the Supreme Court and attended by justices from other countries, Mrs. Arroyo pushed hard for constitutional amendments by once more arguing, as she has done in other forums, that a shift to the parliamentary system would put a stop to “politics as usual” and would “build a modern Philippines.”

In his speech during the closing of the Forum last week, House Speaker Jose de Venecia for his part repeated the same bizarre claim in an outburst of rhetorical flourish worthy of a high school declamation contest.

Implying that constitutional amendments would lead to the liberation of the peasantry, the reform of the educational system, and an economic miracle, de Venecia asked, “What are we to say to the millions of peasants still yoked to the land, to children in substandard schools…the millions of our men and women who, working in foreign lands… ache for the warmth of their homes and the love of their spouses and children?” (Those who know the real answers to those questions should send the Speaker an email message detailing the exact steps that need to be taken in solving this country’s economic woes, starting with changing its presumptive leaders.)

Addressing the Supreme Court directly, de Venecia went on to argue that the entire future of the country depended on amending the 1987 Constitution—implying thereby that it’s the biggest obstacle to “modernization”.

“I beg you to decide these questions with your hearts and minds. Whether our country is to have a new beginning or stay in the same political rut in which it has been trapped this half century, this question is in your hands (to decide).”

Neither de Venecia nor Mrs. Arroyo mentioned that “politics as usual”—i.e., “the same political rut in which (the country) has been trapped this half century”—is the doing of the very same political class of which they’re such eminent representatives, however. Instead, they not only implied, but explicitly argued that changing the presidential system into a parliamentary one in which the same dynasties will be dominant would make a world of difference.

If this as well as Gonzalez’ attempt at shutting Panganiban up indicate anything, it is how close to crunch time is the conspiracy to amend the Constitution, and therefore how desperate its instigators are. The scramble for the 2007 elections under the auspices of the presidential and bicameral system will soon kick in. House support for “Cha Cha” despite a favorable Court decision will crumble before that and the reality that amendments can’t possibly be in place in less than three months—when the official campaign period for local and senatorial elections begins. The prospects for Cha Cha are dimming. That’s why they’re pulling out all the stops.

Luis V. Teodoro

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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