Constitutional amendments at this time will lead to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s remaining in power, a prospect dire enough to compel immigration to another planet. But there are other threats in charter change about which we should be no less fretful.
Three years after then House Speaker Jose de Venecia launched an attempt through a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, and despite the opposition of 79 percent of the population today, Mrs. Arroyo’s henchmen and women in Congress are still at it.
It doesn’t matter how little time they have left, as administration Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has said. They intend to launch their offensive when Congress resumes sessions after the Lenten break, in the arrogant certainty that they can convene as a constituent assembly without the Senate and that, when that’s challenged, the Supreme Court will rule in their favor.
The Constitution says amendments can be through such an assembly, provided it has the approval of two-thirds of all members of Congress. Because of Senate opposition to amending the Constitution now, Mrs. Arroyo’s allies have interpreted that to mean approval by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate voting together — or even without the Senate, since that body now has only 23 members compared to the House’s 238 — rather than each chamber voting separately.
Arroyo appointees now constitute the majority in the Supreme Court. By the end of the year, seven justices shall have retired. (Ruben Reyes retired last January 3, and Adolf Azcuna last month. He will be followed by Dante Tinga on May 11, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago on October 5, Leonardo Quisumbing on November 5, Minita Chico-Nazario on December 5 and Ma. Alicia Martinez on December 19.) Not all of them are or were Arroyo dummies. But their retirement does allow Mrs. Arroyo to so densely pack the Court Chief Justice Puno’s likely to be all by his lonesome self. Thus the confidence among Arroyo allies in the House that their interpretation of the Constitution will be upheld.
Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafuerte has filed the required resolution calling for a constituent assembly (aptly nicknamed “con-ass” — it’s a con by asses) without Senate participation, while House Speaker Prospero Nograles has reiterated his support for amendments to the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.
Nograles says that’s his only motive, and not the extension of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term, which amendments could make possible. Most people doubt that that’s his only intent. If it is, it isn’t exactly a cause for celebration as Nograles presumes. As the neo-liberal order disintegrates and makes protectionism the rational policy choice, paradoxically Nograles would amend the Constitution so foreigners can buy land and get into the media, among others.
Meanwhile, other administration congressmen say they favor amending Article III Section 4 of the Constitution, which protects press freedom and free expression, as well as the provisions on the declaration of martial law which the framers of the 1987 charter thought would make another dictatorship difficult. Others have said in so many words that they’ll do away with the party list system. Despite the efforts of those traditional politicians who despise democratic representation, that system has at least partly succeeded in giving the voiceless a chance to be heard, if not in the House itself, at least through the media.
Add one more reason to the need to oppose Constitutional amendments by this bunch. Although the prospect of Mrs. Arroyo and company’s staying on for God knows how long is dreadful enough, it’s not the only reason to fear charter change by the Arroyo gang in the House. Savaging the Constitution’s libertarian and protectionist provisions is not only an incidental possibility that’s likely as a result of the instinct for authoritarianism, corruption and subservience to foreign interests resident in the Arroyo coalition. It’s actually part of the over-all plan, now eight years in the making, to transform an admittedly flawed but nevertheless libertarian instrument into a tool of authoritarian rule.
The single most lasting legacy of the 1986 People Power uprising that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship and restored liberal democratic institutions, the 1987 Constitution’s libertarian provisions have been problematic obstacles to the political elite’s drive for unaccountable power, which it needs to accelerate and complete its plunder of the treasury and the country’s resources.
The provisions on transparency, public access to information and the protection the charter gives the media have been particularly problematic. Mrs. Arroyo and company have tried to get around these provisions through executive orders, threats, court suits, harassment, a declaration of national emergency and a policy of violence against dissenters which it didn’t even try to conceal until world attention made the rash of extra judicial killings embarrassing. Although there is no shortage of lawyers to argue that white is black, good evil and slavery freedom; policemen to arrest dissenters; and military brutes to torture and kill them, the Constitution in its present form has been an annoying hindrance to the full transformation of the Filipino people into the helpless prey of the vampires that have been drinking their blood since so-called independence. There’s no getting around it: not only to prevent any public accounting by staying in power, but more fundamentally to legalize its authoritarian rule will the Arroyo gang amend the Constitution.
Downplaying EDSA 1, and this year, even claiming that the world would condemn another EDSA uprising has been a constant theme of Arroyo. And yet EDSA 1 not only removed the Marcos tyranny. It was also the mother of the 1987 Constitution.
There’s a perverted logic to all this madness: the logic of greed, corruption and tyranny. It is that logic the people must see through as the campaign for charter change proceeds as planned. Charter change is all about keeping Arroyo and company in power. But it is also a conspiracy to discard and reverse the libertarian legacy of EDSA 1.