CLEAR THE TABLE FIRST!

by: CHERYL L. DAYTEC-YANGOT

At this time, we need charter change like we need a hole in the head.

Whether the change is to be proposed by a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly, the result is the same: it will provide an opening for Gloria Arroyo to mess with the Constitution and consign the Filipinos to more years in the economic and political desert called the Arroyo Regime.

On the occasion of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines Alumni Association reunion last week, I had the privilege to chat with RFM Food Corporation President Jose "Joe Con" S. Concepcion, Jr. He said that if it is unavoidable to change the constitution, he prefers a Constitutional Convention to Congress acting as a constituent assembly. According to him, proposed constitutional amendments will be reflective of the people's will when coming from a constitutional convention because the members are elected by the people.

But so are the members of Congress. Theoretically, they are representatives of the people. Perhaps, JoeCon did not tell me that he believes, as I do, that Congress, particularly the House of Representatives has long ceased to articulate the people's issues. It chose to be Arroyo's sycophant, her weapon against the Filipino forces out to dislodge her, her asylum from political doom. It is nauseating how its members can cavalierly throw out an impeachment complaint like it were some piece of trash. In 2005, some of the Representatives even had the gall to say they were voting against impeachment for the sake of their children and grandchildren.

Even a Constitutional Convention may turn out to be Arroyo's lapdog. What guarantee is there that elections for Concon members will float up the people's will? In this country, elections are sham proceedings. Were they free, clean and honest, Arroyo would not be calling the shots in Malacanang. With the desperation with which she wants charter change, she can field candidates as she fielded party lists of her political mold. Then she can just make a call to COMELEC Commissioners. And many of the COMELEC commissioners are not exactly above question. But again, that is precisely why they were appointed. The Arroyo Regime can survive when the moral fiber of the institutions in this country are weakened. And it has so far flourished because the courts, the House of Representatives, the COMELEC among others have been morally debilitated by electoral fraud and political appointments.

Charter change is neither about solving the Mindanao crisis, nor about boosting the economy as House Speaker Prospero Nograles claims. Didn't his boss boast not more than once that the Philippine economy has never been better? Stripped naked, the "cha- cha" moves are about Arroyo's obsession to cleave to power. And she has reasons to extend her term, not the least her desperation for impunity. Her crimes against the Filipino people are myriad and power is her only shield from prosecution. She believes that while President, she is immune from suits even if the Constitution, unlike the previous ones, has no provision to this effect. There is a Supreme Court all too willing to sustain this illusion of hers. The surest buffer from old age in prison is a lifelong claim to the presidency. That requires charter change, unless she declares martial law as some fear.

I have another reason to believe that "cha-cha" is about impunity. The Philippines already signed the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court. All that is left to make the Philippines a party to the treaty is for Arroyo to indorse it to the Senate for ratification. Deliberately, she is sitting on it. Why? She is succumbing to US pressure, some quarters suspect. George Bush, to dodge liability for the terror acts he committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, unsigned the treaty. But I suspect that the US pressure is not nearly as important as Arroyo's selfish reasons. Under the treaty, she may be held liable for the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances committed under her watch, even while she is sitting President. Before the ICC, the Arroyo Supreme Court cannot come to her rescue to cloister her from criminal suits. She cannot invoke immunity. The thick shield of impunity with which her government is committing human rights violations will be smashed once the Philippines becomes a party to the Rome Statute.

Desperately, Arroyo has contrived every situation possible to justify charter change. The worst is the failed memorandum of agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. She dangled some promises that not only she could not keep but also she would not keep. The MILF, driven to extreme anger, ran amok and massacred people.

The mass slaughter fitted well into Arroyo's plans. At last, an excuse for charter change was delivered to her in a silver platter, never mind if it was drenched in the blood of the innocent. And she said, "The problem in Mindanao justifies the need to shift to federalism."

You do not just shift to federalism at the snap of Arroyo's finger. The country's fundamental law which provides for a unitary government has to be amended. When Arroyo preached on the merits of federalism as the solution to the Mindanao question, she was campaigning for charter change. She wants it so much, and when she wants it so much, it must be bad for the nation.

I heard the arguments for charter change and I must admit that some are worth pondering. But before we talk about charter change, let us first clear the discussion table.

While the clutter called Gloria Arroyo is all over the table, the discourse cannot begin.

(This article also appears in the Northern Dispatch Weekly.)
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