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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's Time For a Change

PerryScope by Perry Diaz

As we close the year, we hear a lot of people say, "Thank God this year will soon be over." Indeed, 2007 is a year that most people would like to forget and just move on. A lot of events in the Philippines have made us to wonder: "Where are we heading as a people and as a nation?"

Many Filipinos have given up hope that our country will ever get out of the abyss of corruption and poverty. The recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia showed President Arroyo as the "Most Corrupt President in History." Arroyo was named as "Most Corrupt" by 42% of the respondents followed by Ferdinand Marcos at 35%, Joseph Estrada at 16%, Fidel Ramos at 5%, and Corazon Aquino at 1%. Arroyo's rah rah boys were quick to dispute the poll blaming the media for her poor rating. She needs to understand that she made the news and the media merely reported it.

While it can be argued that Marcos was more corrupt than Arroyo, the real significance of the survey is that almost one out of two Filipinos perceived Arroyo as unsuitable for the job of President. It was a vote of "No Confidence" on her performance notwithstanding all her pronouncements that the country's economic engine was revving at full speed.

There has been a call for "moral revolution" by several Catholic bishops and Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. A "technical working group" was formed and Fr. Romeo Intengan, a Jesuit academic of Ateneo de Manila, was appointed to head it. Fr. Intengan is the top ideologue of the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (Social Democratic Party of the Philippines) .

The group's initial meeting was attended by leaders of the Nacionalista Party (NP), Liberal Party (LP), Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD), Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI), Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP). The NP and LP are identified with the opposition and the rest are identified with the Arroyo administration. It's interesting to note that one of the representatives of Lakas-CMD was President Arroyo's brother Diosdado Macapagal, Jr. who, other than Fr. Intengan, was the only non-politician in the group. Did Arroyo send her brother to be her eyes and ears at the meeting and to report to her every word spoken at the meeting? It would seem that way.

One of the Nacionalistas' representatives, Deputy Majority Leader Crispin Remulla, was quoted as saying that the "NP believed certain things in government and society were needed to address the persistent problem of corruption." Yes, he hit the nail on the head; however, the question is: Can politicians change the way they govern? Can -- or would -- they eradicate corruption in government? We need to understand that the government is only as good as the people who run it. Bad leaders create bad government. So where do we start the change?

Recently, the House of Representatives, at the urging of Arroyo, revived the effort to change the constitution. Several resolutions and bills were filed for Charter change or "Cha-cha." One bill calls for a constitutional convention (Con-con) and another one calls for the adoption of the controversial constitutional amendments that were drafted by the Constitutional Consultative Commission established by Arroyo's Executive Order 453. A third bill calls for a people's initiative to amend the Charter.

Two year's ago, the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed a petition for a people's initiative to amend the constitution to replace the presidential system with a parliamentary form of government. The Supreme Court's decision stated that to allow the "constitutionally infirm initiative, propelled by deceptively gathered signatures, to alter basic principles in the Constitution is to allow a desecration of the Constitution." This was in reference to documented reports that those signing the petition did not know what they were signing. There were reports of signature-buying and coercion by barangay leaders. It further stated that "the great majority of the 6.3 million people who signed the signature sheets did not see the full text of the proposed changes before signing."

A lot of people are cynical of another attempt to change the constitution. Arroyo's call for Charter change was perceived by many as another attempt to alter the constitution in a manner that would allow her to stay in power beyond 2010 when her term ends. With her tight grip on the House or Representatives where 80% of the members are allied with her, any of the three Cha-cha proposals could easily pass. However, the opposition-controll ed Senate would block any attempt for Charter change. That would leave Arroyo with only one viable option -- people's initiative. She has done it before and she can do it again.

In 2005, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for a people's initiative because of flaws in the signature-gathering process; otherwise, the High Court would have approved it. So, all Arroyo had to do was to start another "people's initiative" that would incorporate a "process" acceptable to the Supreme Court.

If a "moral revolution" is to succeed, we need to have a clean slate in the 2010 elections. Under the present constitution, Arroyo is precluded from running for another term. And the only way that she could continue to rule is to change the Charter.

Indeed, Fr. Intengan's "technical working group" has a monumental task. The corrupt system is deeply rooted. A "moral revolution" would not succeed without a broad base of support. The "technical working group" should not be limited to political office holders and should include representatives of various sectors. Anything short of that would be perceived as another round of gimmickry by the ruling oligarchy.

The moral decay that has been eroding the nation's foundation needs to be stopped. It's time for a change.

(PerryDiaz@Gmail. com)

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