What we are seeing in the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on fundamental questions is a legal system painfully weaning itself away from extra-legal influences. It is understandable that some of the magistrate’s opinions, if not the decisions themselves, have been rather sharp in language. I view this as the Court’s way of serving notice that it will not by any means serve as an adjunct of the executive, or an extension of the political.
This is the only way law can function as a stable reference point for lawful behavior in a complex society. The politicians’ loss is society’s gain.
After the trashing of Sigaw ng Bayan’s attempt to change the Constitution through people’s initiative (P.I.), the politicians allied with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are now planning to achieve the same end by convening Congress as a constituent assembly (Con-Ass). Everyone knows this cannot happen without the clear consent of both houses of Congress. In spite of this, they will unilaterally go ahead with Con-Ass, knowing it will be challenged, but hoping that this time the Supreme Court will favor them. The Court will have to perform the most convoluted form of legal reasoning to be able to justify convening a one-chamber constituent assembly in a bicameral legislature. If this is the same Court that gave us the final word on EO 464, PP 1017, CPR, and P.I. – one wonders what else it can do with a deviant Con-Ass except to junk it.
It is obvious it will not fly, except on the wings of fraudulent logic. The administration has got to be playing a deeper game to justify the expenditure of precious political capital in futile exercises like these. What might this game be?
I think that the object of all this, in the final analysis, is to win public acceptance for a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) whose delegates are to be elected in the May 2007 elections. The protracted battle for regime survival will then shift to the floor of the Con-Con, thus pre-empting another attempt to impeach Ms Arroyo. I think she knows that the May elections next year will definitely not yield a pro-GMA Senate. And that for as long as there is a Senate, it will always be a threat to her. Therefore it makes sense to write the Senate out of the pages of the Constitution.
The election of Con-Con delegates then becomes more crucial than the senatorial race. Because this follows the same route as the election of congressmen, its outcomes are going to be basically governed by the realities of local politics. This terrain, as we all know, is one that Ms Arroyo has been able to control in the last five years through massive infusion of funds. Unless the public is able to elect independent-minded individuals to the Con-Con, the likelihood is that the convention is going to be dominated by Ms Arroyo’s surrogates and will follow a Malacanang script.
All this is to say that Charter change by any mode while Ms Arroyo is president is bound to be distorted by the imperatives of regime survival. She will not be content to stay in power until the end of her current term, because precisely her survival as president until 2010 has come to depend entirely on her ability to remain a dominant power player beyond 2010. Moreover, because of the manner in which she has conducted herself as president, it is now impossible for her to retire to private life like former President Cory Aquino and not be hounded by all kinds of criminal suits. This is the same reasoning that might have impelled her to run in the 2004 election despite an earlier pledge that she would not stand for the presidency after serving the unfinished term of the ousted president.
In many ways, Ms Arroyo has already recovered a lot of ground by being able to divert public attention away from the crisis spawned by the manipulated presidential election of 2004. Her ability to take the offensive has worked as her best defense. Her successive losses in the Supreme Court do not appear to have brought the opposition any closer to ousting her.
It doesn’t mean that the public is happy with her. Far from it. But it does strongly suggest that our people have learned their lesson well.
They will not resort to anything extraordinary if this only means installing the same breed of politicians. They probably do not mind seeing the opposition prevail in the coming election, but they would think twice before they invest their hopes and passions in another extra-constitutional maneuver with no bigger objective than the quest for personal power.
It is a tragedy for people power that its participants now find themselves recoiling from it just because the outcomes of Edsa I and Edsa II have been disappointing. But we cannot give up on the transformative power of direct democracy if we want politics to work for us. It is well that our people have become cautious. I hope it is a cautiousness that is not cynical, but one born of a realization that effective political action is not an isolated, one-time, or spur-of-themoment explosion. It must be sustained, persevering, intelligent, and grounded in the life of communities.
After the failed P.I., the next moves are Con-Ass and Con-Con. While there are good reasons for re-visiting the 1987 Constitution, we should beware of the traditional politicians’ hidden agenda — to install a government tightly protected from the power of the people.
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