House of Gloria

The members of the House of Gloria (HOG) have discovered the instability inherent in language.  And they have decided to make political capital out of it.  Sec. 1, Art. XVII of the 1987 Constitution states: “Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or (2) A constitutional convention.”

Ordinary mortals like us assume that since the present Congress has two houses, the required three-fourths vote means three-fourths of each chamber’s vote taken and weighed separately, in accordance with the procedures of a bicameral legislature.  But the HOGs (House of Gloria surrogates) are telling us we’re wrong: that the three-fourths vote requirement in fact refers to three-fourths of all the senators and representatives voting jointly as a constituent assembly.

House Resolution 1109 is built around the latter interpretation.  Its proponents want the Supreme Court to step in now, or at some point, to pronounce the correct understanding of this provision.

The undecidability of words is the kind of stuff that typically excites linguistic scholars and literary theorists, Derridean deconstructionists and Levi-Straussian structuralists. That it could also become as compelling to politicians as to keep them on their toes for several hours to ram through a house resolution is indeed extraordinary.  This is clearly not one of those sterile academic debates.  It has to be a political move.  But where is it headed?

One does not need to be a brilliant political analyst to see that this is part of a strategy to make Gloria Macapagal Arroyo prime minister after 2010 when her term as president expires.  This strategy requires the amendment or revision of the existing Constitution in order to effect a shift to the parliamentary system, and thus side-step the existing ban on presidential re-election.

But there are several hurdles along the way.  One of them is the 24member Senate where presidential ambitions are historically nurtured.  The Senate has said it will block any attempt to amend the Constitution before the 2010 election.  The solution to this is precisely to reduce the weight of the senators’ votes in a constituent assembly. For this maneuver, the Supreme Court, packed with grateful GMA appointees, is to be harnessed to provide the legal cover.

The next hurdle is the plebiscite to ratify changes in the Constitution. Plebiscites are not as exciting as elections.  In order to diffuse public attention on the substantive constitutional issues, the plebiscite will likely be scheduled to coincide with the national elections of 2010. The whole irony is that, in the light of a revised constitution, next year’s elections will be next to useless.  The candidates will in effect be contesting positions that have no secure place in a new system of government.

The real hurdle is how to keep the people in a docile unquestioning state until next year.  This is the most difficult to manage.  GMA’s operators will be banking on public inertia — the state of political exhaustion that comes after a series of unproductive upheavals – to keep the opposition at bay.  They will pour money where the votes are – under the cover of economic stimulus – until the people come to a point where they have no strong motive to resist.

HR 1109 is a diversion.  That is why the public cannot decide whether it is a meaningless maneuver or an insidious trick.  The issue is not a legal one.  The real issue is political: whether we will allow GMA to retain her powers as head of government after her term as president expires in 2010.  If our answer is No, what can we do to stop her, short of a coup or a revolution?  These are the questions we ought to be asking.

Let the survey firms – the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia – ask the people: Do they approve of GMA keeping her present powers — as Prime Minister or in any other capacity – after the expiration of her presidential term in 2010?  Let the media ask the HOGs who voted for HR1109 to publicly profess their belief: Would they vote for

GMA as Prime Minister in a parliamentary system?  Ask all the senators the same question, and let no one hide behind a shroud of silence or equivocation.

Ask everyone aspiring for the presidency to categorically state where they stand on the question: Would you support or oppose a plan to install GMA as Prime Minister in a parliamentary system after her current term as president expires?  Let the various political parties, and coalitions respond to the same question: Would they support or oppose a plan to extend GMA’s governmental powers beyond 2010? Ask the incumbent governors and mayors, and those aspiring to replace them, where they stand on the same question.  Only after we gauge our readiness for change does it become sensible to debate the general directions and details of an agenda for national transformation.

Clearly, the election has begun, ahead of the one scheduled for 2010. And there is only one candidate – Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  In this contest, no ballots will be distributed and counted.  Only our voices and our feet will matter.  We either protest and march, or we pray or make noise.  To shut up and stay home in the face of this shameless display of political opportunism is to accept Gloria forever.

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