With only a pit stop at home to change to a fresh shirt and collect my notes, I went straight from the airport, having come from Cebu (which I won’t blog about now, as I’m going to make it the topic of my Monday column), to a special meeting of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines who wanted to solicit the views of certain individuals about what’s going on, and specifically, the appropriateness of a “Truth and Accountability Commission.” The resource people were Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., Christian Monsod, Dinky Soliman, Cookie Diokno, Randy David, Atty. Sison, Rep. Teddy Casino, Shiella Coronel, and myself. Each one of us was asked to present our views to the group, after which they (the AMRSP) held an executive session. I don’t know if our individual proposals, positions, and the ensuing discussions are for public consumption, but I did have a conversation with Christian Monsod that’s worth sharing.
Obviously, Christian Monsod had a contrary position to those publicly espoused by people such as myself, Dinky Soliman, Randy David, and others (including the AMRSP) who have called on the President to resign. But he does not think the President is innocent, he says he has misgivings about private convictions about the moral certainty many people possess about the President’s culpability being the grounds for political actions.
He suggests a series of activities that will helpthe country move on, not in the direction of simply setting aside and forgetting the President’s controversial position, but instead, helping the country move forward in a positive manner. Among his concrete proposals, as I recall them:
1. There are two Comelec commissioner vacancies. Pressure must be applied to fill them with competent, credible people. In January or February, 4 more Comelec commissioners are due to retire. Replacing them with credible, capable, people will jump start the pressing need to get both electoral reform going, and preparing for the 2007 elections which are, in bureaucratic terms, quite near. This ensures a majority of new, possibly better motivated and effective commissioners.
2. Impeach Comelec Chairman Abalos because he, more likely than not, knows even more than Garcillano ever did, and reform will be impossible so long as he remains the Comelec Chairman.
3. Congress must appropriate the necessary funds to modernize the Comelec (about 2 billion pesos, because funds previously allocated for this are gone, and there seem to be no provisions in the present budget for this purpose).
4. The Namfrel must continue its counting of the past elections, and attempt to achieve 100% coverage if possible. This can be done with reference to electoral returns held by the Comelec, the opposition, and the administration. When the Namfrel ended its quick count, the President was leading only by 500,000 votes. The remaining percentage uncounted (15-20%?) could possibly erase this lead, or at the very least, result in something different from the official figures certified by Congress. Incidentally, though Monsod didn’t say it, this would afford Namfrel an opportunity to redeem itself.
The first three activities, he says, will test whether or not the President is sincere in being a new, improved leader. The third point is a matter of urgent necessity. The last will help arrive at a factual basis for determining whether the President cheated or not, without the need for the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (or to pressure it to reconvene).
During our discussion, Monsod was frank and open to my views, which I expressed clearly to him. Surprisingly, we saw eye to eye on quite a number of things. We began by agreeing that a fundamental lesson of recent months is the devotion of the public to “processes,” that is, to following and using the means provided by law, for resolving differences and political questions. He agrees, as I have said, that rallies only convey the message that having failed in processes in which the opponents of the President entered into with eyes wide open, they simply refuse to accept any process, and won’t stop at anything, while the public prefers to have an open mind (though it has made up its mind to disliking the President). He think the big problem is that there is not enough attention paid to gathering facts, and too much on projecting biases to the media. He and I also agreed that the fundamental weakness of the efforts against the President goes beyond the public’s dislike for the usual suspects from the Marcos and Estrada camps, it extends to the Hyatt 10, which has not matched its criticisms with a willingness to suffer for their convictions (I have expressed this privately to the members of the Hyatt 10, many other people have, too). How are people expected to act, much less follow, if those in a position of leadership won’t suffer the risks of speaking out?
Monsod maintains that this crisis has been in the making over the past three administrations, which systematically set out to turn the Comelec into a gigantic machine for propagating fraud instead of what it had become during Haydee Yorac’s and his time. He also thinks the crisis is an opportunity to insist on processes being made to work, and that the public instinctively wants this, which is why it has spoken out by being cold and silent in the face of calls for people to come out and march in the streets. He says he will e-mail me his paper with these thoughts, and when he does, I’ll post them as they provide food for thought.
At the very least, I’m convinced Christian Monsod is not an apologist for the President, but has a clear and impressive view of important things we should all think about. Randy David, who of course holds strong views about the President, said something I think it’s OK for me to mention: there are many sectors that need to be held accountable for the mess we’re in, and not just the opposition. There’s civil society, there’s the bishops who proclaimed the elections as sound, there’s Namfrel that insists the whole exercise was hunky-dory.
The other hubbub of the moment is, of course, the idea of “creeping martial law,” a creepy thought indeed. The Inquirer quotes sources as saying a proclamation of a state of emergency is on the drawing boards; scuttlebutt says the arrest list comprises 300 names (a friend naughtily said, “pack a toothbrush,” recalling Martial Law in 1972: I countered I’m not important enough and don’t want to be like the late Antonio Miranda or former Speaker Pepito Laurel, who waited, bags packed, to be locked up and were never arrested, to their eternal shame -Marcos simply wouldn’t give them the privilege of bearing the badge of honor of being a Martial Law detainee).
What I did hear on the radio was Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales saying what they were studying were provisions in the Constitution permitting the government to take over certain industries in a time of emergency. To wit, Article XII “The National Economy and Patrimony”:
In times of national emergency, when the public interest so requires, the State may, during the emergency and under reasonable terms prescribed by it, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.
The State may, in the interest of national welfare or defense, establish and operate vital industries and, upon payment of just compensation, transfer to public ownership utilities and other private enterprises to be operated by the Government.
Examples given to me by a lawyer friend of what these would include extends to: Meralco, PLDT, Smart, Globe, BayanTel, cable and internet providers, and the media (radio, television, newspapers and online media), oil and gas companies, transportation companies (bus, jeep, and even taxi services/providers).
There are those who view that “the preemptive, calibrated response” is an effort to telegraph the government’s moves, but others seriously doubt if martial law, per se, could be imposed on a national or even local scale, since the House might approve it, but the Senate would block it, never mind what the Supreme Court itself might say. But the takeover of certain strategic industries in a time of “national emergency” wouldn’t require many troops.
As for the appropriateness of the President’s increasingly hard line position, the thoughts of Newsstand bear reflecting:
[B]ut what her [the President’s] “bully in the schoolyard” speech has done has been to accelerate the pace of political developments. It will radicalize even those who had no previous intention to take to the streets. It will confirm fears of a “creeping martial law.” Not least, it will narrow her options for dealing with the opposition, needlessly, dangerously.
It’s like a schoolboy going to class with a balisong, maybe because he likes the feel, the comfort of steel, that the switchblade provides. He may have no intention of using it, but when the inevitable fight at the back of the building happens, he may have no choice but to bring it out. Then you have blood in the schoolyard.
“Maximum tolerance” was not only pro-democracy; it was also good politics, because it allowed the authorities an enormous amount of room to maneuver. GMA’s “rule of law,” or Ermita’s “calibrated preemptive response,” drastically limits the democratic space; it is also terrible politics, because it commits the authorities to a certain course of action regardless of the circumstances.
Ricky Carandang points to what seems to be an emerging strategy that some time ago I said, if pursued, will end up backfiring on the President (my own sources confirms both the plan on Hacienda Luisita and the Aquino family’s response; pulling that thorn from the Aquino’s side will ultimately help the Aquinos more than the President):
Today, sources in the Department of Agrarian Reform say that the government intends to subject Hacienda Luisita to land reform as a final solution to the long standing problems between the Cojuangco family and their tenant farmers.
Former President Aquino, whose family owns the hacienda, is reportedly resigned to the loss of their family plantation. Under the plan, the commercially developed portion of the property will remain in Cojuangco hands, but the farmlands will be turned over to the tenant farmers. An announcement will be made on Tuesday.
At the same time, former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman is preparing for Monday, when she will file her formal reply at the OmbudsmanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office to a case filed against her in August for cancelling a contract that the PCSO entered into with IT firm DFNN when she was secretary…
Just for good measure, Malacanang is trying to appease the public through populist inititives. It is set to approve a proposal for the national government to borrow $570 million to assume full control of the MRT3 by buying out the projectÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s private investors so it can continue to run the trains at a loss. Its allies in Congress are also set to approve a resolution to defer the implementation of the VAT on poewr and fuel until June 2006.
The two gentlemen, I think, say all that needs to be said. Please read their blog entries in full. Now even if you don’t have to worry about packing a toothbrush, just in case, Piercing Pens points to tips on how to be a Cyber-Dissident.