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Jun 28

One Voice Wants to Expand Democracy, Not Restrict It

Arab News

One Voice Wants to Expand Democracy, Not Restrict It

by Manuel L. Quezon III

I’ve become part of a group called “One Voice,” that is trying to put forward concrete suggestions for improving the political and social situation in the Philippines. Our five-point proposal is clear: 1. Discontinuance of the present “people’s initiative”; 2. A social reform program now; 3. Elections in 2007 as scheduled, as an indirect referendum, and electoral reform now; 4. If necessary, a constitutional convention (not a “con-ass”) after the 2007 elections, and 5. A collective effort to rebuild the trustworthiness of our democratic institutions.

Why we’ve come up with these proposals is explained in our position paper, which can be accessed at our website, http://www.onevoice.org.ph. Please take a few minutes to click on the link to our position paper and read it. Perhaps you’ll agree with it, and add your voice to ours.

I’d like to address two criticisms aimed at One Voice: One, that it’s proposals aren’t conducive to consensus or unity because it opposes the present “people’s initiative” supported by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and two, that it represents the opinions, and interests, of the “elite.”

With regards to the first, I think opposition to the “people’s initiative” can’t be avoided, because the group believes that left unopposed, the ongoing effort to amend the Philippine Constitution would result in the following.

First, it would take away from the people their power to directly vote for president — and leaving the Parliament to choose the prime minister from among themselves. Second, it would fuse the Executive and Legislative as well as the two chambers of Congress into a unicameral Parliament (to also include Cabinet members with a portfolio) thus removing certain systemic checks and balances of the presidential system and resulting in more political domination by the ruling party.

Third, as proposed, the amendments would authorize an interim Parliament to introduce more amendments (followed by yet another plebiscite), some of which may not even be known to the people today. Once the cha-cha train assumes plenary powers, with something for everyone, it will be difficult to stop. It can even amend the Transitory Provisions themselves and extend its own life and the terms of national and local government officials beyond 2010.

Our evaluation of the other amendments contemplated convinces us that the amendments intend to: a) Weaken the Supreme Court, which would remain as the principal check and balance to a powerful Parliament, by (i) removing its power and duty to review the sufficiency of the factual basis for declaring martial law, (ii) increasing the vote required to declare unconstitutional a presidential decree or executive order, among others, from a majority to a 2/3 vote, and (iii) removing its power and duty to determine whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government; and b) Restore the power of the president to declare martial law on “imminent danger” of rebellion — a phrase which President Marcos used to declare martial law.

Add to this that the procedure to be used is patently illegal, it becomes clear that a less divisive, and proper, means would be to have a Constitutional Convention, after the 2007 elections.

Let me address the charge leveled by proponents of the “people’s initiative,” that One Voice is reactionary and “elitist.” What they mean is that One Voice includes people who do not belong to the portion of the business, professional, and other classes that have decided to support them. But what, among One Voice’s advocacies, can be considered as conducive to the status quo?

One Voice advocates the following: Legislation to provide strong safety nets for the poor with market liberalization, which were promised to the people and covered by congressional resolutions but were never legislated nor implemented, especially in the areas of education, health, housing, employment, and food security. Likewise, strict implementation of environmental laws and, with respect to agrarian reform, the provision of support services, especially credit, as well as effective police security to beneficiaries to fulfill the vision of rural development.

Agrarian reform, for example, could end in 2007, with at least 600,000 hectares still to be distributed; even now, land owners are suggesting sugar lands that will earmark their produce for ethanol production should be exempted from distribution. We oppose exemptions or the termination of agrarian reform efforts.

One Voice advocates legislation for greater political empowerment such as amendments to the party-list law to make it possible to reach the 20 percent representation in Congress of party-list representatives prescribed by the constitution, the enactment of a law to implement the constitutional provisions on anti-dynasty and sectoral representation in the local sanggunians (provincial, city or town councils), the amendment of the absentee voting law to enable wider participation of Filipinos abroad, anti-turncoat legislation, and others.

In contrast to these advocacies, the best the Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia has been able to offer Filipinos abroad, is to provide overseas Filipino representation his political party, the Lakas-CMD. This is obviously very different from ensuring that Filipinos all over the world not only retain the right to vote, but that ways are found to ensure voting from abroad is easier and yet cleaner.

Each of these proposals affects the power structure of Philippine society, to the detriment of those traditionally holding it, in order to benefit the ordinary Filipino worker and farmer. One Voice consists of people from all walks of life: But are more interested in expanding democracy, and opportunities, rather than restricting them. This is what we mean by advocating real change, instead of the cosmetic, and ultimately arch-conservative (in intent, and practical application) proposals of those who think that by calling someone “elitist,” it will distract people from determining the substance of our advocacies.

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