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Sep 26

Cabinet wars

While there have been depressing text messages and other scuttlebutt, the arguments will be joined at the Supreme Court soon enough. There are eight questions propounded by the Justices:

1. Whether petitioners Sigaw ng Bayan, through lawyer Raul Lambino, and ULAP, through Bohol Governor Erico Aumentado, are the proper parties to file the petition in behalf of the more than six-million voters they say signed the proposal to amend the Constitution;

2. Whether the petition for a people’s initiative filed before the Comelec complied with Section 2, Article 17 of the Constitution;

3. Whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Santiago v. Comelec in 1997 bars the present petition;

4. Whether the court should re-examine the ruling in Santiago v. Comelec that there exists no enabling law allowing a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution;

5. Whether, assuming that Republic Act 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act is sufficient, the petition for initiative filed with the Comelec complied with the law’s provisions;

6. Whether proposed changes constitute an amendment or revision of the Constitution;

7. Whether the exercise of a people’s initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution is a political question to be determined by the people, and;

8. Whether the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the petitions for initiative filed before it.

Question 7, seems to me, the booby trap. Last night talking to a colleague and some friends in law school, I asked whether the Supreme Court’s ducking certain controversies, on the basis that they’re “political questions” was still permitted. They explained the applicability had been narrowed, but the argument could still be used.

Read Chief Justice Panganiban’s thoughts on “political question” issues:

But what in the first place is a “political question?” Tanada v. Cuenco spelled out its classic definition as follows:

“The term political question connotes in legal parlance, what it means in ordinary parlance, namely, a question of policy. In other words, in the language of Corpus Juris Secundum, it refers to those questions which, under the Constitution, are to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity, or in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the legislative or executive branch of government. It is concerned with issues dependent upon the wisdom, not legality, of a particular measure.”

As to source, there are two types of political questions: (1) those that are decided directly by the people themselves like the wisdom of electing movie stars, media practitioners and sports personalities; and (2) those delegated to Congress and the Presidency, like the wisdom of enacting more tax laws, or of pardoning certain convicts.

With the activist mandate firmly imbedded in the Constitution, is the “political question” principle no longer an available defense at present? Are the courts required to pass upon each and every act of the political branches of government?

To be sure, the answer to this question has defied a precise universal answer. Constitutional scholars depending on their orientation and philosophical moorings cite an equal number of cases, both recent and old, in which our Supreme Court has either acceded or refused to entertain political disputes.

Anyway, the latest update to the official timetable has been revealed: Charter plebiscite by January 2007 -De Venecia.

On to other news…

As far as I’m concerned, this official statement takes the cake:

The President’s appointments to key Cabinet and military posts are based on merit and fitness and must not be whimsically treated in this manner by the legislature.

The Chief Executive is responsible for executing the laws of the land and must not be unduly hampered in the selection of her subalterns who are supposed to implement her programs of governance.

Secretary Gonzalez and General Esperon have shown solid performance and courage from Day One in their respective offices.

Let us not allow personal or partisan reasons to prevent able and competent people from serving the people.

Both enjoy the confidence of the President and no amount of black propaganda and character assassination will prod her to drop their appointments.

Must? Must!? In a system with the separation of powers? And in the face of congressional disapproval she will insist on her appointments? And no one wonders how a president can go against 12 administrations’ precedents and the very idea of the executive having to submit its appointees to congressional scrutiny and possibly, rejection? And you still doubt we have authoritarianism waiting in the wings? No democratically-minded president, ever, would have permitted such a statement.

Anyway, the statement is in response to recent developments at the Commission on Appointments (and note that ours is unusual in that it’s bicameral; usually appointments are only vetted by the upper house). The CA has postponed a decision on the Justice Secretary’s confirmation; the promotion and appointment of Gen. Esperon is proving thorny or slowly coming to fruition, depending on your point of view.

Scuttlebutt for some time has been the political ping pong going on between Mike Defensor -and everyone else, it seems, in the cabinet, but headed by the Executive Secretary.

Well, it’s scuttlebutt no more. The contempt is obvious:

Asked to comment on the supposedly emerging slate, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita bluntly said: “There’s none.”

He added that he had no plans either to run for the Senate.

Asked why, he replied: “Because I don’t like (to), Mike (Defensor) is just inventing that. We haven’t even talked.”

“No one has talked to me, nobody. We don’t even talk about that in Malacañang,” Ermita said. “Not even” in the administration Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, of which he is an official.

So what’s the fallout? Is this a Punch and Judy act? Is Mike the designated liar, and Ermita the designated clarifier? My hunch is this: Defensor is a more reliable guide to the President’s thinking, and Ermita, to the rest of officialdom.

But the President’s woes -infighting in this case- don’t end there. Financial Executives are upset with the President’s repealing the Estrada-era limits on government loans; as a result, the Palace has had to make soothing noises about there being no new behest loans.

In the punditocracy, the Business Mirror editorial warns about the strengthening peso (isn’t the Central Bank intervening in the market to prevent overheating?). The Inquirer editorial comments on the Supreme Court’s intervening in the Senate-PCGG fracas.

I have to agree, for once, with Tony Abaya’s analysis:

There are lessons to be learned here by both the government and the opposition among our own urban middle class. A military coup d’ etat would also gain support from the middle-class here if a) politicians were excluded from its list of interim leaders; b) an anticorruption commission is immediately installed to investigate allegations of corruption at the highest levels; c) democratic political rights are temporarily shelved; but d) the military promises to return to the barracks in two weeks; e) a new constitution will be drafted; and f) elections are scheduled in the near future.

Our middle-class would most likely also want to see the communist movement excluded from the nw government. This is not mentioned in the Thai laundry list of reforms because there is no more communist insurgency left in Thailand. The coup leader, Gen. Boonyaratglin, who is said to be a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, cut his military teeth battling and defeating the communist insurgents in Thailand.

But the most important lesson to be learned from the latest Thai coup is that the parliamentary system does not immunize a sitting government from being overthrown by a military coup, contrary to the naíve claims of its champions.

So if the parliamentary system cannot dismantle political dynasties, cannot eliminate or even only reduce government corruption, cannot guarantee economic progress, cannot shield a sitting government against coups d’ etat and people power uprisings, why are we being stampeded into changing our Constitution in order to shift to it?

There seems to be only one answer: To allow Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to remain in power beyond 2010, either as prime minister in a Westminster-type parliament, or as president in a French parliamentary model. ChaChaCha!

Juan Mercado and Patricio Diaz both

On Thailand and Thaksin, Gwynne Dyer opines,

Democracy is fine as long as the voters elect the right people, but they often get it wrong. The Palestinians elected Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, so the Israelis and their allies overseas have to persuade them of the error of their ways with bombs, bullets and a financial blockade. And in Thailand they were going to vote for Thaksin Shinawatra again.

“They” were the rural poor, still a majority in Thailand, who have been left behind by the economic miracle of the past twenty years. They elected the billionaire Thaksin three times in a row because he gave them cheap health-care and put money in their pockets. The Bangkok middle class despised him for his populism and his corruption, but the poor were almost certainly going to elect him again - so for the first time in fifteen years, the Thai Army rolled its tanks into Bangkok.

So much for Thai democracy - and the bizarre thing is that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care…

Thaksin was no advertisement for the wisdom of Thai voters. It was the poor and the ill-educated who voted for him, and he won their support with cynically populist policies. He launched a “war on drugs” that saw three thousand cases of extra-judicial execution – officially sanctioned murders, in other words. He took a needlessly hard line on discontent among Thailand’s Muslim minority, concentrated in the southernmost provinces, that turned disaffection into open insurrection. He even hid the first outbreak of bird flu in Thailand in an attempt to protect Thai poultry exports.

He gave cash presents to village headmen who could deliver the local vote. He appointed a large number of his own supporters to the Senate, and then used his majority there to appoint cronies to the higher courts. However, Thaksin Shinawatra also did things that improved the lot of the poor: A moratorium on farmer’s debts, dollar-a-visit medical care even for the impoverished northeast of Thailand, village improvement schemes that actually raised farmers’ incomes.

He was a liar and a crook, but a majority of Thais voted for him in election after election. And they would have voted for him again if the army hadn’t intervened.

The middle class people of Bangkok who have been demonstrating against Thaksin for the past six months are right: You really can’t run a country like this for very long and stay democratic. Either the demagogue consolidates his power and becomes a de facto dictator, or he is driven out by people who have (or claim to have) the interests of democracy at heart.

Ramesh Thakur makes a very interesting observation, by way of an introduction to an essay on military government:

During a conference in Bangkok in August, signs of a three-way tussle among Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his political opponents and the military were already evident. For example, a former army chief who remains influential as an adviser to the king made a point of wearing the uniform while addressing serving army officers and telling them that their primary loyalty was to the king and nation, not to the government of the day.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is disappointed in fellow democrats who have given in to the Thai coup. He says there were democratic alternatives (a news item says he will be leading protests in Bangkok tomorrow).

In France: Dominique Moisi dissects the leading candidates for the presidency. The Asahi Shinbun asks an editorial question: why hasn’t Tony Blair resigned yet? Most interesting of all, for those advocating the parliamentary system, is to understand the reasons behind Blair’s unpopularity -and unwillingness to budge:

Polls show that public support for Blair has plummeted to the 30-percent range. Furthermore, the Conservative Party led by a young David Cameron, who is only 39, has reversed the polls and got the jump on Labor.

With the next general election expected in 2009, it was inevitable that party opinion would demand a leader who can win.

To somehow make it through his party’s annual conference beginning Sunday, it seems Blair had to put his resignation card on the table even before the gathering got under way. Since he says he will hand over the party leadership before next year’s annual conference in the autumn, that inevitably means he will also stand down as prime minister. His loss of political clout will affect not just domestic policies but also his policies in the diplomatic arena.

Blair’s strength was his ability to explain political issues and ask for the public’s understanding in a clear-cut manner of talking. But lately it came to light that his government had manipulated public opinion by releasing information strategically so as to pursue the war against Iraq. For all his powers of eloquent speech and explanation, once public trust is gone then everything else falls apart.

Blair strengthened the prime minister’s office by increasing staff numbers and allocating more powers to them. That drew criticism and as a result, key decisions were made only by Blair or his close aides, which rendered his Cabinet meetings more or less meaningless.

And this is simply creepy: The eerie Weblogs of young murderers:

There is nothing like the World Wide Web for forging deep and meaningful bonds between anti-social outcasts. Whereas before the advent of the Internet, Kimveer Gill may well have lived out his days drinking whiskey and hating others in his parents’ basement, the Web site VampireFreaks.com afforded him the opportunity to reach out and touch thousands of other petulant misanthropes. “Can I go play with you?? I wanna go hunt down the preppies with you!!” wrote a 19-year-old Indiana member who called herself caranya in the comments section of Gill’s VampireFreaks page one day before the killings. Subsequent postings from visitors to caranya’s Web page aren’t kind: “Congratulations on inspiring a psycho to go on a murderous rampage killing innocent kids,” says one. “One has to wonder where he was able to get his moral support from,” mused someone else.

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  1. justice league

    Hello GP,

    You didn’t ask me but your questions are good so I decided to “intrude”.

    1) No There is no 5 yr ban yet with regards the explanation above. I reckon it takes effect when an amendment is ratified or undergoes a plebiscite depending on what the interpretation of the SC will be.

    2) Yes. RA 6735 supposedly does not enable amending the charter but if we take that the law is not Unconstitutional then the rest is ok w/c includes enacting, repealing, amending natoional laws. Actually it takes less to make a national law since it will require only 10% instead of the 12% for amending the charter. But then that would be double expense for now for the proponents position since they have to sponsor both not to mention the time involved.

    But then I just heard from Atty Adel Tamano on TV that a follow up SC resolution after the PIRMA decision promptly declared the whole law Unconstitutional. But then I have not seen that myself.

    3. I don’t think so because of the one subject clause.

    4. Well, it could give guidelines to follow then throw the question back to the COMELEC.

    Well we already know that the COMELEC has opined that the petition seems to have satisfied the requirements.

  2. cvj

    Global [email protected]:15pm, if the EDSA Dos crowd keeps on failing to see what’s coming because of their inaction, and if the oligarchs can’t engineer a soft landing to hand power back to the common people, then it might just come to that. All that is needed is for the rank and file in the AFP to realize that the communist bogey is just a subterfuge designed to keep them from recognizing to which camp they truly belong. Of course, once the effectiveness of this bogey wears off, the oligarchs will play the ethnic card (ala-Yugoslavia) and the eventual result (with the likely help of the United States) would be a fragmented Philippines.

    Right now, groups like One Voice are doing their part to help repudiate the ‘Legion’, but grass roots support of the latter among the middle class is also significant. Only an epiphany by those who are possessed by the Legion’s reactionary ideas can sap the movement of its strength. I guess that would also depend on how much they view the masa and their voting power under the current system as a threat.

    Re: your [email protected]:41pm, i defer to Justice League’s responses.

  3. anna de brux

    cvj’s “The proponents of the ‘Enchanted Kingdom’ are accusing its opponents of being ‘whimsical’.”

    hohoho! Good play with words.

  4. jesse mercado

    can you pls. give the names and districts of the rep. who voted for CONASS. thanks SIR!

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