It’s interesting how the battered morale of those questioning the so-called “people’s initiative” improved as the Supreme Court’s oral arguments went on, finally concluding around quarter to 11 in the evening. The impression began to grow that a razor-thin majority against the initiative was not only evident, but would hold. By this morning, the buzz among legal observers was that a unanimous vote against the initiative was a strong probability.
The conspiratorially-inclined will probably seize on this to prove either a failed whispering campaign by proponents of the “people’s initiative” to condition the mind of the public to a victory for them, or on the part of anti-initiative forces to add sheen to what was, for most of the time leading up to the hearing or arguments, considered a formidable case.
Hostility from the court was what got tongues wagging and what the papers seized on: see the accounts of The Daily Tribune, of The Manila Times, which also focused on Justice Gutierrez. One colleague described her participation as “especially caustic,” while a lawyer who attended the hearings recounted to me that at one point, Justice Gutierrez asked Rene Saguisag if the change of one word in the charter could be a revision of the constitution. She used this example: if, from the present “The Philippines is a republican and democratic state” it was changed to “The Philippines is a republican and communist state.” Saguisag said yes, that would be a revision.
The lawyer whom the justices liked to question, though, seemed to be former Gov. Pablo Garcia of Cebu (father of the incumbent Cebu governor and of the SSS administrator). Observers, on the whole, felt that Raul Lambino did badly, as did former Justice Pardo -though one mentioned that absolutely the worst (most ineffective) performance was on the part of the Comelec’s lawyer. Lambino et al. seemed quite droopy by the end of the proceedings.
The The Business Mirror quoted some other justices:
“It is not correct to say that there is no majority decision because the motion for reconsideration is lost in a tie vote,” Senior Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing told Sigaw ng Bayan counsel Jose Pardo, who was also former associate justice of the SC.
Associate Justice Romeo Callejo Sr. even declared in open court that in Santiago v Comelec, “the Court did not authorize the Commission on Elections to authenticate signatures before a petition for initiative is filed.”…
Associate Justice Reynato Puno even asked whether the “abstract” of proposed amendments listed on the signature sheets that were distributed in various places in the country were written in English.
“I’m asking this to know whether the signatures were properly verified by the Comelec registrars and what proceedings were followed,” he said.
While most papers headlined the high court hearings, the Manila Standard-Today didn’t, but printed a (balanced) secondary story anyway.
“We have plan B [which is] the constituent assembly (con-ass) approach, [a] joint session of senators and congressmen,” House Speaker Jose de Venecia said.
Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said that debates on convening Congress into a con-ass has been scheduled.
“We just approved the resolution’s committee report and I have calendared it [as] part of the business for the day. We want to finish this on or before October 12,” Nograles said.
De Venecia added that the Senate does not have to approve the proposed amendments as long as three-fourths of the House of Representatives or 196 lawmakers approve them.
“Right now we have 193. So now we are only short by three votes,” de Venecia said.
As Rep. Nograles puts it, “we cannot lose twice.” The legislative calendar may be revised in view of the emerging situation. I asked an administration-affiliated congressman whether he believed there’s a plan B and he said no, it’s premature -the House, according to him, has been told to not even talk about Cha-Cha because it would undermine Singaw’s case.
The Palace is said to be angry at Sec. Puno because he didn’t share resources provided to oust Pasay City Peewee Trinidad.
One thing’s sure: the Palace remains fearful of Estrada and has its own plans to neutralize him.
In other news: President’s anti-corruption adviser laments the lack of interest of his Filipino peers:
Kwok, who considers himself “25-percent Filipino,” has been helping the Arroyo administration in its fight against corruption and irregularities since December 2004. He assisted the President in conducting a Presidential Anticorruption Strategic Planning Workshop.
He said he has traveled to 14 countries in the world giving advice on eliminating irregular practices, but that it is only in the Philippines where the heads of corruption-encrusted agencies do not seem to be seriously concerned about the problem.
In the punditocracy, my Arab News column for this week is Lost Opportunities of the Past Needn’t Represent an Eternal Regret.
Bong Austero on competitiveness, the need for a grand plan, and plans that are working well.
The Inquirer editorial points out the absence of a government plan for housing its workers.
Overseas, Tom Plate argues that what took place in Thailand wasn’t a coup -which replaces a head of state- but instead, a restoration of the powers of the monarchy. Roland Watson challenges the view that Thaksin was ever democratically elected, and says the coup was necessary to prevent large-scale People Power:
Many foreign governments and other organisations denounced the coup. They either did this to be politically correct, to protect perceived economic interests, or because they did not fully understand the situation inside the country. Further, Thaksin was never “democratically elected”. This implies that the rule of law has been upheld – but in Thailand it was not. The Thai Constitution and its system of checks and balances first failed when he was found innocent in the assets concealment case. There should have been massive demonstrations or other strong steps at that time, rather than waiting five years. He should never have had the opportunity to drag Thailand to the bottom of the cesspool of political corruption. Everything he did was anathema to democracy.
How do prime ministers form cabinets? Daily Yomiuri in its editorial explains how: carving up patronage.