The Long View
The elimination of public opinion
What, exactly, is going on in the House of Representatives? Every representative willing to venture an opinion seems to have one different from everyone else’s. When their opinions do end up having certain things in common, they tend to be what’s normally referred to as a belief in “conventional wisdom.” This is nothing more than generalities politicians and their observers adopt, since politics is the kind of activity that hates hard and fast rules, and which thrives best in an atmosphere of generalities and not specifics.
The conventional wisdom is: once the present second Regular Session of the 14th Congress ends in June, when it resumes sessions in July for its third and final Regular Session, the political class would have gone from fussing over the political interests of the administration, to an every-politico-for-himself scramble to be “under the kulambo” of whoever they think will be the next president.
The present dispensation, for whatever reason, can look forward to being in office for the second-longest duration in our history come October, but without achieving the kind of one-party dominance the hitherto-longest-serving presidents achieved during their time. The present Lakas-Kampi alliance is nowhere as large, or as united, as the prewar Nacionalistas or the New Society KBL.
Worse, neither party has a particularly viable presidential candidate, which would condemn Lakas leaders to being under the thumb of yet another outsider, as it’s been since 2001, while Kampi, deprived of the incumbent’s power of patronage, might wither and die. Neither party has particularly strong senatorial candidates, either, which would limit their options under any new dispensation, regardless of whether or not they retain or even expand control of the House and local governments.
To be sure, any future president would need them, but their ambition is to be more than mere piglets dependent for sustenance on the Palace trough; the House has a long-standing grudge against the Senate, and any hope of changing the equation depends on both a cooperative president and eliminating constitutional obstacles to amendments: and the present situation is, perhaps, the best for doing that.
Much as administration supporters in and out of office insist they’re reasonable people, who only want an open debate, and who therefore accuse their opponents of being fanatically opposed to change, the reality is otherwise. The only change the administration wants is a unicameral, parliamentary system, possibly with a kind of fake federalism – in a region where even neighboring parliaments are bicameral, and where no unitary state is contemplating a shift to federalism.
An insight into the actual problem confronting the House today (and the motivations behind their present moves) is provided by a speech made by Raul Manglapus in the 1971 Constitutional Convention, endorsing the “Ban Marcos” resolution.
According to Manglapus, politicians began to consider abolishing the four-year term (with one possible re-election for another term) in 1949, because of the controversial elections of that year. By the 1960s, legislators were also keenly interested in two other Constitution-related proposals: first, that the membership of the House should be increased; and second, for elections to be synchronized to save time and money.
In 1967, fulfilling the provisions of the 1935 Constitution, Congress began sitting in joint session to consider these proposals, but no consensus could be reached on restoring a single six-year presidential term and on synchronized elections; there was agreement, though, to increase the number of representatives.
At which point, according to Manglapus, “someone said, ‘Since we cannot agree and we cannot keep on meeting in joint sessions because the public will demand that we cease this futile exercise, let us call a Convention.'”
But, Manglapus added, “the intention of course was that the Congressmen and the Senators were to control the Convention. And therefore when somebody said, ‘Let us call a Convention, anyway we can all be members of that Convention and we can control it,’ some other members of the House said ‘We cannot because we are inhibited by the present Constitution.'”
Clever colleagues proposed a solution: “All we have to do is amend the present Constitution at the same time that we pass the increase of seats in the House. We will say ‘However, a senator or congressman may be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.'”
The problem was that any amendment had to be submitted to the people; Manglapus related that public opinion was disgusted with such a self-serving proposal, the result being “84 percent of them said ‘no.’ And the next morning the Senators and Congressmen woke up to find they had created a frankenstein monster. They had called a Constitutional Convention and they were not going to control it. And so they began to make noises that there was no need for the Convention, that it would be expensive ; and cheaper and more convenient for the Senators and Congressmen to resume their work as a constituent assembly.”
Public opinion forced Congress to pass a Constitutional Convention Act, according to Manglapus, and deprived the political professionals of the fruits of victory twice over. Is it any wonder then, that when President Marcos offered a means – “constitutional authoritarianism” – to veto public opinion, that the political class, on the whole, decided it could live with martial law?
That option seems fairly remote today. The President is reported to be meeting with House members practically every other day: will it, can it, finally gamble on throwing caution to the wind and brazening it out? The only way it can is if Lito Lapid runs to the Supreme Court, or Oliver Lozano does, to provoke a manufactured constitutional crisis – with the payoff not necessary in the lifetime of the present Congress, but say, in the 15th, under the leadership of by-then Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga.