The Long View
Kicking and screaming
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:10:00 12/09/2009
MY UNDERSTANDING IS THAT IN THE 1986 Constitutional Commission, Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo bitterly opposed making the two chambers of Congress vote together, as essentially a unicameral body, to approve or reject martial law. The proponents of the scheme argued, as Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, recounted last July, that “the House of Representatives would be more protective of liberty and could then neutralize the vote of the Senate.” It was a peculiar assumption, considering how both chambers reacted to martial law in 1972, with the House being more willing than the Senate to come to terms with Marcos.
It seems that at one point Rodrigo pointedly proposed that if an exception to the bicameral nature of Congress was going to be dispensed with, then the commissioners should have the courtesy of not including the future Senate and assign responsibility to the House, for what was being proposed was to simply annex the Senate to a House decision.
Still, the proponents of merging both chambers to deliberate on martial law and the suspension of the writ were probably correct, as far as they understood those who had lived through the dark days of the dictatorship. After all, in 1989, faced with a real rebellion, both chambers convened, and stood their ground: where once the Batasan had been the dictator’s kennel, representatives gathered in defiance of Gregorio Honasan and friends. The Senate undertook similar moves.
But that was under Speaker Ramon Mitra while today we have Speaker Prospero Nograles. The latter and his colleagues practically had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to play host to a joint session. Not that they had any doubts over the outcome; it was just they didn’t even want to bother with a ritual rubber-stamping of the President’s actions in Maguindanao. With public opinion, at best, divided on the appropriateness of the President’s proclamation, a joint session presented too many opportunities for raising inconvenient questions. Both about the President’s mixed motives – pushed to action by public indignation over the Ampatuan massacre, on one hand, and paralyzed by that possibility that either the Ampatuans might start spilling the beans or uninformed investigators on the ground might discover evidence embarrassing to the administration, on the other – and the House being less interested in oversight and more in finding yet another excuse to demonstrate obedience to the President.
As it is, Andal Ampatuan Sr. had to be whisked away from Davao Doctor’s Hospital by means of a ruse so that even as he was being transferred to a military hospital, there wouldn’t be the risk of his blurting something out to the media. Trying to avoid comparisons to Marcos’ martial law, the government has given the media some latitude in Maguindanao, to the extent that the discovery of a sackful of voter’s ID’s in an Ampatuan property couldn’t be suppressed. Any more discoveries like this, and the Frankenstein Coalition will end up in the dock along with the Ampatuans.
Even Archbishop Orlando Quevedo’s defense of the administration was marred by the courts in Cotabato City going on holiday to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Prosecutors in General Santos City were informed that their intention to file rebellion charges within the 72-hour deadline imposed by the Constitution was thwarted by the Catholic holiday leading to the closure of the courts. Which raises the question of whether the archbishop ought to be charged with rebellion for preventing government from doing its job.
“I hired him as a man, but he serves me like a dog,” a former president once said of a particularly bootlicking subordinate. The same can be said of our legislators whom the Constitution expected to have a sense of urgency and independence in the face of a presidential proclamation of martial law. The speaker himself at first said he felt a state of emergency sufficed, though in the same breath he did venture the opinion that Congress couldn’t comply with its constitutional requirements because it would be difficult to muster a quorum.
In the end, it seems a quorum, for whatever reason – patriotism or the pork barrel – could be mustered, but the speaker kept venturing a preference for expressing approval by inaction, while grousing about the Senate and the public relations disadvantages of having to take its opinions into consideration until the moment both chambers actually start functioning as a merged body. There will be grandstanding, he grumbled, and fewer of them than us, he complained. And to what purpose, the subtext of all his commentary went, other than to make our desire to let the President be more difficult? What inconsiderate bastards.
Without the benefit of martial law or the resources of the Department of Justice, the Commission on Human Rights has, in the meantime, focused on the Ampatuan Massacre, leading to all sorts of inconvenient possibilities, ranging from the possibility there remains a 58th victim to unearth, and other massacres to uncover, raising questions similar to the ones that have cropped up to bedevil the President and her apologists with the official to-do about unearthing the Ampatuan arsenal: How can you feign surprise and dodge culpability for these discoveries?
The night before Congress was due to convene, Executive Secretary Ermita filed an amendments to the flimsy report of the President, deleting the sentence “More importantly, a separatist group based in Maguindanao has joined forces with the Ampatuans for this purpose.” It might give the impression, Ermita said, that they meant groups other than the Ampatuans themselves. Which only goes to show that martial law was a public-relations exercise, not a well-thought out means to achieve either justice or an authentic rule of law.