The right fight at the wrong time?

Of the accounts and commentaries on the Pacquiao-de la Hoya fight, I enjoyed those of The Warrior Lawyer -first on the boxing of the thing (see the links in The Age of Brillig, too), then the economics of the sport and the match- and the broadside against the actual broadcasting of the match, by Bong Austero, the most. Former Socialist rebel and priest Edicio de la Torre (hat-tip, GlobalVoices) ties in the match with the death of a young actor that marred what was otherwise a morning of national rejoicing (see also A Filipina Mom Blogger).

No one has pointed out what a remarkable image, and what a remarkable campaign, this was:

Snapshot 2008-12-07 13-55-12

Here in one image, all the the things that people think matters to people (including themselves):

1. Faith and Hope

2. Perseverance of the Underdog

3. The will to win of the Champion

4. Community & Solidarity

5. Material Success & its Manifestations

The website featuring this image, takes it even further. People were given the option of adding their personal “prayers, wishes or dedications” for Pacquiao. In one fell swoop, popular instincts were marshaled and put on display:

1. The Community Spirit

2. Patriotic Feeling (versus Nationalist Chauvinism)

3. Racial Vindication

4. Individual Empowerment

5. Religion’s Role in Everyday Life

In contrast to all the positive things above, take a look at this remarkable video:

All the negatives, in contrast, are on display:

1. Class Resentment

2. Mistrust of Officialdom and the Institutions they Dominate

3. The Language and thus, Educational Divide

4. Citizens’ Feelings of Powerlessness

5. The Absence of a Genuine and Legitimate Rule of Law

Both campaigns, mind you, are highly effective, and are brilliant messaging efforts. But to my mind, the power of the first -based on aspirations– trumps the power of the second, based on reality on the ground.

A proposed solution will always be stronger than a non-solution; by this I mean that a proposal for change will have greater drawing power than a stubborn insistence on the status quo.

Since 2005, let’s not forget that the House of Representatives has had a working draft of the Constitution, as it wants to see that Constitution after amendments are accomplished:

Matrix House Proposed Charter Amendments

Nothing suggests that these fundamental objectives have changed. Much has been made of the absence of any concrete document detailing the changes, particularly to the economic provisions of the Charter, but I think that there’s no reason for such a document to be released to the public, because the proposed changes have been clear to those interested in them, from among the ruling coalition, for some time.

As for public opinion concerning these proposals, take a look at this presentation, containing information on public opinion used during the 2005-2006 Anti-Cha-Cha campaign (at the beginning of the campaign, it seemed 44% of the public favored Charter Change, with only 40% opposed; but as Serge Osmeña, a firm believer in the use of survey information for strategizing campaigns pointed out, if you took a close look at the supposed 44% for Charter Change, a significant chunk was for it on the assumption that it would help remove the President; therefore, they were susceptible to being swayed to joining the ranks of the Antis):


If nothing fundamental has changed in terms of the aspirations of the ruling coalition (unicameral parliamentalism), I don’t think anything fundamental has changed in terms of the fundamental political preferences of the public (bicameral presidentialism), either. Economics remains a powerful argument, but that argument is weakened by questions over the political motives of the proponents of Charter Change.

This is where what helps foster Charter Change within the ruling coalition, harms its prospects when it comes to public opinion. It matters to members of the House, that the President’s sons are so conspicuous and that her pet party, Kampi, is taking such an active role; their prominence, however, leads to public mistrust of the proposals and the proponents.

In his blog, Mon Casiple details where the House effort is at and the long ways it has to go:

The GMA forces in the House are crowing about a 183-strong signatory to a House resolution for the convening of a Constituent Assembly. This particular resolution–reportedly being passed around by the Arroyo sons directly–has not even been filed and contained no particular provisions to amend. They are publicly proclaiming that the 196 three-fourths vote required to pass a constitutional amendment in a joint-vote Con-Ass will be theirs.

Of course, the passage of such a resolution is just the first round in a four-round Cha-cha bout.

The second round is the expected Supreme Court battle over the joint-vote Con-Ass. A February 16 retirement by SC justice Adolfo Azcuna is eyed by GMA political strategists as the golden opportunity to appoint a pro-GMA justice in order to firm up the shaky alignment in the current Supreme Court.

The third round is the convening of the joint-vote Constituent Assembly to actually pass the necessary amendment or revision of the 1987 constitution by shifting to a parliamentary system, extending the terms of office of elected officials, or by simply allowing the president to run again for reelection. This is where the 196 captive votes will come in handy, ramming through by brute force such an amendment or revision.

The fourth round is the conduct of the plebiscite on the GMA extension in power, possibly by corroding and influencing the Commission on Elections.

Like the Pacquiao steamroller win over de la Hoya, the GMA strategists imagine doing it over the Cha-cha opposition. The GMA congressmen are raring to do it in the next days to come.

The legal issues that have to be sorted out are explored by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ in The ‘ifs’ in Charter change and Speak tenderly to Jerusalem on Cha-cha (see also former Chief Justice Panganiban’s articles). Essentially, Bernas (rather glumly) admits the Constitution he helped write, has provisions on amendments written in such a manner as to require some sort of resolution by the Supreme Court to sort out it’s meaning (in marked contrast to Dean Jorge Bocobo’s strong belief the Charter is immune to being interpreted in any but a strictly bicameral way).

So what is the opposition to the House proposals up to?

On December 10, the hierarchy and the Catholic Schools will mount a protest at the gates of the House of Representatives, for Land Reform and against Charter Change at the present time. The hierarchy apparently shares the concern that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program will not be extended by Congress, as the landlord bloc in the House wants to end Land Reform.

On December 12 there will be an inter-faith rally in Makati City.

Here is a tactical question: both rallies require a turnout at least as large as the February 2007 Makati City rally. If neither rally -or if both rallies- fails to match those numbers, the Palace and the ruling coalition, at present spooked by the possibility of a massive turnout, will get their second wind. The President herself, if you’ve noticed, doesn’t seem to have unleashed a torrent of cash, which means she’s either hard-pressed to scrounge it up, or is holding back. But if the much-feared mobilizing power of the Catholic Church proves a dud, or the public shrugs off Charter Change by avoiding the rallies, then the President may decide to bet and bet big on Charter Change.

In December 2006, the House, lacking the votes to bring the Charter Change case to the brink of a full-blown Constitutional Crisis, blinked and folded in the face of a threatened Church mobilization. But the Church itself, suddenly getting cold feet because it was worried about a People Power situation, and inflexible in its determination to purge the Luneta rally of anything smacking of the “political,” declined to mobilize fully. A lot of finger-pointing and recriminations then took place within the ruling coalition, basically along the lines of “well, what do you know, they weren’t so strong after all”. Although to be sure, this was also meant to enfeeble Jose de Venecia, Jr.

The ruling coalition’s ranks already having been purged of JDV and his ilk, and with many more shepherds to guide the ruling coalition (a more effective Speaker, Nograles, the President’s two sons, and Rep. Villafuerte), with a hard-line cabal in the Cabinet composed of durable political operators, the President might just be inclined to see where this will go. Personally, I think the one to watch here is Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. and his empire-building efforts in the power sector. How his efforts prosper will clarify whether an alliance has firmed up with the President, making it more economically rewarding for him to pursue an extension of the current regime rather than embarking -and placing his bets- on influencing the next government.

But even as I point this out, something else is bothering me.

Both protest activities (December 10 and 12) make me think that we really ought to ponder whether camouflaging political action with the cloak of religion is healthy.

A couple of years ago, during a forum held by a foreign chamber of commerce, one Filipino expressed frustration over the timidity of the hierarchy and I responded by saying that perhaps this was a good thing, as reducing the political influence of the Catholic Church was better for the country in the long run. Since then I have become increasingly concerned with preserving the secular nature of our state (see The secular ideal) while ensuring freedom of conscience for practicing Catholics (see Faith and morals).

Making religious observance the central focus of political action dates to martial law, when public gatherings were hampered and regulated by the dictatorship, and when Communists needed to find a way to pursue their United Front tactics while dodging the accusation that they were promoting a Godless ideology. Religious rites helped keep political action focused on peaceful, non-violent resistance and kept the brutality of the martial law regime in check.

But the (unintended) consequence of all this has been to make the Catholic Church and in particular, the hierarchy, political players of consequence to an extent that would have been intolerable to past generations.

On one hand you have the Catholic Church effectively mobilizing to block the Reproductive Health bill, and on the other, mobilizing to keep Land Reform legislation alive. Tolerating the former because of the need for a force capable of mobilizing to promote the latter is a Faustian bargain. It only serves to underline the inherent contradictions in what’s going on, because it introduces the element of sectarian morality into the political sphere. Yet it may be the wrong place for that: after all, what is the political benefit of organizing around the celebration of the Mass, when the President can organize her own Masses, too? What is the use of one bunch of prelates if another will publicly support the administration?

For politicians, partisanship is not only to be expected, but natural; for bishops, the clergy, and their rites, it is, somehow, incongruous. At the very least, marshaling religion for one side only permits marshaling religion for the other; it does not introduce anything new nor does it offer any real opportunity to break the impasse the country’s been in, politically, since 2005. It only fosters the impression both sides are cynically using faith as a camouflage for politics, when the onus should be on those who should be in the dock for using official patronage as a means to court clerical support.

What makes me anxious, though, is that I think the President’s camp, if it decides to continue the brinkmanship Charter Change will entail, has latched on the right ingredients for successfully pursuing a campaign, while the opposition to the President and all her works will find the going tougher this time around.

But then again, there may be a reason why there is the perception that there is a conventional wisdom: and that is, that the gut instincts of those who believe that brinkmanship over the Constitution will truly mark the point of no return and defeat for the administration, are right.

Looking ahead, Congressman Ruffy Biazon thinks amendments are in order, eventually. That is assuming three things. First, that a real consensus concerning the need to amend exists (only within the narrow confines of certain groups does such a consensus exist, methinks). Second, that there are qualified people to ponder on and propose amendments (particularly if convention delegates are chosen by popular election). And third, that the amendments would accomplish some good.

The reactionary in me takes a skeptical attitude and would rather ponder what so many of our elders pointed out, which was, the desirability of restoring the 1935 Constitution, which worked without a hitch so that it took a dictator and a craven court to eliminate it, and which proved so difficult to replace an elected Convention bickered and squabbled its way into co-optation and scandal. As was eloquently pointed by the late Teodoro M. Locsin in Farewell, my lovely! in 1986.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

156 thoughts on “The right fight at the wrong time?

  1. Taxj,

    I was actually hoping you would not have dragged me back.

    I didn’t want to have to counter and water down whatever arguments you have already put forth.

    But if we were to base it on the House proposed amendments; I believe local autonomy of provinces and even 2 regions down to the barangay would still be assured in a federal government because the Charter still says it so even though the manner of federalization would still have to be worked out.

    As based on the House proposed amendments; Federalization would not negate local autonomy unless of course they re-write the local government article and state policy again and remove those provisions.

    Even state Constitutions still have to follow the Mother Charter.

    Sorry but cheers.

  2. justice league, taxj, i’m sorry i have to leave the discussion. i’m out of town, can’t sit down much. nice talking to you

  3. Mindanaoan,

    justice league, taxj, i’m sorry i have to leave the discussion. i’m out of town, can’t sit down much. nice talking to you

    No problem though It would probably take you only a couple of minutes to read the latest replies.

    But like I stated; I believe our issue is done.

    I believe your concerns have been addressed. You can always resurrect it if you have concerns when you come back whether in this thread or in a future one.

  4. justice league:

    Mindanaoan’s states are autonomous. Yours, obviously, is not. Your refer to specific proposals, but, how far will it go in the hands of con-con delegates who are in no way bound by any? .

    “Federalization would not negate local autonomy unless of course they re-write the local government article and state policy again and remove those provisions.” If you can lose, you will!

    Why take the risk of losing what you already have when you don’t have to? I’m sorry, but, didn’t this question come from you? Or should!

  5. Taxj,

    Mindanaoan’s states are autonomous. Yours, obviously, is not.

    Where did you get that idea?

    If you are concerned with the issue of State Constitutions having to conform within limitations of a Federal Charter; you are going to have to provide an example of one that doesn’t have to even though the Federal Charter says that it does .

    Like say the Federal Constitution states that the right of citizens of Graymalkin to vote shall not be denied or abridged by Graymalkin or by any state on account of sex. And the proof of autonomy of States is that they can defy this provision? Is that what you mean?

    Your refer to specific proposals, but, how far will it go in the hands of con-con delegates who are in no way bound by any?

    Every proposed revision/amendment of the Constitution (House proposal, Abueva’s Concom, Senate resolution 10, even Sigaw ng Bayan’s) I found incorporated local autonomy. (Though with some less eloquent than others)

    A Concon will likely follow suit.

    But the fact of the matter is; you are the one who said my question was misleading.

    In relation to your issue; I had basis for that kind of question and that basis is the House proposed amendments, and no amount of your spin is going to neutralize that basis.

    If you can lose, you will!

    Why take the risk of losing what you already have when you don’t have to? I’m sorry, but, didn’t this question come from you? Or should!

    You seem to be forgetting my post on Dec. 17, 10:46 pm wherein I stated;

    And that cause happens to be that we don’t need Charter change to have a decentralized and empowered local government as what federalists want.”

    And when I said that we don”t need Charter Change regarding this issue, it meant we don’t need to Federalize.

    You seem to be spinning out of control.

    You should know when to leave well enough alone.

    Otherwise this is going to be the wrong fight at the wrong time.

  6. Clarification:

    Every proposed revision/amendment of the Constitution (House proposal, Abueva’s Concom, Senate resolution 10, even Sigaw ng Bayan’s) I found incorporated local autonomy in the final product. (Though with some less eloquent than others)

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