Lighting the Beacons for a Phoney War?

“Hope,” said Gandalf in the film, “is kindled.” Last night, the media basically ignored the goings-on in the House of Representatives.

The question is whether the seven beacon-towers of Gondor have been lit; and if anyone will or should answer the summons.

Lawyers and such have pointed out that besides what they call a “lack of material time,” there are other hurdles that will be difficult to overcome if the scenario in play is amending the Constitution before 2010. Even if the House goes it alone, the most formidable seems to be getting the Senate to pass a law to fund a plebiscite to approve proposed amendments. To get around that you’d have to go down the road of extreme measures like emergency powers, and that seems a stretch.

But I’m operating from a particular point of view, which is that it seems more likely to me that the President and her people are more interested in consolidating their ranks going into 2010, and solving the problem of what happens after 2010, by making whoever is elected president irrelevant.

Among other things, the way to do this is to keep the ruling coalition together, and by so doing, allowing it to maintain its dominance over local governments and the lower House, in the hope it might even eke out a majority in the Senate in 2010. It could then pursue amendments while the President could, say, run for congresswoman in her home province.

If you review Joel Rocamora’s account of the Palace campaign to secure amendments, the problem, then as now, was securing enough votes for Charter Change, considering most representatives are hedging their bets with 2010 in mind. With that in mind, the Palace strategists seem to have gone for an indirect instead of a direct attack, in the hope that one victory will inspire greater confidence among the members of the ruling party.

Of course the first confidence-building measure was to finally graft the Kampi minority onto the Lakas majority, turning the ruling coalition’s biggest chunks into a majority party on its own. Ana Marie Pamintuan today writes that the President pretty swiftly gave the House its marching orders:

If the congressional buzz is accurate, just hours after President Arroyo told the nation that the merger of the two pro-administration parties was the surest sign that the 2010 elections would push through, she instructed the merged party to pursue Charter change at all costs.

Among the reported costs are additional pork barrel allocations for those who would vote for House Resolution 1109, which seeks to convene the chamber into a constituent assembly without Senate participation…

The buzz about the President’s direct hand was reinforced by the fact that her usual congressional retinue of jet-setting sycophants did not join her in her latest trip to South Korea and on to scenic Lithuania.

Instead the jet-setters stayed home… Yesterday they cast their votes for Resolution 1109. What happens next is another story, requiring another generous serving of pork.

Personally, I view what happened from the perspective of confidence-building. The Palace and the House leadership can bask in the warmth of success. That is its own reward. It can also chortle over the way the approval of HR1109 swept other pesky issues off the table, such as extending Land Reform, or the dilemma represented by the Reproductive Health bill, or even the hole the Senate dug for the House in terms of the Right of Reply bill.

Crucial constituencies -owners of large estates, the Catholic hierarchy, the media- won’t have inconvenient legislation to fuss over, and will be less inclined to fight the ruling party frontally. The House’s move, crude as it was, simply isn’t enough to derail the ongoing alliance-building going on among candidates (who are being picked off one by one; Villar and Lacson are in hot water, for example).

Also, the Palace thrives in a situation where its critics are discombobulated by events, and fall all over themselves trying to respond to the latest Palace ploy, which leaves the administration free to hatch new plots.

What happens next is, of course, unknown. I don’t think anyone really knows how this will play out; but, it throws a monkey wrench in the campaigns of the aspiring successors of the President, and their efforts to forge new coalitions to propel them to the presidency. It keeps the administration coalition intact, fat, and happy; and it allows the pros to survey the scene. As baratillo@cubao shrewdly slices and dices it,

1. There will be rallies and demonstrations today? Unfortunately, it might even hurt the cause of the oppositors of the bill if there is a lack of support or a show of numbers. This is further complicated by the weather – monsoon rains and typhoons are party poopers and might prove to be a fatal one for this party planned.

I strongly agree with this statement. Marcos bragged “nothing succeeds like success” and you know the saying that while victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan.

This brings up something the historian Ruby Paredes brought up some years back in a book review. Concerning our political culture and voting behavior (in the localities, for example where congressmen rule the roost), she wrote,

I know Filipinos who have actually voted, un-coerced, for local criminal “boss” types, simply because they were perceived to be vaguely more powerful than the other candidates, and therefore more likely to win. Perhaps some voters do not want to be on the losing team, and may be attracted to power per se rather than to a candidate’s moral character. Vulgar displays of power; feed deliberately into largely amoral ideas about personal prowess, widespread in Southeast Asian cultures, that can influence social and political organization at a very local level.

In this case, however much the behavior of the ruling party might offend people, there’s also the element of the brazeness of it all resulting in a kind of charisma. On the other hand, every instance of success saps the will of the other side, and increases the chance the public will just go with the official flow rather than buck the trend. Every gathering that ends up perceived as small, composed of the usual predictable groups, only strengthens the impression the administration is all-powerful, and depresses those active against the present dispensation.

2. It will be challenged in the Supreme Court. Where it will be locked in a legal battle. And depending on the mood of the public and what is seen by the SC Justices will determine its outcome. If approve then this gives the Lower House the opportunity with no need of the Senate – not the whole Senate anyway. If not then back to the drawing board.

This is a clear and present danger, one that lawyers like Teddy Te have warned about; here’s his FaceBook message:

[Ted Te] urges all concerned NOT to file cases against the railroaded HB1109 before the Supreme Court. It is a worthless scrap of paper that should not be dignified any further, especially with judicial intervention. Without Senate participation, the House is whistling in the wind. In the meantime, show your outrage at this shamelessness (yes, even for this House).

Though of course even if senators muster unusual self-control and don’t go charging into the receiving room of the Supreme Court, there’s nothing to stop the usual suspects like Oliver Lozano from doing the administration a favor by obligingly filing a case.

Returning to baratillo’s points,

3. It also exposes the strength of the different political parties at present. It will show how strong or weak the alliances are in the Opposition. And more importantly it will and has shown within the Administration forces who are loyal and who are not. A Sitzkrieg for the 2010 elections. Last night and the succeeding days will show who among them will be on the list to be supported.

Again, I strongly agree. As mistress of patronage, the President knows who, exactly, can be relied upon in the months to come.

Now baratillo@cubao also brings up an interesting phrase -sitzkrieg- “sitting war,” dating from the early months of World War 2, or as the Western media put it, the “phoney war,” which was spent by the Germans and the French and British, for the first few months of the war, trading barbs but little else. What we have, as a result of the House passing its resolution, is the appearance of conflict without any real fight being engaged, until -and unless- the Opposition falls into the trap of fighting the campaign on the basis of ground rules proposed -and mastered- by the administration.

He also goes on to suggest,

4. The event also shows or will show how much change or actions can be done by the present administration. A sort of testing of the public and the opposition. Who are the one’s protesting? Who are the one’s acting on it? Or are the players hesitating? Will it all be talk and no action.

And this, I believe, is also a crucial benefit accorded by this move. The administration has one significant advantage, and that’s of having achieved a consensus. But then that’s always been an advantage it enjoys. It knows what it wants; the opposition does not (or to be precise, opposition factions have objectives and desires not necessarily shared, in fact probably opposed, by other factions).

I often hear people ask, “we know what you are against, but what are you for?” The administration can always clearly answer what it’s for -and it’s always about change. Seriously. Right or wrong, it can always point to a consistent record of advocating change, even if it’s “unpopular.”

Critics are often stumped on the “change” part, either the changes are too exotic, too frightening (because too wide-ranging), or not expressed in terms of wanting change, but couched in conservative “let us protect” this or that terms, which isn’t exciting at all for a public tired of the usual goings-on.

And it is to the advantage of the administration for the public to consider this as just the continuation of the same tired old fight which the administration will win, anyway, or at least, for which it won’t have to suffer an real inconvenience, which is a victory in itself.

Meanwhile, because 2010 still remains in play, as political groups rush to do something -anything- to appear relevant in the present news cycle, the Palace can see which of its favorite tactics to keep its 25% of the population that supports it on its side, the 25% that hates the opposition more than it hates the President uncommitted, and the remaining half of the population in hopeless disagreement, still works:

a.The Estrada bogey; even if I personally think the President herself extinguished the Edsa Dos-Tres divide by pardoning Estrada, consigning his past cases to the past, this is not how many veterans of Edsa Dos see it, or how the Edsa Tres advocates view it.

b. The CPP-NPA card; which harps on how there is a significant chunk of the population unprepared to recognize the NDF as a legitimate player in parliamentary politics (which is the only real guarantee of a shift from armed to peaceful efforts to contest power).

c. The military specter; in that military adventurism spooks most people, as it carries risks the public is unprepared to take (how different it would be if politically-minded officers simply said, we will keep off the streets but clean the military’s Augean stables! That might be something the public would applaud).

d. The Vice-Presidential threat; in that there are many who view the Vice-President as no alternative at all to the President, and who can be convinced to stay quiet out of the pious hope the President will bow out of public life come 2010.


This brings up the reassurance of the Secretary of the Interior and Local Governments that, as he put it, there will an election, at all levels, for the positions and in the manner specified by the present Constitution. Though as he charmingly put it, “in the manner of the 2004 elections.” The administration has the means to prepare for more eventualities, at the same time, than anyone else.

He wasn’t lying when he said the administration is preparing for 2010. He wasn’t lying when he advised the administration’s many but disorganized critics to prepare, as well -he wasn’t lying, he was taunting.

“All your bases are belong to us,” is what this entire exercise seems to be about, if you read between the lines. The President and the ruling party is so awash in cash and political capital, it can thumb its at everyone simply to pursue an exotic legal theory on constitutional amendments.

On a final note, blogger SMOKE, provocative as always, says,

The trouble with the fear-mongers is that they didn’t want this step taken at all. They don’t even want to hear what the proposals are. That’s not democracy. People who call what happened last night a tyranny of the majority got it right. It was a tyranny of the majority, but then again, isn’t the rule of the majority what a democracy is all about? Is the majority supposed to be gentle? Better by far to have the opportunity to talk about the proposals through the flexing of majority muscle, than be eternally be bogged down by the debates of people who would rather have a tyranny of fear.

Because that’s all this is, the opportunity to talk about proposals and finalize them.

“Disingenious,” some would holler! “This Resolution makes it possible for the feared amendments to be railroaded!”

Of course it does. But even assuming that the feared amendments – term extensions and such – are included in the final bill of proposals, that list will have to weather the inevitable challenge before the Supreme Court, making it therefore, far less than final. And even assuming that it hurdles the Supreme Court, then it has to survive public opinion.

And there is where I believe the real battle should be fought.

She’s not alone in arguing critics of the House move are alarmist because there’s no reason to worry because the House hasn’t put forward specific amendments it wants, beyond the Speaker’s personal proposals to liberalize restrictions on foreign investments. But beyond that modest proposal, the operative word is change, and all the majority wants is a reasonable opportunity to hear all sides -and be heard.

This is untrue. The blueprint was laid out in 2006, and has not changed since. The changes proposed are detailed, and many. There is no reason to think this doesn’t remain the blueprint for the changes the new hybrid majority party wants and will campaign for even in 2010.

Matrix House Proposed Charter Amendments

But you see, this is the whole problem right there. Too much remains to be done in getting the public to understand the system as it exists, before you even tackle what should be changed -and how. So it seems to me, since we have no control over the Lozanos of this world, or even the Supreme Court, and since, after the House adjourns sine die tonight, not to reconvene until July to hear the State of the Nation Address, much more productive things could be done in terms of
1. continuing preparations for 2010
2. educating ourselves and each other about the Constitution.
See coverage of what happened on Twitter, documented here and reproduced in Technograph and also as liveblogged by caffeine_sparks in Filipino Voices. You can also find this reflection on procedural versus substantive democracy by her in Filipino Voices.
Two Open Letters: Marocharim to the House in general; Alleba Politics to the Speaker of the House in particular.
And some bloggers’ reactions: the prelude to the whole thing as blogged by Ricky Carandang, reactions to the House from abashet, Cocoy in Filipino Voices,, Reflections of a Math Teacher, Touched by an Angel, Tried and Tested, The Entropy Blog, Snow World, and how The BLIPS Network proposes a monarchy and puts forward a suitable throne.

And while not a blog entry, here’s a congressman responding to his colleagues:

Locsin on HR1109

Manuel L. Quezon III.

19 thoughts on “Lighting the Beacons for a Phoney War?

  1. I think Teddy Te is right: there should be no Supreme Court challenge to 1109 because it is indeed a mere expression of the House that the Congress ought to convene itself into a Constituent Assembly. It is quite trivially superfluous because, as Fr. Bernas so very nicely put it on TV this afternoon, the Congress already is a Constituent Assembly which can already propose changes to the 1987 charter.

    Indeed both House and Senate have adopted Rules on chacha that completely and obviously comply with the Constitutional provision which says, “Any amendment to or revision of this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress, upon a vote of three fourths of all its Members.

    Both voting separately and voting jointly allow for compliance with the three fourths majority rule in the charter. But the Congress, in its wisdom has, since around 1987, simply adopted the route of normal legislation for this purpose, with the two Houses voting separately under a 3/4 majority rule.

    HRes 1109 is perfectly regular and legal as long as it follows the current House and Senate Rules and is submitted to the Senate for a Joint and Concurrent Resolution to be promulgated.

    But I would suggest the following ANTIDOTE to HRes 1109. I would immediately urge the Senate to pass a Resolution expressing the properly conservative sentiment that the system adopted by both Houses of the Congress is perfectly Constitutional and workable, and explicitly stating the 1987 charter’s elimination of the need to convene in joint session because precisely the Congress ALREADY IS a Con-Ass right now. The Congress may propose changes to the charter right now with no further need of funding, or the apparent intention to set up an entire parallel institution of the Lower House to be a Con-Ass, — a sort of Lowest House in the nether regions of public morality.

    Senate Resolution XXX could further propose the First Amendment to the 1987 Constitution, namely the insertion of the 1935 Constitution’s provision on Charter Change.

    Or better yet an Omnibus Resolution to REVISE 1987 compleatly by re-adopting 1935, in toto as it were, as it existed just before 1973. Throw the whole lot of Crooked, Rotten Timber into the fire and go back to the Basics before the Taliban got hold of the Law Books.

  2. I strike at anything that even remotely looks like a term extension for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo through whatever means.

  3. They are criminals and have a criminal mindset, and their intended victims are the people.

  4. I am very confused as to how we vehemently abhor the personality-centered political and electoral system in the country which is reflected by the election of movie actors and other popular personalities in the senate while at the same time abhor the actions of the house of representatives which are more or less truer to the idea of constituency-based preference.

  5. A constituent assembly (Con-Ass) is opposed by the people precisely for the reason that this Congress or its ruling party has been already shown its colors in the past two years or so, same as the previous one — it does not listen to public opinion and have been a derelict in its duties to make the Executive branch responsible, and is therefore, UNREPRESENTATIVE or UNDEMOCRATIC in practice. The latest survey says that the people are against Cha-Cha at this point in time. Moves to amend the constitution is primarily to save the ass of Gloria Arroyo come reckoning day.

    A parliamentary form of government may be more advantageous to the country but this should require deep and wide-ranging study and consultation — and should be entrusted to a Constitutional Commission (not a via a Con-Ass composed of thieves and generates in the present Congress).

    From the looks of it, Malacanang and its henchmen in Congress are gunning for a win, whichever way the wind blows. Lord, have mercy on us. Yun lang pow.

  6. A constituent assembly (Con-Ass) is opposed by the people precisely for the reason that this Congress or its ruling party has been already shown its colors in the past two years or so, same as the previous one — it does not listen to public opinion and have been a derelict in its duties to make the Executive branch responsible, and is therefore, UNREPRESENTATIVE or UNDEMOCRATIC in practice. The latest survey says that the people are against Cha-Cha at this point in time. Moves to amend the constitution is primarily to save the ass of Gloria Arroyo come reckoning day. No iota of trust should be extended to this Congress — they don’t deserve any.

    A parliamentary form of government may be more advantageous to the country but this should require deep and wide-ranging study and consultation — and should be entrusted to a Constitutional Commission (not a via a Con-Ass composed of thieves and degenerates in the present Congress).

    From the looks of it, Malacanang and its henchmen in Congress are gunning for a win, whichever way the wind blows. Lord, have mercy on us. Yun lang pow.

  7. Why only react to an issue now? If our views represent the majority, as we claim we do, we can just picket at each of our representative’s office to oppose the aye vote for HR 1109. But no, we always choose a reactive stance and only confront an issue once it is besieging our doors.

    Kaya nga may REPRESENTATIVE eh to represent us.

    Ang maganda siguro dito sa Pilipinas ay parating mag plebiscite for each and every law or policy we encounter. Mukhang di talaga tayo hiyang sa representative-type of government. Masyado tayong reliant sa 1,200 respondent survey.

  8. Oh Liam, how’s Malacanang these days? Bet you popped some champagne over last night’s eh?

  9. pero arguing on the side of the minority, there are issues which should be settled before undergoing such life-affecting processes. issues about the fairness of the processes and about the trappings of autocracy.

  10. sorry madonna, pero di pa ako nakakita ng champagne sa buong buhay ko. 🙂

    I don’t condemn you stereotyping on the side of affiliation, I just hope we argue based on the points and issues.

  11. Oh gosh, my apologies Liam, if I offended by stereotyping you . Was just being cheeky: as usual, I’m not good at it LOL. Should attend a seminar on how to be cheeky the right way.

    Sure, I agree. We should argue on points and issues. Anyway, this thing is coming to a head anyway.

  12. Ah, one more thing Liam, I am personally in favor of a parliamentary form of government but with the option to retain a presidency that will be voted by the people (like the French system). But, any move to amend the Constitution methinks should be after 2010. And not by this present Congress (masyado silang mabaho for comfort).

  13. Bottomline is we trust no one, not even the highest court of the land. Everyone is suspect. We have devalued our institutions to the point that we are now paranoid about all of them.

    Perhaps DJB has a point about throwing everything into the fire and going back to the basics via the 1935 Constitution.

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