The Long View: Kicking and screaming

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.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

11 thoughts on “The Long View: Kicking and screaming

  1. There is no question at a time of advances in modern communications the GMA government has suffered one of the most probably disastrous image problems of her Presidency.

    She is now being pictured as simply an incompetent who was oblivious to what she herself had created.

    No amount of posturing to regain what little she had left of credibility will be possible.

    Notice how former Defense Secretary Teodoro has disappeared from the scene. His successor also made sure he would not bear the brunt of the initial questioning as the others let the cat out of the bag so to speak. There was and is no rebellion.

    This is simply the government desperately trying to restore the credibility of a semblance of governance at the center of power.

    She is no longer simply a lame duck but a dead duck…

  2. Arguing about presence/lack of rebellion is moot because the decision is foregone — Congress will not revoke the Martial Law declaration. It is of minor value, but NOTED: constitutional resource-person Bernas (who was an expert until he expressed opinions supporting GMA, now he’s just another columnist)… Bernas himself had said the i’s had been dotted and t’s crossed so that steps followed conform to 1987 Constitution.

  3. GMA did not even show up to defend her imposition of Martial Law. This is strange if not totally absurd. Martial Law is nothing but another Ampatuan diggings where truth and culpabilities are to be burried and backhoed.

    Wala na nga naman ang Ampatuan vote factory nila, to forestall the wrath of the people whose votes were stifled with fraud and terrorism for decades, martial law is to become their fallback or plan B.

  4. “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.”

    Morale, perception, a sense of security–these are stuff for PR too, Manolo. Even then, it sickens me if your impressions are accurate.

    What have you heard from the civil society? Any plans for a big protest, and what would be the messages in these protests? Liberty, Equality, Sanctity of Every Human Life?

  5. opinion seems divided, there are those for martial law, others against; this in turn prevents a broader consensus on whether to have a big protest as the martial law question will determine if certain sectors/institutions mobilize or not; not to mention it’s almost vacation and there seems to be growing apathy because of the holidays.

  6. Aside from the student rallies, the media rallies, there was efren penaflorida’s yesterday, jim paredes said 6-7,000 people were there for “Efen’s msg of heroism. Kariton of hope mightier than backhoe of darkness, ampatuan, martial law. Very well explained beyond polemics.” but not like a madrid-style peace/justice rally.

  7. Now Martial Law is lifted already, we don’t know who were benefited by it and who were the donors of such benefits. As for me, the Ampatuans were benefited by the declaration of martial law because they were relegated to political detainees when in reality, they were common murderers. GMA was also benefited by it as a means of public relation stunt, while at the same time they were able to, with the protective shield of Martial Law, hide and conceal evidences of election frauds which the Ampatuans may have in their possession.

    I think by arming the Ampatuans and the granting of political concessions to them including unbridled authority and power, GMA should be held equally responsible for the carnage. Isn’t it true that some the arms used in the carnage bears the markings of AFP and PNP?

    So dapat pati si GIBO dabit dito.

  8. This “equally responsible” should be extended to GMA’s parish priest for not providing her with the insightful Sunday sermons so she hems to the straight and true. Also to her Assumption College school, teachers and friends. Ano ba naman sila, hindi nila tinuruan ng wasto iyong kanilang estudiyante?

    and of course, to GMA’s parents, especially her mom. The mon is the strongest influence on children, so GMA’s mom — talsik diyan!

  9. As I see it, Soc Rodrigo rejected a joint voting of congress for good reason:
    1. To ensure that the check-balance of a bicameral legislature would provide an extra layer of “defense” for approving/rejecting martial law.
    2. To protect the sactity of both houses. The house is composed of regionally voted reps who consider what is good for their respective districts, while the senate is composed of nationally-elected officals who look after national interests. Voting together as one would negate this fundamental difference.
    Soc experienced the wrath of martial law first hand during the Marcos dictatorship (i.e. he was among the first to be picked up and jailed after the proclamation of PD 1081.). His efforts to reject the so-called “joint-voting” are based on first-hand lessons from history, and as such, should be respected and lauded, particularly in sensitive issues such as martial law.

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