Friday, November 21, 2008

Pre-2010 Charter Change: Magnet for Suspicion and Distrust

Any moves to amend the Constitution before the change of political leadership in 2010 will only be met with extreme distrust and suspicion by the people. The proponents of a pre-2010 charter change must take into account the prevailing sentiments of a very significant segment of the population which have very serious suspicions about the motives of those pushing for chacha. It cannot be denied that there is no vocal clamor for charter change from the populace while on the other hand, there is widespread disapproval of tinkering with the Constitution especially under the present national political leadership (not just the president, but the ENTIRE political leadership).

It does not help the cause of the cha-cha proponents that the most vocal about amendments to the Constitution are incumbent politicians, particularly those identified with the present administration. Thus, the product of a rammed-down-the-throat-of-the-people charter change will only be a highly politicized and divisive Constitution which will not be a solution to the country’s problems but only serve to perpetuate the political divide that we are experiencing now.

It does not also help that the proposed method is through Constituent Assembly, where incumbent members of the legislature will be the ones to sit down to propose and approve changes in the Constitution. Proponents of this should make a thorough, realistic self-examination and ask this question: “What is the people’s level of trust of present officials?”

What we need in 2010 is a fresh start. We do not need to carry over the baggage of the political past, the woes and ills of past administrations and the conflicts of politicians of bygone days. That’s why if we are to amend the Constitution, which I will venture to say needs some amendments, it must not happen during the incumbency of the present political leadership. The level of suspicion by the people is simply too high.

Of course, the question now is, if we agree that the Constitution can be improved with amendments, when and how should it be done? If doing it now by constituent assembly will only be met by skepticism and distrust, how and when should it be done?

I think amendments done through a duly elected Constitutional Convention will not have the baggage of a constituent assembly which is perceived to be self-serving. Electing the delegates simultaneous with the 2010 national and local elections or even the 2010 barangay elections (which will be held five months after the national and local elections) will enable the change to happen immediately in order for the new administration to make use of the benefits of the new charter. In other words, a fresh start for the country and the people.

In the wake of the Barack Obama victory which stood on a platform of Change, there is no escaping that charter change may well provide a fresh start for the Philippines. But that change should not be dragged down by a tarnished political past, and suspicions of self serving change. Just like in the United States, the Change must happen with the People playing the most significant role, not politicians who having messianic complexes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Adminstration or Opposition?

While plying the stretch of South Superhighway this morning on the way to work, I was listening to the interview of a bright, young senator by an equally bright, young radio anchor-commentator. They were discussing the recent leadership change in the Senate, trying to dissect the rhyme and reason for the change and the prospects that the change will bring to the Upper Chamber, particularly the committee chairmanships.

While many said the Change brought by Obama should be emulated by Filipinos, the change in the senate was met with skepticism. Of course, that skepticism is due to the circumstances surrounding the change such as moves to amend the constitution, ongoing investigations, new appointments in the Supreme Court, etc. Because of that skepticism, who gets to be hailed as chairman of what committee becomes a concern.

The interview focused on who will get to be designated as chair of the powerful Blue Ribbon Committee, formerly chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. The committee is mandated to investigate anomalies in government, as what it is doing now with regard to the fertilizer fund scam, the euro generals and other controversies in the past. The committee is seen as the people’s tool against the corrupt and the means to look into shenanigans in government.

The interviewer asked the interviewee who he thinks should be the chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee. The anchor-commentator pointedly asked whether an administration or opposition senator should be the chair. The articulate senator replied that the former chair should be retained because the committee, given its mandate, should be given to someone who is affiliated with the opposition to serve as check and balance to the administration.

I think everyone will agree with the reply of the senator. That the ideal situation is that an opposition senator should be the chair. Indeed, it will ensure that the administration will always be on their toes, since the opposition will be empowered to investigate activities of the government.

But as for me, I don’t necessarily agree.

While I believe in a strong opposition, I also believe that the basis for who will chair the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, or any investigative body for that matter, should not be political affiliation or leanings. The criteria should not be whether the prospective chair is pro-administration or with the opposition, but whether the person is fair, bold and independent in thought and action when it comes to issues of anomalies in government.

We must all be reminded that the Blue Ribbon Committee is supposed to look into anomalies in government, no matter who perpetrated it. And we must be reminded that anomalies in government may be committed not just by administration officials but even by those from the opposition. Corruption knows no political boundaries. It is an affliction that affects anyone who falls into temptation, whether administration or opposition, male or female, educated and uneducated, even the religious or atheist.

What should matter is not the chair’s political loyalty but the faithfulness to the mandate and responsibility of the position. Because even if an opposition chair is put into place, it does not make him or her immune from the possibility of protecting fellow opposition officials if the situation calls for it.

To the question of who should be designated as chair, I would have answered differently. I would have set aside the criteria of political leaning (whether opposition or administration) but rather focus on the prospective chair’s independence of thought and integrity in the performance of the job.

Of course, it may be said that it is difficult to judge a person before he assumes the position, but at least by having that standard or criteria stated, the chair would have an idea what standard he or she should be living up to. If we settle with the idea that the criteria should be based on whether the chair is from the opposition or administration, then the danger that the chair will focus on anomalies of “the other side” and turn a blind eye to those from his or her own political color will remain.

Someone said that Leadership is a lonely place. Somehow, integrity seems to be in the same location. But I think we have chance to stand by both if we choose to. What say you, Philippines?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Why Can't We Be Like the Americans?

“The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.”

It was the 35th U.S. President, the youngest ever elected at 43 years old, who said that. John F. Kennedy, assassinated in the middle of his term, was known for his thought-provoking quotable quotes.

Well, another charismatic, young US President (President-Elect, that is) spoke about Change…a Change that America Needs, a Change that has now come to America.

Yes, he can. And yes, he did. Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America.

The world was witness today to history unfolding. America finally crossed the line and elected its first non-white president. Perhaps in the future, when America’s political maturity will have further advanced, they will have their first Latino president…or the first Asian president…maybe even a Filipino-American. Who knows? Barack Obama said that America is a place where all things are possible.”

To a certain extent, the Obama candidacy excited not just the American voters but the world as well. I found it a curious departure from past US elections to see and hear Filipinos in the Philippines talk excitedly about the US presidential race. The coverage of the elections also showed how citizens of other countries closely monitored the events and even cheer as Barack Obama was declared the winner. The senator from Illinois actually offered hope not just to the weary Americans but also to the rest of the world.

Here in the Philippines, I am pretty to sure that many are inspired by Obama’s victory. After all, he was in a situation that is closest to the heart of the Filipinos---the Underdog. Although it may be said that from the beginning, it was already apparent that Obama will capture the hearts and minds of the voters, it still could not be discounted that the color of his skin might thwart the destiny that was his. Doubts still lingered that America might not be prepared to have its first African-American president.

As I listened, watched, and read in the radio, television, and the internet the many Filipinos who reacted to the Obama win, I couldn’t help but agree to many who said that his electoral victory serves as an inspiration to us, that there is a hope for change in this country and all we needed was a Filipino Obama who will rise from anonymity and take this country by storm and trample on traditional politics in the coming elections.

And who would disagree with that desire? We all want an inspired and inspiring leadership.

While many feel inspired by Barack Obama, there are also those who expressed admiration at Senator McCain’s statesmanship when he conceded and urged “all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”

The man just lost a bitterly contested election yet he concedes and rallies the troops around his opponent. Indeed, he proved that his being a war hero extends all the way to his political battles.

His statesmanship is reciprocated by the magnanimous victor, when the president-elect said in his speech, “Sen. McCain fought long and hard in this campaign. And he's fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.”

And he also extended his hand of reconciliation as he said that he was looking forward to working with Senator McCain in the coming days.

We are not used to this kind of statesmanship after elections. That is reflected by the many commentaries of people who, with near unanimity, all expressed the desire that the same could be said of Philippine politics.

Not a few said, “Why can’t we be like the Americans?”

I think that while the desire is there, we do not have what it takes to be like them in that regard. Well, not yet.

As I was listening to an interview over AM radio, a prominent, young and promising politician was ecstatic over the win of Barack Obama. The anchor asked him if we can have a similar, inspiring leader who could lead this nation, a Filipino Barack Obama.

The interviewee said, yes, we could have such a leader. But he added that what we need is to unite the political groups so that in 2010, there would only be one candidate from the opposition to go against the administration.

But there lies the problem---- we are looking for a Filipino Barack Obama. As always, we are looking towards personalities. Filipinos have that mentality of looking for a Savior, a Patron.

While Barack Obama is undoubtedly a charismatic, eloquent and inspiring leader, he is actually only a face of the Americans’ collective aspirations and what they stand for. What got him elected was not just who he is but what he represented.

He represented the American Dream which is Freedom, Equal Opportunity and Prosperity. He is the realization of their aspirations that in America, everything is possible.

Do Filipinos have those in their hearts? Do we, as a Nation, even have a concept of what it is to be free to follow your aspirations and desires… to rise up out of poverty…and have enough for your basic needs and have some more for your leisure?

The majority of Filipinos are only familiar with a society where only a college degree from a prestigious university will land you a good job; that not even everyone can afford to have a degree, even from a less prestigious university. Many of our countrymen are only familiar with being born poor, living poor and dying poor.

That is why we all look for that savior, our knight in shining armor. We can’t afford to have our own aspirations as individuals and as a Nation, so we rely on the one person who will save us.

Tragically, such a mindset only makes us slaves to the personal desires and selfish aspirations of the savior we are looking for.

We wonder why McCain and Obama could be such statesmen after their intense rivalry. Well, it is because they both know that there is something bigger than both of them. They know that what the American people expect is for their leaders to uphold the American Dream and Way of Life.

Obama’s campaign was successful because he always said it was all about the American People, and not about him. He acknowledged that the success of America will not only depend on him but on the American People working together to achieve their aspirations and goals as a Nation.

Obama looked at himself not as a savior but as a servant-leader and for that he earned the people’s trust.

If we want to become like America and experience the blessings they have, then we, as a Nation, must learn to have collective ideals, goals and vision, and not rely on self-appointed political messiahs. The Book of Proverbs (29:18) says, “without a vision, the people perish”. The founding fathers of America had a vision for their country and they made it the cornerstone of their country. Up to this day, although bad leaders have come and gone, the vision they had are still embedded in the psyche of the American people.

Do we want to be like the Americans? Well, it’s going to take more than changing a President or an administration. The change will have to happen within each and everyone of us.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Impeachment --- The Power of the People

I was interviewed recently and asked to define impeachment not with the textbook definition but with my own words. Instinctively, I replied that impeachment is the power of the people to remove a president (and other government officials) if they believe that he or she is no longer fit to lead.

Of course, there is a legal definition and impeachment is only a part of the whole process of removing a president (impeachment, an act of the House of Representatives, still has to be followed by a trial in the Senate), but for practical purposes, impeachment is the people’s way of reversing their vote for a President.

While the President is elected into office in a process where all of the people cast their individual votes, a reversal of that act of trust is not through the same process (voting). While anybody can file an impeachment complaint, the power to act on that complaint is delegated to the members of the House of Representatives.

Ideally, since members of the House of Representatives are elected by the people, they are supposed to represent the ideals, aspirations, vision and desires of the populace that voted them into office.

This point brings me to a side issue—what exactly is the role of a Representative? Is it to simply be the mouthpiece of his/her constituents? Or is the Representative given the privilege of making decisions in behalf of the constituents using informed judgment?

Should a congressman simply follow what the people who voted him into office say, even if it goes against his/her principles or the conclusions of his/her studies on the issue? Or is he/she allowed to make judgment calls on what he/she believes is the right thing to do after making a thorough assessment of the issues at hand?

The fault of simply being a mouthpiece is that not just because the people say so, it is already correct. There are times when the people may have a collective opinion on the subject but lack the necessary information to make an informed decision. In Congress, public hearings are conducted in order to gather as many sides of the issue as possible, in order for the members of Congress to make educated decisions. Obviously, not all of the constituents of a member of Congress can attend those hearings and be privy to the issues being discussed. So how can the people make an informed stand on the matter?

On the other hand, giving the member of Congress the leeway to make judgment calls may result in a situation where he/she may make a decision which is unpopular with his/her constituents. Or the decision of the member of Congress may not necessarily be in the interest of the people but only in his/her own.

The dilemma posed by the “mouthpiece or decision-maker” question puts the relationship of the congressman and constituents in a grey area that constantly shifts from being friendly to hostile.

Going back to the impeachment, it has been said that it is the power of the people to remove a President. Such being the case, then it only follows that it is a power that should be held in high regard and handled with seriousness. In other words, it should not be trivialized and devalued since it is an expression of the people’s sovereignty over the leadership of the country. After all, a government under democracy is, as said by Abraham Lincoln, is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

Used erroneously, power may either become oppressive or diluted.

For example, for those who follow the principle of “spare the rod, spoil the child”, the use of the rod as punishment for bad behavior only becomes effective if it is carried out effectively and consistently. Some parents are either not consistent or do not carry out the punishment effectively. In the long run, the policy only becomes a threat, a threat that is eventually learned by the child as something that will never happen. In the end, the power of the rod becomes diluted, even useless.

Another example on a more national scope is the power of traffic laws. These laws are set in place, with violations meted with penalties ranging from a small fine to disqualification from obtaining a driver’s license.

In other countries, traffic laws are faithfully observed by the people since the laws are faithfully implemented by the law enforcement officials. They break the law, they get punished.

In the Philippines, the majority of drivers (I’m tempted to say “all”) do not care about traffic laws. The laws have been rendered not only diluted but even useless, not because the law is weak (our traffic laws are generally patterned after other countries’ traffic laws) but because successful enforcement is weak and the people have been desensitized.

In fact, many drivers already know what to do to get around the penalty. To illustrate, I ask this question to all those who drive out there: What is the first thing that comes to your mind when a traffic cop/enforcer pulls you over?

I am willing to bet that without the traffic cop/enforcer even talking to the driver yet, the average Filipino behind the wheel, when pulled over, will immediately think of how much he will give to the apprehending officer/enforcer. In other words, people are already preconditioned that bribing a traffic cop/enforcer will save him from the penalty of a traffic violation.

The same principle of power that becomes diluted or even useless applies to the power of impeachment. Use it erroneously, it loses its power much like Superman loses his power when in close proximity to Kryptonite.

How can impeachment be used erroneously?

First, if it is used trivially. An impeachment filed frivolously will be an impeachment that is not taken seriously. Take the complaints filed by Atty. Oliver Lozano. How many complaints has he filed? How many have been taken seriously both by the administration and the opposition?

The complaints he filed were ignored by the administration and even criticized by the opposition. Pathetically, whenever frivolous impeachment complaints are talked about, the Lozano complaints are cited by people as examples.

Second, if it is pursued without the intention of being successful. Very much like a law that is not meant to be implemented, an impeachment complaint that is filed without a serious effort to be successful only serves to demean and dilute the people’s power.

I am not a believer in the thinking that it doesn’t matter if an impeachment complaint does not have a chance of being successful, as long as the complaint is filed and the accused is publicly embarrassed or the charges made known to the public. Publicity and propaganda will achieve the same result. I believe the power of impeachment should not be used as a tool for that purpose. Impeachment should only be pursued with one end in mind---the successful removal of a President through the process.

Unsuccessful impeachment complaints, especially if successive, only strengthens the official who is the subject of the complaint, and at the same time weakens the whole process and therefore, dilute the power of the people.

Bacteria become immune from antibiotics if the antibiotics are not used in accordance to prescription. The body develops immunity from bacteria because it develops antibodies to fight off the infection. This may be analogous to impeachments.

If you use impeachments trivially without first gaining the critical mass of support, it only ends in failure. If you fail often enough, the official being impeached learns how to defeat the whole process.

It is imperative then that impeachment should only be filed pursued with the strongest chance of success, not with the “file now, hope to get support later” approach, because that approach will only result in dilution of the power that belongs to the People, not the politicians.