Monday, July 11, 2005

The People Are Ready for Bold Reforms

Macapagal-Arroyo’s own political allies who have asked her to resign the presidency now pit themselves against the clamor for a people’s transitional governing council. Not that their call for resignation is a retrogressive move; it’s simply that they loathe the day the aroused masses may suddenly take the reins of government.

By Bobby Tuazon

At this early, the growing clamor to install a people’s transitional governing council upon the resignation or ouster of embattled President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faces an orchestrated resistance from factions of the country’s ruling elite. These factions, led by former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon, other political parties, and the business elite – all traditional allies of Macapagal-Arroyo broke their silence last week and asked the incumbent president to step down.

Another former president and armed forces chief, Fidel V. Ramos, took a wavering position by asking Macapagal-Arroyo to stay on as “caretaker president” for one year. Within the year, a constituent assembly would be convened that would amend the constitution and adopt a parliamentary form of government. Elections will be held in May 2006.

Ramos’ proposal differs from that of Cojuangco-Aquino, Drilon and company who want a “constitutional succession” that would name Vice President Noli de Castro as the new president.
All agree, however, that these measures would ensure a smooth transition in the presidency and avoid the acrimonious impeachment or people power that have unseated two presidents – Joseph E. Estrada in 2001 and before him, Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986.

Before they made the decision, these national figures and groups had supported Macapagal-Arroyo who is accused of stealing the presidency in the May 2004 polls and of connections to jueteng (illegal numbers game) lords before she became president.

Their plea for the president’s resignation coincided with the resignation of at least 10 members of the cabinet who also called for the turnover of power to De Castro. A day earlier, they were stunned by Macapagal-Arroyo who, instead of herself resigning, used them as sacrificial lambs by asking them to quit their cabinet posts so that, she claimed, she could start a much-needed reform program. In a news conference, the cabinet secretaries chorused that the chief executive is already unable to govern and that she should go in order to avert a political crisis.


Coming from elements who apparently benefited from the illegitimate presidency of Macapagal-Arroyo - with Cojuangco-Aquino’s 6,000-ha hacienda itself protected by the president’s labor, police and military forces in the ongoing workers’ strike that saw the massacre of seven strikers and the extra-judicial execution of several others - one is tempted to search for explanations.

Leaders of mass organizations identified with the oust-Gloria movement have a common reaction to this sudden move by the former allies of Macapagal-Arroyo: To pre-empt another people power revolt and the formation of a proposed people’s governing transition council.

Indeed, if the incumbent president finally takes the “supreme sacrifice” of stepping down, then she would be succeeded by De Castro, a protégé of the Lopez oligarchs, with either Drilon, House Speaker Jose de Venecia or Sen. Manny Villar appointed as vice president. Everybody will be happy, the new administration will govern, Congress will continue with its legislative job, so too would be the judiciary. Close associates of Macapagal-Arroyo will be happy too – she would have been saved from a possible impeachment or from suffering the disgrace of being booted out of power by a people’s uprising and joining Estrada in his detention in Tanay, Rizal.

People wonder why they, including the incumbent president, invoke the constitution when it suits them but thrash it like garbage when it does not. Cojuangco-Aquino became president through extra-constitutional means in 1986. Impeachment – a constitutional proceeding – collapsed in the plunder case against Estrada and this sparked the extra-constitutional uprising that transferred power to Macapagal-Arroyo. Among many flawed policies, Cojuangco-Aquino saw the emasculation of land reform whereas the constitution pledged justice for the poor; Ramos violated the constitution by signing the onerous Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States allowing the return of U.S. forces and military facilities. And now Macapagal-Arroyo stands accused of heinous crimes under the constitution and at least four other legal codes.

As of press time, however, Macapagal-Arroyo is holding her fort and is about to name a new cabinet. She has dared her critics to go ahead and impeach her, assuming that she still enjoys a clear majority in both the House – where the impeachment will be initiated – and the Senate, where she will be tried. But as events are unfolding, she might not be able to muster enough support in Congress, either.

A misreading

But members of the ruling elite are again misreading the public pulse. Rather, they refuse to believe that many Filipinos have had enough of being ruled by corrupt presidents and of the entire apparatuses that also reek of corruption and other malfeasance. Credible public opinion surveys suggest that not only do most Filipinos see a bleak future under the present political and economic dispensation, an increasing number of them (at least 12 percent last year) are also open to changing the whole system of governance. These figures would be higher today.

Apparently, the traditional figures’ push for a “constitutional succession” is motivated now by their own proprietary considerations to preserve the institutions of governance – the presidency, Congress and judiciary. Their own economic and political interests prospered under these institutions at the expense, however, of the people’s welfare. They are no different from Ramos and other charter change advocates who believe that the solution to the country’s ills lies in shifting to a parliamentary system even if this modality only seeks to preserve or rehabilitate the rule by the elite. Or even its other intention is to resurrect an authoritarian state.

More than this, they simply loathe the day when the masses begin to exercise their sovereign and collective will to not only topple a president but to overhaul the rotten political system. They aim to preempt the formation of a people’s transition governing council for unity and reform – an idea that is fast catching fire among many Filipinos representing the basic masses as well as significant segments of the middle class and other sectors.

Now being articulated by mass leaders, the progressive party-list bloc in Congress and progressive elements among the academe, church, lawyers, students and even the military institution, the people’s council will be comprised of patriotic and pro-people figures known for their integrity and competence in political leadership. They will also be comprised of democratic forces and progressive elements in the opposition parties who are in the forefront of the oust-Arroyo struggle.

In effect, the council as envisioned will arise from the multitudes of people especially organizations with broad mass constituencies of workers, farmers and urban poor who are instrumental in the ouster of the incumbent discredited president.

Urgent tasks

The council will be tasked with drafting a new patriotic and progressive constitution and call for genuine elections thereafter. Its short-term tasks are articulated by the party-list Bayan Muna (people first) which has been one of the leading lights in the ouster of Estrada and in the current campaign to force Macapagal-Arroyo out of power.

The council’s urgent tasks include: to investigate the involvement and culpability of Macapagal-Arroyo, elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, military officials and others involved in electoral fruit and deceit; prosecute cases of graft and corruption involving the Macapagal-Arroyos and other government officials; institute meaningful electoral and political reforms; render justice and indemnify victims of human rights violations and ensure the respect and protection of civil liberties; resume the peace process with the Moro and Communist revolutionary groups by fulfilling all existing requirements; solve the fiscal crisis by canceling or repudiating the country’s onerous debts; protect the country from the ravages of free market globalization and reversing the disastrous structural adjustment programs imposed by the country’s creditors. Bulatlat

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