Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Confucian Step 1: Ateneo's CON ASK, 5-04-2009

This afternoon, within 4:00 to 7:00 PM, a manifestation of outrage, with relative numbers, has been carried out against the evil that is House Resolution 1109, supposedly converting the House of Un-Representatives convening at the Bastusang Pambansa as a Constituent Assembly. Much has been made, said and validated with regards to these events, and it has proven what a disgusted Representative Teodoro Locsin Jr. of Makati stated: "ridicule has been brought down at this House." And ridicule and indignation it has reaped from the socially-aware and politically-responsible students of the Loyola Schools, Ateneo de Manila University who participated in the forum arranged by the Busina Network, entitled "Con Ask: Possibilities and Challenges."

This blogger will be relatively neutral (with a few occasional biting bias markers) for today in my desire to present, as accurately as I can, the opinions and scenarios proposed by the speakers comprised of Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, Dean Emeritus of the Ateneo Law School, former DPWH secretary Corazon "Dinky" Juliano-Soliman and Representative Teofisto "TG" Guingona III. (My own take on these events, of course, will be done as soon as I have fixed my academic requirements for the upcoming 1st Semester within next week.):

Premeditated "Constitutional Bukkake"

Fr. Bernas contextualizes how the 1987 Constitution is in itself a paradoxical law. It roots from the 1935 Constitution which has been amended 3 times (with only the provision for female suffrage as the well-received amendment) and the 1973 Constitution which, he said nonchalantly, was revised "every other day" by our beloved and departed Apo (may his soul roast in Lucifer's spa). The 1987 Constitution was supposed to provide for a Unicameral Congress similar to the 1973 Constitution (in the name of efficiency and hopefully for equity) but the 1986 Constitutional Convention under Cecilia Munoz-Palma decided to revert to a Bicameral Congress, with a promise to revise the Unicameral provisions. This never came to be, and thus we have a Bicameral Congress operating under Unicameral procedures.

And therein lies the problematic context by which subsequent Congresses have been working on so far. In this light, compared to the 1935 Constitution wherein the House of Un-Representatives and the Senate are supposed to pass a joint resolution before convening themselves as a Constituent Assembly, the Unicameral provisions are supposedly allowing them to act as, strangely, separate chambers themselves. In effect, they can actually declare a Con-Ass anytime they would wish, which is precisely what they did. The problem, it appears, lies in the Constitution itself, which recalls the case of the 1935 Constitution's fatal flaw:
The President shall be commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Philippines, and, whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, insurrection, or rebellion. In case of invasion, insurrection, or rebellion or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, he may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under Martial Law.

Section 10.2, Article VII, 1935 Constitution
The lack of a timeframe by how long it could be maintained paved the way for our dear Apo (may his soul roast in Lucifer's spa) to remain way past his term limit in 1972. In a way, therefore, what our Un-Representatives attempted to do last Tuesday through HR 1109 was simply a carbon copy of what Marcos did through Proclamation 1081: giving it a semblance of legality. As Fr. Bernas himself put it, they simply announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to violate the constitution.” Which, unfortunately, was a contradiction in itself.

Explainer Manuel Quezon III himself puts it in his column "The phoney war":

Whether or not the Supremes would actually tailor-fit a decision to suit the Frankenstein majority is beside the point; since politics is perception, the perception that would be fueled by the Supremes actually tackling a complaint concerning the House’s constitutional flatulence would provide the Frankenstein majority with a legal deodorant. You see, it will declare, we didn’t fart. We smell like roses.

This is the dilemma confronting the Senate, for one. No one wants to be the Oliver Lozano of this issue, although the lesson of the past few years is that even if Oliver Lozano isn’t around, someone would invent one. Ask Roel Polido.

The House could have called the Senate’s bluff and passed a proper bill, proposing a constitutional convention every bit as open-ended as HR 1109 is. Instead it is proposing nothing but an excuse to get the Supreme Court to say the House, if it has the numbers, can ignore the Senate in proposing amendments.

That’s what’s wrong with what the Frankenstein majority did on Tuesday. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with proposing amendments, except that the House hasn’t proposed any amendments. What it has proposed is that it can go it alone, never mind if public opinion and our experience with bicameralism for generations says this is impossible.

And yet, the Frankenstein majority pleads for the issue to be joined, saying it is undemocratic and even cowardly to back off from fighting it out. But it is a phoney war the Frankenstein majority wants to fight.

I’m not saying indignation is misplaced, or that we should just shrug off what took place in the House. But as Napoleon Bonaparte advised, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

So what should we do? Between now and July, the Frankenstein majority should be subjected to a rigorous quarantine. It should be ignored, legally; isolated, socially; left to its own devices, politically.

It wants a justiciable controversy? Let no one do them the favor, though there’s always the risk some paid hack of a lawyer will do so; but at least no one with even the tiniest bit of credibility did the majority any favor.

Nevertheless, despite this question of legality, Fr. Bernas acknowledges the threat of extension as very real. It can definitely occur if the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Gilbert Teodoro, LGen Victor Ibrado, anyone?) and the Supreme Court itself will "cooperate," though of course a much-maligned yet very potent course of action could make the latter think again: PEOPLE POWER. The Supreme Court experienced a rehash at the assumption of the Aquino administration; the current justices, if they have ambitions of tenure, might also be wary of incurring the peoples' wrath. "Tao rin naman yang mga yan e," as he remarked.

Directing the Picture

With the legal mashups of the order having been addressed, Dinky Soliman discussed FOUR possible scenarios which could play up in the advent of this declaration and the likely pushing through of HR 1109. As this has already been disseminated through the net, I take the liberty of copying it word-for-word (as it is precisely what she talked about anyway):

  • House of Representative (HOR) will set the rules and procedures and proceed to amend the constitution acting now as a Constituent Assembly.After a period of time they bring the amended constitution to COMELEC to request for a plebiscite. A case is brought to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court decides that a Senate less CONASS is valid. Plebiscite continues, it is a yes victory and the election of May 10, 2010 is an election for a parliamentary form of government. GMA runs on a district in Pampanga. She wins and becomes eventually the Prime Minister.This scenario assumes that the outraged and protest from the citizenry is weak.
  • HOR convenes as a constituent assembly; a case is filed in the Supreme Court and SC declares that Congress is a bicameral body therefore the Senate is needed. Election fever catches up.A presidential election is held in May 10, 2010.This scenario assumes that there is significant citizen's lobby to stop CONASS and chahcha. The citizen's actions is a major influence in the assessment and judgement of the justices in the Supreme Court.
  • HOR convenes as a constituent assembly, there is building outrage from the citizens and more street actions are undertaken.Malacana ng rides on the anger of the people and organizes violent incidents that will then be the basis for emergency rule. This scenario assumes that citizen's actions are not organized and disciplined which creates the conditions for infiltration and manipulated violence from the enemies of democracy.
  • HOR convenes as a constituent assembly; a case is filed in the Supreme Court, the debate and deliberation in the Supreme Court takes a long time and it gets overtaken by election on May 10, 2010. GMA runs for Congress in Pampanga she wins, the administration candidates win too. They get the Supreme Court go ahead and convenes a Constituent Assembly, converts Congress into a parliament and GMA is elected as Prime Minister. This scenario assumes that the 2010 election is dominated by the allies of GMA and her candidates wins. This scenario assumes that transactional politics was the dominant practice and cheating, vote buying and killing will be the norm in the election of 2010. This means the citizen's action was weak and we failed to educate and mobilize active citizenship.
In this situation wherein citizen education and mobilization is paramount, Ma'am Dinky advocated what could be the best means of dissemination right now: THE INTERNET. Acknowledging (I presume) the power and vigilance of Anonymous Philippines in documenting and propagating information to the minute of the event (largely thanks to the efforts of Twitter user caffeinesparks and Sir Manolo Quezon himself), at the very moment Philippine mainstream media was preoccupied with the tiring Hayden Kho scandals and the overhyped H1N1 virus, she calls for more updates, intensified networking and letting a thousand blogs and statements be unleashed. She saw how creatively the advocacy could be pushed through in this manner, though how to translate it into tangible and warm bodies for active mobilizations remain to be seen.

Morga Facing the Dutch

Representative TG Guingona confirmed an astute observation and suspicion the eyewitnesses in the proceedings at the Bastusang Pambansa shared: THERE WERE LIKELY MARCHING ORDERS FROM THE HIGHER-UPS IN MALACANAN as to why and how a stupid "viva voce" was carried out.

He outlines how (1) Con-Ass will be the first step in a "GLORIA FOREVER" scenario and (2) there IS a MASTERMIND behind these. The strange signs of such in an already dysfunctional House was felt when almost all members of the House were present despite a long-standing tradition of lackadaisical performance and frequent adjourned sessions due to "lack of corum" ("kahit yung mga mahihilig mag-aabsent!"). After a measly 4 hours on interpolation as to the discussion of Con-Ass and the blatant side-lining of the then real agenda (CARPER), someone stood up and proposed "votation," which was approved despite the questioning of oppositionists. Rep. Guingona even says that this was likely due to Malacanang holding back the Country Development Funds (or the infamous "pork barrel") intended to "pump-prime the economy" but were now being used as bait to ensure the loyalty of the Un-Representatives.

Rep. TG Guingona visibly lamented how the Arroyo government has "succeeded in destroying so many government institutions." He does, however, jubilantly shares how CARPER was finally passed (the nature of which and my opinion to it in a later blog).

Footnote to Noise

The subsequent noise barrage, which lasted one-and-a half hour until 7:00 PM is a relative improvement from the paltry attendance which former noise barrages (save probably those for the Sumilao Farmers and the ZTE-NBN scandal) have been characterized. More students and Ateneo personnel were involved and far more vocal in their condemnation of the issue through jovial shouting, whistling and calling on the motorists to sound their horns. Despite a slight disturbance in traffic (which probably prompted the Quezon City police to appear on scene, with one carrying a visible M16), the event proceeded and ended as serenely as it bursted from the rain-drenched sidewalks of Katipunan.

Many believe and hope that this event will be just one and the beginning of the many more mobilizations the Ateneo de Manila University will be participating with. Meetings are already headway and another wide rally is scheduled to be carried out in Makati this coming July 10.

The parliamentary of the streets, contrary to the gloating neo-liberal proponents, is resurfacing alive, well, and raring to confront all ramparts daring to endanger democracy.

Complementary Sources:

The 1935 Philippine Constitution

Quezon, Manuel III. "The phoney war." Philippine Daily Inquirer. (accessed July 4, 2009)

Special thanks to Ms. Marcia Czarina Corazon Medina for sharing Dinky Soliman's email on the possible scenarios to Con-Ass, and to Twitter user caffeinesparks for her twits while CON ASK was occuring.


I express personally my gratitude, as a member of the Busina Network, to all organizers, supporters and, most importantly, fellow Filipinos, netizens and Ateneans who came to show that democracy will never be killed in this country. TULOY ANG LABAN!

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