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Brasilia
13 Nov, Tuesday
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Emasculating Charter Change

From left to right: Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago at their meeting with the Filipino community in Jeddah on May 9. (Photo by John Pamintuan)


WHEN
I heard Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago this week predict that the Senate would be no more by the new session of Congress in July, it only seemed to confirm to me what many of my colleagues had been telling me for a long time: That Santiago had finally lost her marbles.

Further press reports had the senator saying that one of the major side-benefits of abolishing the Senate, in the hoped for transition to a parliamentary system, would be the millions of pesos saved the country every year, money that she implied would be better spent somewhere else.

But spent where? On a parliament where, as she herself also suggested this week, current Foreign Secretary Roberto Romulo would be appointed Prime Minister? How convenient would that be for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? A puppet as PM, someone who would do all of her bidding, and thank her at the same time!

President Arroyo’s triumphant trip to Saudi Arabia seems to have gone to her head. Sure she managed to secure the release of 500 Filipinos from Saudi jails, but that had almost as much to do with the generosity of Saudi King Abdullah as it did with her own persuasive skills.

Reports in the opposition Daily Tribune paint a troubling picture of a Marcosian dictatorship arising out of Arroyo’s vicious plan to amend the Constitution, hold no elections until at least 2010 and retain all power as a president in a parliamentary system.

As the Daily Tribune rightly points out, in all parliamentary systems the Prime Minister is elected to a seat in Parliament, along with all of the members of an eventual Cabinet. Not only that, it is the PM who wields all of the executive powers, not the president. But Arroyo wants to retain all of her powers if a parliamentary system is established in the Philippines, and keep an emasculated PM, in the form of Romulo no less.

Where does that leave the Philippine electorate? No where really, but with a Queen Gloria and a rubber stamp Parliament.

Luckily for Filipinos they have a majority of senators who are against charter change, and as such will be able to block all attempts at amending the 1987 Constitution. I just find it amazing that the Arroyo administration is trying so hard to bulldoze through such a monumental change of the Constitution without fully and truthfully explaining itself to the public. Do they honestly think that Filipinos are so desperate for change that they will just so easily say “yes” to Arroyo’s warped vision of what a parliamentary system should be? I certainly hope not!

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NOT only is the Arroyo administration taking the nation for a ride, they are also misappropriating public funds to have hundreds of thousands of charter change primers printed up at the National Printing Press.
This illegal use of public funds should be investigated by the Senate and put a stop to. If Arroyo is so bent on convincing the public of her anti-democratic initiative she should get some of her rich businessmen allies to cough up for the printing of such propaganda. Using public funds, which have been put under her discretionary control, for promoting her version of charter change is a criminal act that should not be countenanced by the Senate or the public.

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NEAL Cruz in his Inquirer column this week wrote about Sen. Santiago’s about-face on the issue of charter change. When she left Manila with President Arroyo last week on a state visit to Saudi Arabia, the senator was firmly against switching to a parliamentary system.

Then something happened in the Kingdom that no one is certain about. Was Santiago promised a position in return for her support of cha-cha? Cruz hinted that Santiago’s husband was promised the job of heading the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This seems plausible as the current BIR chief is under fire for not reaching revenue collection targets for this year.

What is so disgusting about all of this is the sheer political opportunism of Sen. Santiago, and her obvious haste in trashing the current presidential system as soon as she landed back in Manila last Thursday.

For a woman that inspired the youth of this country to vote for her in the 1992 presidential elections, inspired by her intelligence and seeming genuine concern for the problems of the average Filipino, she has slid a long way down the dirty slope of corruption and cynicism.

That she is willing to denigrate the Senate as being a useless waste of money, while she is still a member of this august chamber, just beggars belief!
If she really believed in her own propaganda, she would have resigned as soon as she returned to Manila from Saudi. But she hasn’t and I suspect she won’t. She’s just playing the game of maximum political opportunism that leaves only Arroyo and her cronies happy, but is an insult to every other Filipino who ever thought she had a chance at making a good president some day.