High Court Ruling Saves Us From Undemocratic ‘People’s Initiative’

THE DECISION by the Supreme Court last Oct. 26 to junk the so-called People’s Initiative to amend the Philippine Constitution and transform current American-style presidential system of government into a parliamentary system was a great relief and comfort to all true democrats in the Philippines. It was a clear signal that the country’s most sacred political document could not be amended willy-nilly by those who are pushing for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to stay in power beyond the end of her mandate in 2010.

Despite this clear message from the highest court in the land, President Arroyo is hell-bent on pushing for charter change, vowing to keep the fire burning for this change just a day after being handed the “nyet.”

Now Arroyo and her allies are trying to push for a constituent assembly, in which the Senate and House of Representatives are transformed into one body for the purpose of rewriting the constitution. What Arroyo’s dominant allies in the lower house intend to do, however, is to ram their way through even without the consent of the Senate. Already several senators have rightly warned that doing so would be unconstitutional as the Senate must be included in any such “con-ass.”

If Arroyo and her advisers think that this constant talk of canceling the elections next year makes the Philippines look progressive, they are sadly misled. It only makes the Philippines look more and more like a banana republic that has as much stability as the billboards along EDSA during Typhoon Milenyo!

The president and her supporters have utterly failed to explain clearly to the public why they think the present bicameral legislature is not working, apart from the usual rants about how a hostile Senate (because it is opposition-controlled) allegedly impedes the administration from implementing its so-called economic reforms that will (as always) catapult the Philippines from being a Third World nation to a developed heaven.

I’m sure all of my readers remember former President Fidel Ramos’ famous slogan of “Philippines 2000” during his administration in the 1990s, in which he pledged to improve the country’s economy so radically that by 2000 the nation would be on par with mid-level developed nations. What a pipe dream that was!

President Arroyo being an economist is adept at playing the economic indicators to make it seem like the Philippine economy is booming. An annual economic growth rate of around six percent and a surging peso are touted as signs that things are going so well.

To try and get away with this chicanery, the president and her spin masters count on the average Filipino not being bothered with looking at the numbers closely, let alone understanding all of the economic jargon that is bandied about.

But the 2.9 million families who experience chronic hunger, as shown in the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), and the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos going abroad every year in search of work don’t need to understand economic jargon. They are the walking wounded, the direct victims of an economy that may seem to be improving but that hides chronic deficiencies that are always there, bubbling away just below the surface shine.

The president would do well to stop all talk of charter change and instead focus on really helping improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos. The elections should be held as scheduled next May, and Arroyo should start promising loudly that she will step down, as scheduled, in 2010.

Not only will this send the message that the Philippines is stable, democratic and politically mature, but it will assure both Filipinos and foreign investors that another cycle of dynastic rule is not around the corner. Twenty years of Marcos dictatorship should have whetted the appetite of most Filipinos for such undemocratic nonsense.

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I ATTENDED the two-day Asia Festival that was held last week at the Indian International School in Jeddah. Organized by Asian consuls general in Jeddah, the bazaar was supposed to showcase the food and culture of the participating countries.

The Philippines, China, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka participated, with Pakistan conspicuous in its absence.

The Malaysians had one of the most popular stalls, staffed by colorfully dressed and friendly Malaysian women, and selling a refreshing Malaysian version of halo-halo.

The Japanese stall had a friendly man giving away posters depicting Japanese scenes, while the Chinese only had magazines about China in Arabic.

I watched a cultural performance of students from the Japanese School in Jeddah in the auditorium, in which they sang Japanese folk songs and danced.

Overall, I think the initiative to hold such an event was an excellent one. I hope this will become an annual event where all Asians, and friends of Asians such as me, can mingle and discover the cultures of other countries.

I just think that perhaps it should be less commercial. The entry price of SR10 per adult (SR5 for children) was said to be too high by many participants. I also thought that more community members could have manned the stalls, especially the Philippine one where tired consulate staff were seen sitting in chairs after working the whole day at the consulate. Instead of chatting away with visitors, as the Malaysians did, the Filipinos looked distant and bored. Which is a shame, when it takes so little to promote the usually friendly and rich Filipino culture.