December 18, 2006


Observers of the political scene in the Philippines wonder about the angry uproar across a wide cross-section of the population over the indecent haste with which Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies in the Lower House of Congress attempted to railroad the convening of a constituent assembly or “con-ass” that would bring about sweeping changes in the Constitution. The answer is captured so succinctly in a text message sent by a friend with a knack for puns: “con-ass”, he said, stands for a con job perpetrated by a bunch of assh---s.

Why a con job? In the guise of pushing for fundamental and wide-ranging reforms in the decrepit and rotten political system, in particular the shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system and from a bicameral to a unicameral parliament, Speaker de Venecia and his henchmen were caught red-handed in the heinous act of mangling the constitutional provision on amendments and throwing out the long-standing rules and procedures of the Lower House for their self-serving ends as well as that of their patroness, Mrs. Arroyo.

No one really believed the Arroyo-de Venecia noble-sounding rhetoric about political reform, anyway. It was clear that Mrs. Arroyo feared the outcome of the May 2007 elections that opinion surveys consistently predicted would see her candidates trounced and, thus, the serious threat of her being impeached later in the year, by an opposition-dominated House of Representatives. It was also clear that Speaker de Venecia lusted after the powerful position of prime minister in a parliamentary system given that his presidential ambitions under the current set-up were next to impossible. (He already tried once and lost, to the movie idol, Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who in turn, was ousted in a subsequent popular uprising.)

Moreover, the shift to a parliamentary form of government would allow the incumbent legislators (including those whose terms were about to expire) to continue in power indefinitely. This would be accomplished first, by the simple means of postponing the May, and likely subsequent constitutionally-mandated elections. Second, by transforming the current Congress dominated by Mrs. Arroyo’s subalterns and bootlickers into the “new, improved” parliament with the combined powers of the executive and legislative branches of government led by the “transitional president”, Mrs. Arroyo, and the “transitional prime minister”, Mr. de Venecia.

No wonder, Mr. de Venecia and the Majority in the House of Representatives (an oxymoronic phrase, if ever there was one) did not bother with any parliamentary niceties, such as rules of procedure, and a modicum of democratic processes, such as allowing the members of the Minority to ventilate their opposing views, but instead resorted to the tyranny of their numbers to get want they wanted, in as short a time as possible.

Television viewers were treated to the spectacle of administration congressmen maneuvering while the opposition heroically attempted to thwart such maneuvers, till the wee hours of the morning, for two consecutive days, even as the nation was still reeling from the disastrous effects of a killer typhoon that had battered the southern part of Luzon and adjoining provinces.

To top it all, the Arroyo-de Venecia main co-conspirators such as Messrs. Salapuddin, Jaraula, Lagman, Villafuerte, Nograles, Pichay, del Mar and Cagas took turns contorting and breaking the House rules, insulting those opposed to “con-ass” with their convoluted and perverse arguments, and flaunting their capacity to run roughshod over all considerations of due process, fairness and decency because they were in the Majority.

In particular, a certain Congresswoman Susano, notorious for riding a white Cadillac limousine to office, crowed that she had nothing to apologize for in voting in favor of “con-ass” because she had just given the Catholic Church a 4-million-peso donation and that she wished to “congratulate Prime Minister JVC, este, JdV” in advance.

Such crass behavior confirmed for most, just how low the House had sunk, under the baton of the insecure yet power-hungry Arroyo-de Venecia leadership.

The Arroyo-de Venecia scheme was so blatantly foul and self-serving that leaders of the influential El Shaddai (a religio-political charismatic movement) and the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines (CBCP), known for their circumspect, if not conservative, wait-and-see positions, instantly condemned the “con-ass” maneuver and announced massive protest actions against it.

Despite the hasty retreat of the proponents of “con-ass” in the face of the public outcry, the CBCP is correct in calling on one and all to join the prayer rally on Sunday at the Rizal Park. In part, it is to give a resounding finis to “con-ass” and other schemes of the Arroyo-de Venecia cabal to rewrite the Constitution for their own selfish ends. More than this, it is to send a clear message that the people are awakened and are ready to act with a vengeance should the current political leadership persist in its anti-people and anti-democratic course.

Certainly, the declarations of the leaders of the El Shaddai, CBCP, Jesus is Lord and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines threaten to provide the spontaneous mass that was lacking in previous anti-government demonstrations. The “con-ass” job was just the kind of miscalculation, triggered by insatiable greed, that could finally provoke the outrage of an otherwise resilient populace, the massive outrage that many have observed to be the lacking ingredient in past protest rallies and other mass actions.

That the masterminds still have the wiliness to retreat temporarily does not mean they have lost their gluttonous appetite for more power, privilege and wealth. Power blinds and absolute power blinds absolutely. What this episode clearly shows is that those in power hardly learn the lessons from fallen regimes and are thus bound to repeat the errors of their predecessors.

*Published in Business World
15-16 December 2006


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