TEODORO C. BENIGNO: CHA-CHA STILL ALIVE? WHAT WE NEED IS A VISION

MANILA, August 27, 2003 (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno  - When it comes to hyperbole, nobody beats Speaker Jose de Venecia. Here he is again, beating the bushes for Cha-cha (Charter change), calling it "the mother of all reforms that will calm down the nation." Oh Mother of Mercy and you can say that again! Despite a passel of national surveys showing the citizenry right now will not touch Cha-cha with a ten-foot pole, Joe de V says Charter change will "put an end to threats of coup or destabilization and the large-scale migration of Filipinos to other nations." For goodness sake, hello again.

What is tragic about this 11th hour attempt to peddle Cha-cha like snake oil is that at a time the nation starts sinking into grave and terrible peril, our legislators seek the road to perdition. What is even more tragic is that on the remote assumption that Cha-cha triumphs, the very same solons that promoted it will rule the country. Again, surveys shows the House and the Senate are among the least respected government institutions, and many people will not mind at all if they disappear overnight.

Ergo, Cha-cha will be the mother of all national disasters that ever hit this country bowlegged and cross-eyed.

As I have said ad libitum and ad nauseam, the Cha-cha as promoted by Joe de V and company is the same dog with a different collar. Inflicting it on the nation will be like pouring funeral parlor formaldehyde on a dying man. Believe you me, my good friend Joe de V, it won’t work, especially not this time when the nation is in dire need of blood transfusion. Maybe in the future, it could, but not now when all our efforts should be geared towards snatching the republic from the cliff where it is now teetering and could fall over.

If and when both houses of Congress should slam or slip into a Constituent Assembly, the social furor will mount and not abate. Once the constitution is up for grabs, the appetite of Con-Ass (Constituent Assembly) to tinker with it will graduate into an assault not much different from a pirate raid into Carribean treasure caves. Vice President Teofisto Guingona’s fear is that Con-Ass will devastate the constitution’s provisions safeguarding the national patrimony. This, according to Mr. Guingona, will wolf in the kind of foreign investors who will grab both agricultural and industrial land, devour our national resources, and leave the Filipino with nothing but a prayer.

If Filipinos are migrating in hordes for safety and security abroad, it is not because our present constitution is defective.

Constitutions do not a nation make. What goes into nation building is the heroic resolve of a people and its leaders to get out of the clutches of poverty the hard and arduous way. What goes into nation building is a clutch of values that puts the premium on education, hard, relentless, creative work, and the vision that tomorrow will be hundred times better than today. What goes into nation building is the courage to change, to radically reform or change a system that for more than 50 years has yielded only failure and more failure. What goes into nation building is sacrifice, yes selflessness, not the acquisition of a new Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), a mansion in suburbia, excursions indulged in by the rich and the haves to the pleasure palaces of the world. What goes into nation building is the incessant craving to know and know more because in today’s world, only a knowledge society can thrive. What goes into nation-building is love of country and, of course, God for this is the only effective trigger to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

Cha-cha is not a trigger.

It is a stacked deck of political cards designed to maintain those who rule the country in power. It is an expensive whim, a colossal caprice, at best a pretended finger-dip into holy water, when it is actually a key to bigger temples where the loot floods the politician’s eye. Can’t they, they who espouse Cha-cha see, feel, and internalize what is happening in the Philippines today? There is a gathering rumble, the tell-tale slap-slam of swollen waters into the cove, voices, more raised to an ominous pitch and an even more ominous cry: "What is happening to our country?"

This query was but a raised eyebrow before. And uttered in the singular, not the plural. This was when Emmanuel Pelaez, a man of great stature and honor, was the victim of an assassination attempt during the mid-martial law years. Bleeding from bullet wounds, Mr. Pelaez poignantly asked General Caringal: "General, what is happening to our country?" The same Manny or Maneng Pelaez died just so many days ago. And I remember him vividly because we were old friends, and he would have been president of the Philippines if Ferdinand Marcos did not snatch the presidential nomination of the Nacionalista Party from him.

And I ask the assembled lords and ladies of the two houses of Congress: "Your honors, what is happening to the country?" You do not hear the cries of the downtrodden? You do not realize how hated you are, how despised, how caviled against? And despite all that, you would inflict this monstrosity, the Con-Ass, on a country already bedeviled by misery and misfortune? If you have a Con-Ass, use it and exploit it as Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his first 100 days to rescue America from the abyss of the Great Depression.

FDR had Congress fire salvo after salvo of emergency measures. This was the sparkling legislation that eventually plucked the devil’s eyes from the depression and gave them hope the morrow would be much better. He never told them a change to the parliamentary form of government from the presidential system would be "the mother of all reforms… the last hope of the nation."

With his baritone, at times gravelly voice, FDR communicated hope. He pierced the mists in his Inaugural Address March 4, 1933 when he said: "So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Our congressmen would be well advised to listen to FDR again as he slammed into America’s "money changers", the greed, the corruption then that ate into that nation’s democracy, then thrust it against the wall:

"Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership (smells like Con-Ass – TCB), they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.

"They have no vision and when there is no vision, the people perish.

"The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.

"The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

"Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

"The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and our fellowmen.

"Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are not to be valued only by the standards of price and place and personal profit. And there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing."

So ladies and gentlemen of both houses of Congress, heed those words of one of the wisest statesmen of the 20th century.

Con-Ass is not a vision. Con-Ass is not even a dream. Con-Ass is a vile political trick of nightmare proportions. What you senators and representatives have to do is dedicate yourself to a vision that stirs in your hearts and not your pockets. Look up at the stars that they may guide you. Not the caves of Ali Baba. Each time, I see any of you on TV, I wonder what kind of democracy the Fates have faggoted for us, what kind of state, what kind of political system, what kind of greed, what kind of rapacity.

I do wish you will not pursue Con-Ass as the nation bleeds. We have to be rekindled and you are not rekindling us. We have to have a vision and you are not giving us any. We want to see the ocean’s expanse where we can sail and not the cesspools of Philippine politics. We want to see piles of garbage accumulating in our streets disappear from our ken. We want to look at our policeman and our soldier again straight in the eye and not fear the former is pushing shabu, the latter a coup d’etat.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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