STAR EDITORIAL: REMEMBERING THE DEAD;  MAGNO: POLITICAL SOLUTION

MANILA, NOVEMBER 1, 2003  (STAR) The nation takes a much-needed break from scandals and intrigue this weekend for the annual remembrance of the dead. Starting late yesterday, Filipinos lit candles, prayed and offered flowers for their dearly departed. This weekend is also a good time to pray for the living as the nation takes a breather from the still unresolved impeachment crisis.

During this holiday break, key players in the crisis can consider where they want to take the nation. Just one look at the country’s neighbors, particularly Malaysia and Thailand, and you will realize the depths to which we have fallen. Even Indonesia, struggling to contain separatist insurgents and a militant Islamic movement, is recovering and surging ahead of the Philippines.

The peso, stock market and investments are down. Corruption is worsening, according to a global perception index. The nation’s competitiveness has fallen steadily over the years. Filipinos are losing proficiency in English when other nations are moving to master the language. Corruption, tax evasion and a massive budget deficit have hobbled infrastructure development – a key factor for luring job-generating investments. The education system needs a colossal overhaul. Economic growth figures are dependent on remittances from millions of Filipinos who are forced to work overseas, many of them as maids. No one has the political will to curb population growth.

On top of all these problems, we are saddled with military officers whose main preoccupation is plotting their next power grab. We are also saddled with politicians whose main preoccupation is getting elected and receiving enough campaign contributions. And we are saddled with three branches of government that can’t get their act together in the name of national interest.

It may be good for our leaders to visit this weekend the graves of the nation’s heroes – people who gave up their lives to fight for a higher cause and build a free republic. The only thing we can brag about to our departed heroes is that the nation remains free. Everything else is a disaster.

Political solution FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno The Philippine Star 11/01/2003

The burden for resolving the escalating constitutional crisis surrounding the move to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide falls squarely on the institution that precipitated the crisis in the first place: House of Representatives.

We’ve learned a few things since this crisis broke out like a stray tornado on a dry day.

Rep. Florencio Abad, probably the most sober voice in the House during this hysterical moment, tells us that the Commission on Audit study of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) clearly shows that 89 percent of the money has gone to supplementing the wages of workers in this branch of government.

This is an important point. Probably the most important one.

The band of neophyte congressmen who initiated the impeachment move claimed "misuse" of the JDF. The law creating that Fund stipulates that 80 percent be set aside for salary augmentation. The congressmen cited a few "luxurious" projects undertaken using JDF money and raised the suspicion that employees of the judiciary have been deprived their share. Appearing to act on behalf of the poorly paid employees.

The law governing the Fund, respecting the fiscal autonomy of the judiciary, prescribed review of disbursement only by the Commission on Audit (COA). If the House wants to review that Fund, they will have to consult the COA report. It seems they did not do a good job of that and preferred to grill the justices instead.

The Court was, of course, reluctant to yield any ground from its fiscal autonomy to the Congress. If the Congressmen were uncomfortable with the 80-20 ratio prescribed for the JDF, then they could always replace the existing law using their legislative powers. If they want to directly oversee that Fund, they could always craft a law for that purpose.

But the congressmen decided to impeach the Chief Justice instead.

By doing so, they set our institutions on a collision course, driven by every sort of political motive and exploited by every faction that sees chaos as they gateway to popularity.

In the excitement generated by this rapidly unfolding political drama, we might tend to overlook the facts of the case. The principal fact is precisely what Butch Abad addresses: whether or not the prescribed 80-20 ratio has been observed.

By the documents Abad has on hand, it appears that the 80-20 ratio has been more than observed. 89 percent of the fund has indeed been used to supplement salaries in the judicial branch.

That item might not impress disgruntled court employees who are threatening a walk-out next week. Given the measly levels of public sector pay, their miseries will unlikely be fully relieved even if 100 percent of the JDF were redistributed to the thousands of workers in this sector.

But they will probably walk out anyway – to take advantage of this unique moment when public attention is finally focused on their plight. The ideologically motivated agitators busy creating chaos in the public sector will see to that.

If they do walk out next week, notwithstanding the fact that 89 percent of the JDF has been given to them, then they might as well march against Congress. Only Congress, after all, may revise the Salary Standardization Law and improve public sector pay.

This, in turn, will touch on a more complicated matter. Sure, every politician, including a President seeking election next year, would want to raise public sector pay. But given the state of public finances, that could happen only if we dramatically reduce bureaucratic fat and trim away the unnecessary manpower drawing pay from the public sector.

Congress has the power to raise wages. It also has the power to legislate a sweeping reorganization of the bureaucracy that would reduce the waste of paying people doing nothing or performing redundant roles at taxpayer expense. The politicians would want to do the first but not the second – because laying off people from the public sector would be politically costly.

Like vultures drawn to the stink of rotting flesh, political players have circled the impeachment controversy assigning blame where it is more politically profitable to do so.

Sen. Angara, chief of the conventional opposition still in want of a viable candidate for the next presidential contest, claims that this mess originating from the House will damage President Gloria Arroyo. That sounds more like wishful thinking.

Angara conveniently overlooks the fact that his partners in the NPC were the ones responsible for initiating this mess.

The leftist front organizations are always quick to take to the streets at the slightest excuse. Last week, we saw them marching again trying to peddle yet another conspiracy theory: that the impeachment crisis was brought about by some unseemly collusion between Eduardo Cojuangco and the Lakas party – and, by extension, President Arroyo.

Here they conveniently overlook the fact that some of their leftist comrades in the House were among those who initiated the impeachment move.

If early this week, the congressmen carry out their threat to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate – notwithstanding the constitutional question regarding the absence of private petitioners initiating the complaint or the fact that this is the second impeachment move against Davide in less than a year – this crisis will deepen irreparably. The Senate will have to constitute itself into an impeachment court and supersede the authority of the Supreme Court over the matter.

Should this happen, the congressmen will be courting the disastrous possibility that the impeachment court trashes the articles for being haphazardly constituted.

If, on the other hand, sobriety dawns in the House and the matter is resubmitted for further study and deliberation within that chamber, then there is a chance the crisis could be defused. We can all step back from the brink and find the time to do the things we really must do before the year ends.

Stepping back from the brink, however, requires a political solution. If this matter is left to the lawyers to settle, they will argue until their necks turn blue while our economy chokes and our politics becomes unhinged.

But someone gifted with great statesmanship must now step out from the wings and lead in cleaning up this mess. It is a mess produced by political vanity, intellectual sloppiness and ill will.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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