MANILA, NOVEMBER 8, 2003  (STAR) FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa - It is good a reader chides my espousal of cha-cha as having gone too far. A W.J. Garcia attacked me for "writing on constitutional reform as if it was curative of all ills". I ask him to cite the words in which I said, "Constitutional reform is curative of all ills."

Yesterday Rey Lee said I’m obsessed with constituent assembly and will not hesitate to attack anybody who has different views. Ladies and gentlemen – the heat is on. I have always known that constitutional reform is a difficult advocacy: it means fighting inertia as well as the establishment created by that inertia. That inertia includes good-for-nothing senators who want to keep their multimillion perks without being accountable to a constituency. I have recently attacked two: Recto, sorry Ralph, and Drilon. Ralph, because he said constitutional reform was a casualty of the impeachment scandal. Drilon has been a failure as senate president and it is not because he has stonewalled constitutional reform. He has time for self-serving pronouncements on TV but none for some 900 bills from the Lower House that the Senate failed to act on. A colleague of mine called to include Sen. Joker Arroyo who was angry when 134 congressmen voted for constituent assembly. He could not believe it so he said the vote was sneaked in the middle of the night. I wonder what he says now that not only 134 but 187 have actually signed in favor of the draft resolution for a constituent assembly.

The advocacy has a two-fold purpose: to inform and persuade the public and to reply to powerful enemies who attack it. With two columns per week I have had to tackle this two pronged struggle relentlessly to get anywhere. There are other columnists who believe as I do. Some have said, ‘it will be a long time coming because of the difficulties it face.’ They would rather tackle other topics. The problem is that other topics, – Erap’s trial, Ping’s alleged drug dealing, Pidal controversy, Davide impeachment, – are precisely the effects of our failed system. If I were to write on these effects rather than on the substance, I will merely reinforce that failed system.

I have chosen a different tack, to paraphrase an African-American teacher who was so effective in teaching that when asked what made her so effective she said "I says it once, then I says it a second time, and then I says it again and again until it is learned." I am guided by the lesson of this teacher. I am sorry to disappoint W.J. Garcia and Rey Lee that since I have written about constitutional reforms, the advocacy has moved forward and even those who are against constituent assembly are not against constitutional reform itself. The advocacy has won that part of the struggle – an intellectual conception of what ails this country. The more difficult challenge is how to get it done. The Constitution empowers Congress and the Senate refuses to cooperate in classic gridlock that has kept this country down.

Even if it succeeds, it will not the end the struggle. On the contrary, that is when the work begins. When the amendments are in place, it will be in the right direction unlike reforms in the present system that do not get us anywhere. In quieter moments, I have wondered whether there is a powerful and implacable force bent on keeping the status quo and ensuring that we remain divided. Since constitutional reform especially the working draft submitted by CCCN to Congress is a unifying tool, I am not surprised if this powerful and implacable force would now move to stop the advocacy. Sorry, folks, I do not take up advocacies like a hot potato – I’m not dropping it. With just two columns a week, I have the daunting task of fitting in as much information as I can. As a columnist, analysis and advocacy are essential duties. I have picked constitutional reform as an advocacy because I believe it is the starting point of political reform not, certainly not, because it is curative of all ills. It is a hard and long fight because of the power of the stakeholders in the present system. However small my column, I hope to reach as many readers as possible. Even one reader for every column I write who will further the advocacy is to me an important achievement.

Somewhere, someone will understand why only constitutional reform at the earliest possible time can breathe new political life to the nation. It is for this one reader I write. The alternative is to prolong the vicious cycle of the past few decades. The time is closing in with the orchestration of support for a know-nothing actor or even a know-nothing broadcaster as if politicians did not learn the lessons of Erap’s presidency. Then there is the flower-shirted know-all arriviste with a questionable character. If we are to avert a political disaster, constitutional reform at the earliest possible time, is the only answer. Perhaps it has not been emphasized enough, but in the event, both houses of Congress will be abolished and make way for election of members of Parliament in 2004. This is only the first step. The next is to federate which means carving new regions as states. That can weaken traditional dynasties and give rise to new leaders.

I may have reached the limits of explanation. It is time to translate the intellectual concept into practice. People will have to act to bring about the change. That is where will comes in and that needs courage. With 187 congressmen and 1.5 million local government officials in its favor and 22 overspending senators on the other blocking it, what are we to do? We have been distracted with accusations that members of Congress are not equipped for that responsibility. People fall for it as if elections would give us more competent or more honest delegates given the state of our present electoral system. Can I repeat what has perhaps been overlooked? There is already a draft of the amendments to be made so the accusation that we cannot trust Congress is invalid. The amendments are under a social contract between civil society, the members of the Lower House and the leagues of local authority. The Constitution has given Congress the power to draft these constitutional reforms for the approval of the people. With the numbers in the lower house vote they are already a constituent assembly because the Constitution is silent on whether the required 2/3 vote means voting separately or together. With the Senate refusing to cooperate and a public opinion campaign aimed at denigrating congressmen it falls neatly into a strategem that makes the rule of law and consequently our independent nationhood impossible to achieve. It makes this country helpless to break away from a past that had made us.

I never thought I will come around to write about it in a very personal way but I am forced to explain. I do not know where it will bring us but I do know where the past and this system has brought us and it is not what I want to bequeath to my children, at least without having fought to change it, so we can have a more humane society. Constitutional reform is the framework, an unfinished base on which to build on. It will help us cobble a more sustainable rchitecture of reform. I have read as much as I can, not nearly enough about parliamentary federal government but it is not what this advocacy is about. More importantly, it will be the medium to retrace our steps to achieve a compassionate and courageous society that was all but lost as a colony and failed revolutions.

We could never be ourselves again if we do not change and that is what I am fighting for.

An Upsilonian from abroad described the present state of the nation:

"It is All Saints’ Day, we could not avoid thinking the sad state of our country.

As we know, any person on the brink of death hallucinates and the medical term for this is delirium. and sadly, that is the best analogy for the Philippines’ situation. When a nation like ours starts to believe that a certain FPJ, Noli de Castro and Loren can run the affairs of this problematic state, then this nation is in a state of delirium. When Congress firmly believes the Chief Justice can be impeached for obviously ‘engineered reasons’, then this nation is hallucinating. When the people believe that the best way to take us out of this mess is by praying, then this nation is on the brink of death. If this nation is on the brink of an unstoppable demise, can we not then just accelerate the dying process so that a liberation of the soul and subsequent reincarnation can immediately begin? He says a quicker death, "as you know, is better than a slow death and speculates on a military coup". He says kapit na lang sa patalim. I am not as resigned as he is but more and more Filipinos might begin to agree with him.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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