MANILA, December 8, 2003  (STAR) It took another sensational kidnapping and consequent public outcry before President Arroyo decided the other day that it was time to lift a four-year moratorium on state executions. Capital punishment will once again be carried out starting next year, the President said. Critics smelled politics in the President’s announcement, seeing it as a foil against the law-and-order platform of one of her rivals in the 2004 elections, Sen. Panfilo Lacson. But the move could also hurt the President’s chances at the polls. Catholic bishops, as expected, were outraged and are likely to distance themselves from the President’s 2004 bid. There are other groups opposed to capital punishment who are threatening to punish the President at the polls. The main argument of the critics is that the death penalty has failed to serve as a crime deterrent. The argument, however, is based more on a mindset that was formed long before capital punishment was reimposed rather than on definitive studies on the impact of the death penalty on criminality. After the first state execution of a man who repeatedly raped his daughter, the implementation of the law on capital punishment got stalled. In 2000, in deference to the Christian Jubilee, then President Joseph Estrada suspended state executions indefinitely. His successor, who won’t oppose the Church even on matters that the nation urgently needs such as population control, maintained the suspension.

There was therefore no way of knowing if reimposing capital punishment served its purpose. Instead the law reviving the death penalty quickly went the way of many other laws in this country: Enforced half-heartedly and nearly forgotten. Until Chinese Filipinos started marching in the streets once again to demand tougher government action against kidnapping and other crimes. No one knows if this will cost President Arroyo substantial votes in 2004 or earn her more supporters. Politics, however, should not be her main consideration. Criminality has become a serious concern and requires a tough government response. In the face of this menace, the law on capital punishment should be given a chance to work.

Constitutional change is a candidate FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen Pedrosa Star 12/07/2003

Karl Popper, the great guru of modern democracy based his teachings on an understanding of the basic principles of knowledge — what we can know and what we cannot know. In politics, it implies if we cannot predict if an elected president no matter how many promises he or she makes will be good. We are in surer ground if we were instead to reject candidates who would make not only a bad president but would endanger democracy. The same theory of knowledge applies to our approach to constitutional reform. Instead of hesitating on constitutional change because we do not know whether a parliamentary system will work, we should base our decision on the known fact that presidential system does not work for us. In a recent press forum with other panelists, two of whom were publishers, all agreed we need constitutional change before we can talk of an economic take-off. The chair of the forum asked if there was any achievement that could be credited to President GMA. As an advocate of new politics under a unicameral parliamentary federal government it made no sense to discuss the personal qualities of candidates. It would be accepting the electoral system that is destroying the country. In assessing Mrs. Arroyo’s administration, the issue was continuity. When she took over the reins of government after a failed Erap regime despite all her faults, she ensured the country’s stability. I remember her saying she would not aim to be heroic or exceptional, she just wanted to do a job well.

She has brought us safely to shore. But doing a good job or being diligent is just not enough. I do not know of any thinking Filipino who can honestly say the May 2004 elections will be good for the country. On the contrary, they see it as a derangement. It does not speak well of leadership of this country and this is not only the president but the collective leadership – parties, politicians, religious and military – who are bent on continuing with elections despite this knowledge. Governors and mayors who are closer to the people agree the only way to prevent a disaster is to shift to unicameral parliamentary government and elect members of parliament in 2004. There are many who are not able or will not choose among the candidates because they are aware that whoever gets elected will merely continue the system. There is no choice as far as they are concerned. But they want change, real change for the Philippines. The answer is constitutional change now. We should not elect a president at large because it is no elections at all. It is a popularity contest, name recall or worse, paid votes. Good governance is not the issue of the elections.

The most important part of the Constitution is the preamble which clearly states the people are sovereign yet that is not what is happening now or in 2004. We will sink deeper into the mire of government whose national officials, once elected, are more interested in furthering their personal fortune than to serve the best interest of the people. We vote for officials who become an untouchable class. They govern according to their political and economic interests. So why vote at all if this is what May 2004 is all about? On the other hand, if we vote for a man or woman we know as a member of parliament in a limited area and populace , we are on to saner politics, based on the capacity to govern. Parliamentary government is adapted in most countries because it is more accountable to real people, not a national election of popular movie stars or broadcasters because of name recall. Those who know better owe it to the masses so they understand change is the answer to a better life.

We deceive ourselves if we think the best man or woman who wins can turn the country around given the environment he or she will function. We got the whole issue upside down. Instead of implementing constitutional reform so we avoid the pitfalls of still another flawed election, we are demanding that this flawed election take place first before we implement constitutional reform. I sympathize with senators I hold in high esteem especially Sen. Angara who seems to have changed his mind. He has had to swallow the very words he used when he wrote the bill in support of constitutional change."The presidency is some sort of an elected monarchy that can run roughshod over the traditional and sacred principles of check and balance and public accountability. When we start finding the roots of the state of anarchy and the fragility of the country’s vital democratic institutions, we only find one thing: the irresponsiveness and the irrelevance of the present institutions. These weak and and irresponsive institutions have only spawned and abetted bad leaders and unresponsive policies. The time is ripe to look at this rigid constitutional arrangement in the eye and stand it on its head."

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Letter. From Elmer D. Aguilar < attached a declaration of principles in amending the 1987 Constitution in a letter addressed to senators. He believes the Constitution needs updating in the light of past developments. He does not believe that convention is the only way to amend or revise the present constitution. Both Houses of Congress can agree on the voting provided in the Constitution – is the "three-fourths of all the Members" provision to be interpreted that each house shall vote separately requiring a three-fourth of the votes for each house? Since this maybe a justiciable issue the Supreme Court can be requested to decide on the matter. Half of the senators still have the sovereign mandate of the Filipino voters to serve for the balance of three years. That should be respected by the two houses, a transitory provision should be agreed at the start on what to do with these twelve senators if a unicameral legislature is adopted. If members of Congress can address these questions, a Constituent Assembly or series of Constituent Assemblies can be the mode to amend or revise the present Constitution. In this manner the objection that a Constitutional Convention is expensive will be avoided.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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