CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM: A LONG-DISTANCE RUN OR A HUNDRED-METER DASH?

MANILA, January 10, 2004 (STAR) FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa - Is constitutional reform a long- distance run or a hundred-meter dash? It is both. We have been running since the First Republic. The roots of our drive for a parliamentary system go back to heroic days when our European-educated forefathers tried to cobble a government based on their experience and inclination. I suspect American colonizers were too deep in competition with Europe to relinquish an obvious point to their Spanish predecessors. At the time America had already resolved to outdo Europe as a world power. The new colonizers understandably wanted a country made in their image.

To understand today’s drive for parliamentary system we should go back to those roots. From that point of view, it is a long-distance run. We’ve been running ever since, but some kept the light burning that one day we would accomplish what our forefathers only dreamed about – our own government and our chosen system rather than the wish of a colonizer. The names of illustrious men have time and again been associated with this desire – Claro M. Recto, Felipe Calderon, Raul Manglapus, among others. Others tell me the 1987 Constitutional Commission was working up to a parliamentary system but lost by one vote at decision time. So we have the hybrid situation of a multiparty system better suited to a Parliament than a presidential system. At this point, I might add that all of the countries in Europe have parliamentary government. With a few exceptions, so is it also in Asia.

From the point of view of the present Congress, when we are so close to fulfilling a dream then it is and should be a hundred-meter dash. We may never have the same opportunity again. Constitutional reformists worked closely with the House led by Speaker Jose de Venecia, because he and 186 congressmen/women were in favor of bringing the reforms in the fastest and least expensive way. A constituent assembly would have done that. With a convention in the offing it would be good if this group of eminent persons, because they are not politicians, should be appointed to the convention. Senators resisted and refused cooperation because "they want a convention". So now the House has capitulated to a convention. I wonder what the naysayers will say this time? Critics follow a pattern since 1935. I am surprised nationalists who claim love of country want to keep the status quo that has put us at the bottom of the Asian league of countries.

The question boils down to whether we retain a system designed to elect persons at large with a generally apolitical and ignorant electorate. That is the sure formula for putting showbiz personalities in charge of the country. Our elections are personality contests, not of programs. I am sorry but reports that FPJ is being tutored by UP professors in preparation for the presidency is a joke. Remember how far Erap’s business advisory group of top economists and businessmen went. It did not solve the problem. Will a man like FPJ with so little knowledge be able to discriminate between good and bad advice?

We are fighting against time with a burgeoning population needing jobs, homes, education, medical care. If we cannot have capable leaders under the present system, then we must look to another direction for a solution. How can we have competent people to govern our country? The answer is to restructure our politics. A parliamentary system will mean, whether for national or local authority, voters are close enough to a candidate to be able to judge him or her for their qualities. An incumbent should be judged for what he has done for his constituency and if a new aspirant, what he can do. A presidential candidate elected at large has no meaning. A parliamentary system is structured into definable constituencies. Members of parliament answer to a specific community, as a governor told me, "if they do not perform they can throw stones at his house, if necessary." Likewise a prime minister is immediately answerable to his constituency in Parliament. Only an ignoramus will equate Congress in a presidential form and a Parliament in a parliamentary system. They are not the same.

What is better – actors who do not know anything about governance wanting to become presidents or a proven good manager of the House aspiring to be prime minister? Why are we unable to judge so obvious a fact? We cannot even see with hindsight that orchestrated virulent press attacks on JDV as a trapo blinded so many from the incoming tragedy of an Erap presidency. They told us then that Erap would learn, that he will have the best advisers. Ay naku. We shift to parliamentary because that is the only way we can avoid disaster for our country, not because, JDV can become prime minister. Indeed all those who want to become prime minister should vie in Parliament, among people who are most aware of the capabilities of candidates, Fernando Poe, Jr. included. If we do not even hear him in a presidential contest, what about in a parliament where he must defend his program of government everyday?

The future of peace. A book weighing two kilos on The Future of Peace in the 21st Century was sent to me during the holidays by James R. Mancham, KBE, founding president of Seychelles. The book is about war and peace – from international conflicts to terrorist activities and published on the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize. An introduction was written by Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica (1986-1990) who was himself a Nobel Peace Laureate and the preface by Jehan Sadat, widow of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat. Among the essays in the book are: "Why War – A letter to Albert Einstein" by Sigmund Freud, "Perpetual Peace" by Immanuel Kant, "Peace and Jihad in Moslem History" by Majid Khadduri," The Realities of War" by Carl von Clausewitz. James Mancham’s contribution is "If you plant a mango seed, you will get a mango tree."

Third Eurasian media forum in Kazakhstan. I was reading about Halford Mackinder’s paper in 1904 before the Royal Geographical Society in London on ‘The Geographical Pivot of History when an invitation came from Kazakhstan. Mackinder argued Central Asia held the key to the control of global events. "Whoever held that region, stretching roughly from the oil-rich Caspian Sea through Afghanistan to western China would be able to control the entire Eurasian landmass." President Nursultan Nazarbayeva will open the confab. Topics are: The Changing Political and Economic Trends in Asia, The Influence of China, The isolation of North Korea. It will provide a forum to debate how the media can contribute to public understanding of East-West and global questions. Some 300 invited delegates from 40 countries attended the conference last year.

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E:mail: cpedrosa@edsamail.com.ph


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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