COLUMN: THIS GUY SHOULD FRY / CHA-CHA DEAD?

MANILA, January 16, 2004 (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - The most hated, reviled person in the Philippines today is Benjamin Abalos. His image is that of Ivan the Terrible, feared high and wide not only for his incendiary temper but his drunken orgies of killing innocent people. Abalosí crime? Plunging a butcherís knife into the heart of computerized elections May 10 this year, and therefore killing the nationís hopes for a better tomorrow. And, worse, kicking the country back to manual elections. This is like kicking 83 million Filipinos back to the horse-and-buggy age, back to the days of the bloomer and the Charleston, and the ugoy-ugoy blues.

Manual, hoo-hah!

The whole civilized world has long dumped manual elections. Technology has taken over with computerized automated machines. Election results are known in a day or two, and the citizenry goes back to its workaday life, fully satisfied the elections were clean, honest and orderly. Machines would have freed our elections from the drudgery of manual tabulation. The big boon was that cheating would have been rendered impossible by electronic sentinels. And so dagdag-bawas would have been a thing of the past. The blackboard, the chalk, the evil dagdag and the equally evil bawas would have been consigned to oblivion.

But, alas, the Supreme Court Tuesday in angry and accusatory phraseology fingered Abalos as having struck a deal with Mega-Pacific that had all the earmarks of Enron, Andersen, Imclone. Top officers of these corporations criminally pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars in conspiratorial loot. Our Supreme Court issued this grim and ugly warning: "We are thus confronted with the grim prospect of election fraud on a massive scale by means of just a few strokes. The marvels and woes of the electronic age!"

By this, the Supreme Court meant that Abalos and Co. had entered into a contract for the P1.3-billion purchase of defective or untested machines that could be electronically manipulated to cheat. The Court was not sleeping. It too had tested these machines. The finding? An electronic Al Capone was lurking inside as were an electronic Limahong and an electronic Ali Baba, ready to do their mastersí bidding. And who were these masters? Did somebody say follow the roads leading to MalacaŮang?

What makes matters worse is that Mr. Abalos repudiates the Supreme Court decision. He says he is absolutely innocent. He says the Supreme Court erred flagrantly. Oh yeah?

To the wildfire outcry that Mr. Abalos and his commissioners resign, the Chairís revolting reply is that they will appeal the decision. "No one is resigning," he says, since quitting would be tantamount to admission of guilt. Listen to me, Commissioners, you do not understand the mood of the country today. Where you are concerned, the mood is that of a lynch mob. Honestly, I would advise you all to resign. If you donít, you better arm yourselves and be ready to face the mob. They feel you have cheated them of their birthright.

If President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo knows what is good for her, she too should exert maximum pressure that Mr. Abalos and cabal resign. They cannot be fired or removed since they are constitutional officers. Only impeachment can oust them from office.

But I donít know if Mr. Abalos can stand the heat.

Letís hear him out: He was extremely appalled by the baseless, unfair and malicious allegations hurled against him by the High Court and media. "The story has marred my integrity which I had built over many years and has further undermined the reputation of the Commission on Elections at this most critical period." And so on, and so on.

What integrity, sir?

The first thing you did upon assuming the Comelec chair was purchase about half a dozen or more brand-new vehicles for yourself and the commissioners. This at a time when the extremely thin coffers of the government mandated thrift, clean and prudent living. What else did you do? You cozied up to Ms. Tantangco, when amost everybody else wouldnít touch her with a ten-foot pole. She was badly damaged goods. Her reputation was already in tatters and remains in tatters. She could have been impeached except that she had many friends in Congress who failed to show up when the impeachment vote took place.

The Comelec, sir?

If a vote were taken this very minute in a nearby neighborhood, you and your commissioners would be sentenced to death either by musketry or lynching. Your added crime or crimes? You consigned this nation to manual voting. Thusly, you consigned us to the tender mercies of the men and women who will count the vote starting May 10. I can tell you this. They will cheat, they will prevaricate, they will massively tamper with the count. And what else have you done? In so doing, you have called upon the heavens to feast upon the electoral process, ululating in the night on the carcass of manual voting.

And what else? You could open the gunwales to social turbulence, if massive cheating there be. And there will be. And a worse scenario? Under the guns of massive street protests, this government can collapse. And the military could take over.

See what you have done?

Is Cha-cha (Charter change) dead for the nonce?

Reports are that Sen. Edgardo Angara declared that in the interest of thoroughness, Charter change would best be left to the next Congress. There isnít much time left, he said. Approving the resolution calling for a Constitutional convention would only create more problems. So why rush the whole thing? It makes no sense, according to a number of senators.

The pitch for Cha-cha goes something like this: The nation is foundering because of the presidential system of government. It is an archaic system modeled on that of the United States which is good for America but a maledication for a small undeveloped country like the Philippines. Witness the overwhelming bulk of countries in the world today. They are blessed by the parliamentary system. Witness even more the countries like Japan and South Korea, yes Thailand. They have gone and progressed very far because of parliamentary.

And so, the architects of Cha-cha would have us believe all the social, economic and political baggage weighing the Philippines down would disappear once we adopt the parliamentary form of government.

This is absolute nonsense and we had said so time without number in this space. The proponents of parliamentary have not studied their history. The core of parliamentary Ė we repeat Ė is the existence of genuine political parties like Labor and Tory in England, Democrats and Republican in the US, Socialist and Liberal-Democrat in Japan. Each party represents specific sectors or classes in society. The party is drawn to a specific political philosophy or vision, and its economic program is consequently sculptured.

We donít have political parties in the Philippines.

What we have are way stations, groups or groupuscules, watering holes for anybody who wants to join. They have grown or been built around personalities whose only claim to fame is that he or she has enough money or a reputation to attract followers. So you once had the Philippine Reform Party of Miriam Defensor-Santiago when she ran for the presidency, the Grand Alliance of Francisco Tatad, the Pwersa ng Masa of Joseph Estrada.

They were names, just names to be registered in the Commission on Elections, the same way you stick a lighted candle in church or stuff a lottery ticket in your wallet. If the candle should answer a prayer, hooray. If the ticket should win a prize, more hooray. Did you ever bother to inquire what reform really meant in La Miriamís PRP, or whatever was liberal in the Liberal Party, or Grand in the GA when it only had two members?

Thereís another thing.

If as a nation, we are down and out, badly bleeding and on our knees. It is for many reasons, but certainly not because we have not switched to a parliamentary form of government. Unlike many countries in Asia, we Filipinos really never had a past to boast of. Chinaís civilization goes back thousands of years, so does Japan, so does India. Before the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, China had the worldís most advanced economy, Japan was on the starting block, raring to go. India long before had already amazed the world with its achievements in mathematics.

What we Filipinos had was geography. And not much else.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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