COLUMN: A NATION'S 'PALABRA DE HONOR'

MANILA, February 19, 2004 (STAR) CHASING THE WIND By Felipe B. Miranda - Even in a country where much cynicism obtains, a sizeable number of people still insists on one’s word being kept. When President Arroyo backtracked on her earlier promise not to run for the presidency in the May 2004 elections, close to half (43 percent) of the public criticized her action as being improper; another 17 percent expressing "indecision" might have been only exceedingly polite or prudently non-transparent in their criticism. A good number (38 percent) nevertheless supported her in reneging on her National Heroes Day promise, with one in three among them pointing out that she had been managing the country well after all. These findings come from Pulse Asia’s November 2003 Ulat ng Bayan survey, one of the polling group’s quarterly probes of Filipinos 18 years old and above.

It is not often realized that, much like the individual person, a nation too has its own version of palabra de honor. In the international community, the way a country historically treats its political and economic commitments, the way it honors its obligations under international law and the manner in which its constitutional and legal systems operate to make for predictability or unpredictability within the nation gains for it a reputation that is fully equivalent to a person’s word of honor.

The Philippines may now be suffering much in terms of grossly diminished international credibility. Apart from belatedly nullifying international contracts and casually changing investment regulations that provokes much uncertainty among its current and potential foreign partners, the country’s inability to consistently enforce constitutional and legal regulations corrupts the Philippine reputation for transparency, consistency and sincerity.

A nation’s pledge – its palabra de honor – cannot be less than the sum of its constitutional and other legal pronouncements. Where a nation commits itself to constitutional processes that clearly define the election as well as the repudiation of its elected leaders, it is imperative that both the international and the local public be convinced that these processes are truly in place and functionally operative.

Recent history has not been all that fortuitous in the Philippine desire to be perceived as a nation driven by a strong sense of palabra de honor. In aborting the process of presidential impeachment to depose a sitting president, in substituting for this constitutional procedure an extraconstitutional one that dramatically "people powers" an incumbent out of his lawful office — the so-called EDSA Dos phenomenon, the country and its new authorities suffered much criticism from the international public as well as a large number of constitutionally-minded Filipinos. The international media expressed their reservations about the unorthodox method used to unseat President Estrada. His enraged supporters marched to Malacanan and a violent confrontation with the police and the military – the alleged EDSA Tres – ensued. Neither EDSa Dos nor EDSA Tres served to stabilize the nation’s political system. Both cast aside a people’s oft-trumpeted commitment to have a rule of law and not a rule of men (or women, as the case may be).

Even a Supreme Court ruling invoking a novel doctrine of "constructive resignation" by a beleaguered president failed to provide the legitimation that the new administration sorely needed. The ruling still suffered the stigma that the Constitution had been betrayed and this time by judicial authorities sworn to uphold it.

The nation’s ability to keep faith with its constitutionalist pledge is again an issue as the citizenry reckons with the May 2004 national elections. This time people are much challenged by the prospects of electing a president who might not satisfy a constitutional requirement that presidents be natural-born Filipinos.

Irresponsible people have threatened revolution, civil war and other forms of political violence should their favored presidential candidate be disqualified failing this constitutional requirement. Again "people power" is being brandished by self-serving politicians in their obssessive drive to gain or regain much coveted political preeminence.

As history would have it, the Supreme Court will again make a ruling that crucially determines the course of constitutionalist politics in this country. Swayed by popular passion or seduced by vested interests, or – worse – driven by an unholy alliance of popular passion and calculating elites, the Supreme Court might simply opt to ignore the Constitution and again forget the law.

Should this terrible scenario come to pass, people here and abroad should not be blamed for thinking that in the Philippines a palabra de honor is no more than an empty palabra, devoid of anything that remotely resembles honor or that which is truly honorable.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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