COLUMN: GOVERNMENT IS ...

MANILA, February 28, 2004
(STAR) FROM A DISTANCE by Carmen N. Pedrosa - GOVERNMENT IS NOT ABOUT MAKING PEOPLE GOOD OR HAPPY: A lot of confusion stems from what government ought to be or ought to do for its citizens. Its duty is not to make people good or happy. The most serious flaw of communism was to attempt to make government responsible for the happiness or goodness of individuals. We now know that this experiment, noble as it is, failed despite its good intentions. Happiness and good, as in ethical good, are concerns of individuals not governmentís. When government invades this personal realm, it becomes unhinged and can be very cruel as we have seen it happen so many times in societies that adopted political theories aimed to "change individuals."

Government is about creating an environment in which the individual can best achieve his or her own potential as well as his or her idea of happiness through a system of rules, rights, privileges and relative freedom.. Michael Mandelbaumís book The Ideas that Conquered the World argues that three ideas dominate the world today: peace as the preferred basis for relations between and among different countries, democracy as the optimal way to organize political life, and free markets as the indispensable vehicle for the creation of wealth. Whether you agree with these ideas or not, we now live in a world in which we will have to meld our national interest with these ideas.

That is the most important reason for constitutional reform to shift to parliamentary federal government. We can achieve this melding more efficiently through a parliamentary federal system. I disagree with those who say this can be done only if we become good, principled and honest men and women. They are asking for the moon. I am not against good, principle or honesty but these are not the basis for restructuring a government and this is true not only of the Philippines but of all countries. These virtues are about man in general, how he must live and what he lives for and is the subject of religion and ethical philosophies. True, an ideal government should help, not hinder, the realization of happy, noble, and contented men and women. But to say that Filipinos have to be good and honest before government can change is really saying we cannot ever have good government. On the contrary, we can only work at good government if we accept that man is imperfect and life is a constant struggle to improve ourselves.

That is the challenge for us. The measure of good government in a changing world is how well it maneuvers the country in the contemporary world. Even if government were successful it does not guarantee individual happiness or contentment. A good example are the countries of the Scandinavian peninsula which could be said to have the most humane and successful governments but report a large number of suicides. Well-governed societies have a strong rule of law. That is why ex-President Clinton might have been bad for being unfaithful to his wife but many Americans thought their concern was whether he, as their president governed well, not his act of infidelity.

Dr. Norbert Lammert and Speaker de Venecia on constitutional change. The argument against parliamentary federal government because we will have the same men and women is meaningless. The reconstruction of government will make possible wider and better participation in governance by the people. Dr. Norbert Lammert, vice-president of the German Parliament and a Christian Democrat said this was true of Germany when we talked at Speaker Jose de Veneciaís dinner for him recently. Despite the elections which has kept the speaker busy as co-chairman of the Lakas-CMD, he continues to seek out as many friends abroad who will help RP in these difficult times. De Venecia welcomed Dr. Lammert and a standing room only crowd who came for the blessing of the new offices of Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The audience included diplomats, legislators, academics, media, labor leaders and many other members of civil society behind constitutional change.The foundation has been in the forefront of political education for Filipinos through seminars and publications especially on the advantages of a parliamentary federal system. When the speaker mentioned that we will continue with this effort, there was wild applause from the audience. Lammert agreed with JDV. "The structure of government and the development of upright citizens are connected," Lammert said.

A shift to parliamentary federalist government will not make Filipinos saints or more good and moral. Neither is it a finished product to impose on the body politic. It is an alternative way of organizing government that addresses problems peculiar to the Philippines Ė expensive, meaningless and dead-end elections, for one. If more than a hundred countries have chosen parliamentary federal, they must have good reason for it. In the Philippines, national elections like what we face in May 2004 is a bane to good government. And by good I mean how to make government work better for the people.

The controversy over FPJ is a natural-born Filipino rages on. FPJ may be a citizen of the Philippines but was he natural born? It may be anachronistic but if FPJ is not qualified to run for the presidency blame the framers of the Constitution. The more disturbing prospect is if the Supreme Court were to ignore the law and legal precedents because FPJ is a strong contender for the presidency.The court must not be intimidated by FPJ followers. Neither should it be influenced by the Arroyo government because it fears a backlash if FPJ is disqualified. The task of the Supreme Court is not to dock the law. The recommendations of the amici curiae remain a mere recommendation. The onus falls on the justices to decide according to the law or lose credibility.

Rodel Rodis, a Filipino practising law in the United States compares the FPJ issue with a Salve Bush who filed her certificate of candidacy with COMELEC. She said she was "engaged" to George W. Bush, even if she had never met him. COMELEC declares her a "nuisance candidate". But letís assume Salve Bush were to get pregnant and, after the child is born, declare that the father is Bush. Is the child therefore an American because the father listed in the birth certificate is American? Even if Bush were to marry Salve Bush, does her child "automatically" become a US citizen? The answer to both questions is NO. These may be hypothetical questions but they are at the heart of the FPJ citizenship issue. The three undisputed facts are: FPJís mother is Elizabeth Kelly, an American: FPJ was born out of wedlock, almost 13 months before his parents were married; and his parents never took any legal steps to"legitimatize" FPJ. The Supreme Court will be or at least ought to be guided by the doctrine of precedent. There are at least three such precedent decisions similar to FPJís case.

* * * E-mail: cpedrosa@edsamail.com.ph


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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