August 13, 2005 
(STAR) By Michael Punongbayan - The country is suffering from a negative public image, former President Fidel Ramos said yesterday.

Last month’s anti-government rallies clogging the main arteries of the commercial and business district of Makati City have placed the Philippines in a bad light internationally, Ramos told foreign commerce leaders the other day.

The already spotty international view of the Philippines was worsened by the fact that most members of the diplomatic community have embassies located in downtown Makati City.

Ramos said the idea of mass protest actions taking place in the Philippines’ financial capital was frowned upon by other countries.

He added he was asked recently in Thailand why the Philippines allowed Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay to hold rallies and protest actions where most foreign embassies are located.

Speaking before members of five foreign chambers of commerce in a hotel in Makati on Thursday, Ramos told foreign observers that he would bring their concerns before the proper authorities.

The rallies referred to by Ramos were launched against President Arroyo last month along the stretch of Ayala Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the Makati commercial and business district (CBD) where many multinational firms have headquarters.

The protests were actually led by Binay himself, as well as by opposition leaders and personalities who drew huge crowds that led to Ayala Ave. and other intersecting main streets, such as Paseo de Roxas Ave. and Makati Ave, being closed down for several business hours.

European Chamber of Commerce president William Bailey said the business sector was unhappy about the present state of Philippine politics.

"There is more politics than governance, more promise than law and more poverty than social justice," Bailey said.

"Problems such as debt burden, peace and order, corruption and endless political bickering have affected the country’s image on the international stage," he added.

Ramos explained to gathered foreign businessmen from Europe, the United States, Canada, Korea and Japan how a parliamentary form of government would create a better system of governance for the Philippines.

He even joked about not being able to remember Binay’s name.

Binay justified his actions in allowing the rally in a letter to Ramos, in which he wrote there was "nothing wrong with anyone voicing out his or her lawful and rightful stand on the political issues that obtain in our country today."

"Unless the constitutional provision on the freedom of speech and (free) assembly have been amended or deleted without my knowing it, I believe that the position I have taken against the Arroyo administration is guaranteed by the basic law of the land," Binay added.

"These are the same principles that Mayors (Rodrigo) Duterte (of Davao City) and (Lito) Atienza (of Manila), among others, fall back on as they openly support the Arroyo administration," Binay said to Ramos in his letter. "You, yourself, have taken a strong position on possible solutions to the crisis that we face and you are well within your constitutional rights to do so. After all, mayors, congressmen, senators, or even former presidents are all citizens of the republic that are accorded the basic civil rights."

Binay said it was regrettable that the Arroyo administration was so quick to label those openly opposed to it as "destabilizers" or "coup plotters."

He added that the administration had avoided making the critical distinction between being politically opposed to the President and "being enemies of the state, which we categorically are not."

Ramos said such rallies would no longer be necessary under a parliamentary system of government, which he is advocating.

According to Ramos, a parliamentary system would ensure greater public accountability among the country’s leaders.

He noted the presidential form of government had become so ineffective and prone to suspicion that people had to come together in people-power revolts twice to oust former Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada.

He said Filipinos were lucky both times, because both uprisings were peaceful. Had there been even the smallest mistake or difference in stand and belief between the EDSA protesters and police and military personnel, these peaceful revolts could easily have turned into bloody civil wars.

It will be recalled, however, that in 1976, the 1973 Constitution was amended, leading to a shift from a presidential system of government to a parliamentary one, with Marcos initially holding power as both president and prime minister, then creating the Batasan Pambansa or National Assembly. Cesar Virata later became the first and only prime minister of the Philippines.

This was the system of government that was in effect when Marcos was ousted in 1986 by a people power revolution triggered by a mutiny instigated by then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramos, who was then Armed Forces vice chief of staff.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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