One Voice Position Paper
WE DON’T NEED THE PROPOSED CHARTER CHANGE.WE NEED REAL CHANGE.(A proposal to address the political impasse)
Why we are speaking out now
We are a non-partisan movement of citizens who are very concerned about the political developments in our country since EDSA I and more recently in the aftermath of the 2004 elections. We see our country divided when we should be united around peaceful and democratic processes. Many of us have not participated in rallies and demonstrations for or against the President. Some of us have joined street protests. But all of us agree that most of the solutions that have so far been offered to address the political situation appear to serve personal or group interests more than the common good, and even endanger rather than strengthen our democratic institutions. The latest of these “solutions” is the “people’s initiative” to shift from a presidential system with a bicameral legislature to a parliamentary system with a unicameral legislature.
For our people, many of whom are poor, it is often not clear how these political alternatives will make a difference in their lives. We are concerned that there is a growing alienation, even distrust, of our democratic institutions and of our national leaders, in and out of government. The future of our democracy itself may be at stake, and it will take all of us, speaking out together, if we are going to be heard.
We propose a 5-step process through the following:
1. Discontinuance of the present “people’s initiative”;2. A social reform program now;3. Elections in 2007 as scheduled, as an indirect referendum, and electoral reform now;4. If necessary, a constitutional convention (not a “con-ass”) after the 2007 elections, and5. A collective effort to rebuild the trustworthiness of our democratic institutions.
First, discontinue the present Initiative – We appeal to the proponents of the people’s initiative, especially the President, to please rethink this move. Not only is it questionable as a genuine “people’s initiative” but in the context of our current political culture and structure, the kind of parliamentary system being proposed will tend to worsen the concentration of political power in the country. Legally flawed. The Initiative is a divisive exercise that has very little chance of being legally upheld. The Supreme Court has already said that there is no adequate enabling law to support an Initiative to amend the Constitution. We also share the opinion of legal experts that, even if there were, a drastic overhaul of the political structure of government is a “revision” that is not contemplated by the Constitution as subject to an Initiative.
Based on fallacious and deceptive reasoning. We are told by its proponents that the shift to a parliamentary system will open the doors to political stability and economic prosperity. This despite the lack of conclusive empirical evidence to show that such a form of government is the answer to our specific problems. On the contrary, studies that attempt to explain the complex issue of growth differentials among countries cite government policies as the most relevant factors for the differentials. The form of government, whether parliamentary or presidential, is not indicated as a material factor. There are countries that are doing better or worse than ours which happen to have a parliamentary system.
Moreover, when all the political implications of the proposed shift is examined in the context of the relatively high concentration of political power in Philippine society today, our citizens will come to a disturbing conclusion – that the shift to the proposed parliamentary system will result in even more power to those who already have it, with the following:
Taking away from the people their power to directly vote for President - and leaving the Parliament to choose the Prime Minister from among themselves;
Fusing the Executive and Legislative as well as the two chambers of Congress into a unicameral parliament (to also include cabinet members with a portfolio) thus removing certain systemic checks and balances of the presidential system and resulting in more political domination by the ruling party;
Authorizing an Interim Parliament to introduce more amendments (followed by yet another plebiscite), some of which may not even be known to the people today. Once the cha-cha train assumes plenary powers, with something for everyone, it will be difficult to stop. It can even amend the Transitory Provisions themselves and extend its own life and the terms of national and local government officials beyond 2010. Other amendments contemplated intend to:a) Weaken the Supreme Court, which would remain as the principal check and balance to a powerful parliament, by (i) removing its power and duty to review the sufficiency of the factual basis for declaring martial law, (ii) increasing the vote required to declare unconstitutional a presidential decree or executive order, among others, from a majority to a 2/3 vote, and (iii) removing its power and duty to determine whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government.b) Restore the power of the President to declare martial law on “imminent danger” of rebellion – a phrase which President Marcos used to declare martial law.
Many other claims of the proponents of the Initiative are not borne out by the facts. For instance, the claim that the economic provisions of the Constitution on land ownership, public utilities, natural resources, media and advertising have closed the doors to beneficial foreign direct investment (FDI). Not only has the 1987 Constitution proven to be resilient to the demands of the times but surveys of foreign investors repeatedly show that the critical factors to FDI are infrastructure, human capital, quality of policies and stability of the regulatory framework, peace and order, among others. Nowhere is amending the economic provisions considered among the really critical.
Businessmen proponents say, “if it is possible to do so, because we are opening up the Constitution to amendments anyway, why not?” But introducing amendments just because every other interest group intends to is precisely the reason why we should think more deeply about the consequences of opening up our fundamental law to amendments. It may well be that, because of the entrenched interests of those in power today, the provisions that really help the poor, such as the Social Justice provisions, will be the first victims of an “open season” on amendments.
We are open to a sober review of our Constitution, but we must look at it as something bigger than any individual or group interest, and that nothing can be so urgent as to rush any amendment, much more revision, without fully considering all its implications and consequences.
Second, a social reform program now.
Too many uncertainties and potential dangers are implied by the current hasty efforts to change the constitution. Yet there are real and urgent problems that confront our people on a daily basis. As part of the over-all approach, a social reform program can immediately be undertaken as a constructive bi-partisan effort to move forward Moreover, such a program, gives the greater number of our people, especially the poor, a bigger stake in our democracy, and increases the trustworthiness of our institutions and politicians.
There is nothing in our present system that prevents our national leaders from addressing social reform immediately because the principles are already embodied in Article XIII (on Social Justice) and related provisions of the 1987 Constitution. The components of this agenda, which the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council can agree to enact through specific legislation, if necessary, and which all parties can agree to implement as a non-partisan agenda, regardless of who is in power, may include:
Legislation to provide strong safety nets for the poor with market liberalization, which were promised to the people and covered by congressional resolutions but were never legislated nor implemented, especially in the areas of education, health, housing, employment, and food security. Likewise, strict implementation of environmental laws and, with respect to agrarian reform, the provision of support services, especially credit, as well as effective police security to beneficiaries to fulfill the vision of rural development.
A serious and sustained campaign against graft and corruption with appointments to and support for the agencies in the forefront of the campaign, such as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commissions on Audit, Civil Service, and Elections. A transparent and public system of nomination for these positions should be formally instituted.
Legislation for greater political empowerment such as amendments to the party-list law to make it possible to reach the 20% representation in Congress of party-list representatives prescribed by the Constitution, the enactment of a law to implement the constitutional provisions on anti-dynasty and sectoral representation in the local sanggunians, the amendment of the absentee voting law to enable wider participation of Filipinos abroad, anti-turncoat legislation, and others.
At the heart of this program should be an unequivocal orientation towards a better life for all. It must set in place a system that would develop and nurture leaders with a strong sense of the common good, integrity, nationalism, and competence. Pockets of growth and development, especially at the community or local government levels, while good in themselves, can only go so far. These can be made lasting only when supported by a national system that promotes the same values for growth and development, accompanied by justice and equity.
Third, elections in 2007 as scheduled, as an indirect referendum, and electoral reform now.
The 2007 congressional and local elections should be held as scheduled. This is a constitutional mandate.
We do not agree with those who say that there was closure with the dismissal of the impeachment complaint last year. But neither do we agree with those who say that the dismissal has closed the door to any closure. Both miss the point of the accountability system in our Constitution - in a democracy, the terminal point in that system is the vote of its citizens. That is why the holding of the 2007 elections is non-negotiable. And why both the administration and the opposition should work together, if not on anything else, then on electoral reform. A credible 2007 elections can become an indirect referendum on the issue of whether the President should serve her full term, depending on how people choose their congressmen and senators, and how those elected exercise their mandate. Both sides should be willing to trust the people and their judgment as expressed in the election, regardless of the consequences to themselves. That is what democracy is all about.
As regards electoral reform, the presidential adviser on electoral reforms recommended as a priority the “revamp” of the Commission on Elections. That recommendation refers both to the commission itself and to the organization; and to a modernization program that is cost-effective and suitable to the problems of our system, for which the present automation law should be amended.
As a minimum, there must be at least four independent commissioners. Hence the importance of filling the last two vacancies in the Commission with persons of unquestioned integrity and competence. And competence must not be limited to “law”. Because elections are more a matter of management, not of law - a fact recognized by the Constitution in requiring that only four of the seven commissioners must be lawyers, including the Chairman. There is an opportunity for the President and the Commission on Appointments, which share responsibility for the quality of the appointees, to strengthen the commission’s capability in other disciplines necessary to modernize the system.
This administration should at least provide the conditions for a credible “indirect referendum” in 2007. Beyond that, any drastic overhaul of the Constitution should not take place until the people are convinced that the electoral system is totally trustworthy. Elections is a fundamental building block of any democracy. How can the administration, which has yet to deliver on a promise to modernize the electoral system by the 2004 elections, even talk about changes in the structure of government?
Fourth, if necessary, a constitutional convention (not a “con-ass”) after the 2007 elections.
Because of the present climate of distrust and confrontation and the composition of those in political power, the best way to consider the merits of a major revision in our form of government, while allowed to be done by Congress, is through a Constitutional Convention, with a broad representation of Philippine society. And any decision to convene must be preceded by a massive education campaign and national dialogue. This is a process that cannot be rushed.
Changes by a “con-ass” will always be suspect. There are various interest groups promoting their own amendments which can be the subject of back-room dealings, political trade-offs, even corruption, because these will involve huge economic or political gains. In that kind of a process, where dealings can be done piecemeal like ordinary legislation and in private, the great majority of the people who are poor, will have no voice. A constitutional convention, on the other hand, is conducted in public and continuous proceedings before the full glare of media and public scrutiny.
Moreover, in the interest of transparency, any major change in political structure must be held after the 2007 elections and should not benefit those presently in power. If, however, there is found to be a need for specific provisions that can qualify as amendment (i.e. a run-off for president, block voting for president and vice-president, amending an economic provision) these can be done by Initiative, for which Congress must first pass an enabling law.
Fifth, a collective effort to rebuild trust in our democratic institutions, our leaders and in ourselves.
Governance is not only about how the president makes decisions or how the resources of a country are managed, it is also about our collective responsibility to solve our problems and meet society needs. Unfortunately, a preoccupation with the fate of one person sometimes distracts us from long-term institution-building.
Presidents come and go; but our institutions are our lifeline to the future. We must restore their trustworthiness and strengthen them. Even when our democracy is not in its best behavior, even when it is cumbersome and time-consuming, our democracy works. But we need to make it work better to make a difference in people’s lives.
There are many more ways by which our leaders can help achieve this objective and thereby address the growing distrust of our democratic institutions, for as long as the common good is their primary objective and not political survival, continuance in office, or taking power for its own sake. For our part, we have an open mind to all proposals, including a review and possible amendments to or revision of our Constitution. If our leaders – in government, in the opposition and in civil society - give us reasons to begin trusting them again, we can also begin to trust in one another and in ourselves as well.
[i] See for instance studies by Jeffrey Sachs[ii] Some examples are: liberal interpretation of what constitutes capital for purposes of applying the limit of 40% foreign ownership in certain industries (SEC ruling on PLDT); legally allowed “supermajority” votes on key stockholder decisions (i.e. declaration of dividends); creative financial instruments (i.e. global depositary receipts); leases of up to 75 years on land; legislation like the condominium law on housing and, if passed into law, the proposed condominium law on industrial estates; redefinition of the boundaries of an industry (RA 9136 limits electric utilities to the “wires” business, thus allowing 100% foreign ownership in the generation and supply businesses); making the legal distinction between a franchise and a concession with respect to foreign participation in public utilities; judicial decisions (i.e. Mining Law). Moreover, technological developments have overtaken the “content” issue with respect to the 100% Filipino ownership in media by easy access to foreign programs, and in the case of print media, by the importation of foreign published newspapers or the reprint of foreign content in local newspapers under the freedom of the press provision.
GREENPEACE began with a small group of individuals who decided to get together to protest against nuclear testing at Amchitka, off the west coast of Alaska. They went on to form GREENPEACE and later initiated campaigns on major environmental issues. One of the founding principles of GREENPEACE is to "bear witness" - that is to watch and record environmental destruction. This principle of direct action together with peaceful confrontation, has been the cornerstone of GREENPEACE's campaigns.
Southeast Asia is of enormous significance to the future of the planet earth. The rich natural heritage of the region is worth protecting in its own right. However, the staggeringly rapid industrialization and economic growth of the past 30 years has come at a huge environmental cost. The environmental impacts of the region also stretch beyond their own national boundaries. Severe environmental degradation already exists across Southeast Asia. Apart from the recent Asian financial crisis, pollution and resources destruction are further intensifying as multinational companies and industrialized nations target the region for the expansion of their environmentally destructive operations and technologies. Reinforcing these problems is the lack of awareness among the Asian public about environmental destruction and weak democratic mechanisms to empower communities to influence decisions. Recognizing the importance of the developmental potential and threats in these areas, and in order to consolidate and expand its campaign work in Southeast Asia, Greenpeace is increasing its activities in the region.
Greenpeace is already active in many part of Asia. Our work in the region has included stopping hazardous waste imports, opposing radioactive shipments, campaigning against forest destruction, lobbying governments on sustainable energy issues and drawing attention to the dangers of waste incinerations. Often working with other local groups, Greenpeace has run successful campaigns in the Philippines, Taiwan, India, and Indonesia. We made a commitment to develop a presence in Asia in late 80s and early 90s, and first established an office in Japan (1989) and then China (1997). Initial investigations were also initiated in SEA, focusing primarily on Indonesia and Philippines.
Southeast Asia is in a key position to determine global environmental security. Over the past 30 years, Greenpeace has successfully campaigned in industrialized countries to reduce and eliminate environmental pollution and degradation. However, these efforts and many achievements can easily be reversed as these same multinational companies export dirty technologies resulting in environmental degradation in the region. Hence, after many years of investigations and establishing campaign presence in key countries, Greenpeace finally succeeded in opening an office in the region. Greenpeace Southeast Asia was formally established on March 1, 2000.