Saturday, July 09, 2005

Lakas-CMD vs Liberal Party

Lakas-CMD vs Liberal Party
FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa
The Philippine Star 07/09/2005

There is a silver lining in the dark clouds hovering over our country.

That silver lining is the growing political maturity of the Filipino nation to vote for issues rather than personalities. Although personalities act out the political drama, they represent ideas and institutions that are at the heart of parliamentary government. President GMA, former President Fidel V. Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia represent the Lakas Party program for constitutional reform that would shift the country from a presidential system to a unicameral parliamentary federal government. On the other hand the Liberal Party, led by Senate President Franklin Drilon and Co. is determined to block any such change. Do not be misled. That is the real struggle. It is change vs. the status quo. The rest is subterfuge.

Breaking his silence, former President Fidel V. Ramos proposed that President GMA assume a ‘caretaker’ role until a new government can be formed in 2006 as a way out of the country’s political impasse. The steps which FVR, chairman emeritus of Lakas, outlined in his speech to establish a parliamentary government echo positions and previous statements made by co-chairmen President GMA and Speaker Jose de Venecia.

"It’s not just face saving for Arroyo, it is a breathing spell. It will be a graceful exit," said Ramos, a staunch Arroyo ally. The former president proposed a "high commission" be formed in September to investigate the controversies hounding the government. "By November, a constituent assembly will draft a new Constitution, which should be finished by January 2006, he said. The new Charter will then be ratified in a plebiscite in February 2006 before elections are held in May. That would mean a new government will be in place by June. The President and many others must make a sacrifice if we are to save the nation and assume the role of ‘taking care of the country until a transition to parliamentary government is made," he added. With the speed of unfolding events, even that timeframe may be too long. Senate President Franklin Drilon, no matter if he says otherwise, represents those who would block any amendments to the Constitution.

Like most of the other senators he feels threatened by a constitutional shift that would eliminate the Senate. Studies have shown that if the Senate is removed, we would save at least P5 billion a year. More importantly, we will get things done. One of the Senate’s excuses to oppose change is to sue for ‘convention.’ This is treacherous and dishonest because Drilon and Co. know that with the House for constituent assembly, it would be an impasse.

Drilon has been consistently against charter change. In the past few months, the Liberal Party was resuscitated as a vehicle for opposing charter change even as it was part of the administration coalition.

Curiously, some Liberals claim charter change was the Liberal Party program. They do not share the Drilon view. In the coming days, it would be good to hear from these Liberals. In recent conversations with Liberal Party members, former Congressman Antonio Nachura and Education Secretary Florencio Abad, told this column that the party position was for ‘charter change’. I might quote from the foreword of the book Liberal Views on Constitutional Reform written by Antonio Nachura and Jonathan Malaya:

"We live in a crucial and decisive period in our history. For the first time in 15 years, the prospect of introducing the necessary amendments to the Constitution is now a distinct possibility. By far, this is the closest we’ve come to changing the form of government, dismantling our unitary system and deleting the outdated provisions in our fundamental charter."

How could a party be led by Drilon, who has consistently blocked even a plenary debate on charter change share that view? That is why he and his followers are ganging upon President GMA. These differences within the Liberal Party came out in the vote at a meeting in the Club Filipino yesterday. The ostensive withdrawal of support for President GMA only reveals the fear that if she continues to be in power, constitutional reform would finally take place and this will happen under the wake of a Lakas-CMD administration. That would give Lakas-CMD the advantage when the skirmishing for political power in parliamentary government takes place.

As far as Drilon and Co. are concerned, they prefer President GMA to resign to serve their political interests. They want to keep the status quo for both personal and political reasons. But can the nation stand another postponement of charter change yet again? This has been thwarted for decades. Had we done it before the 2004 elections, this crisis would not have taken place. The real victims of any such delay are the poor who are the real victims of a backward economy brought about by gridlocked government.
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President GMA should not resign. All reform-minded citizens must resist any attempt to compel President GMA to resign. She must stand her ground. Moreover, she must recognize the real issue behind the Drilon-led Liberal Party’s betrayal. There is no other term to describe it. Please do not say it is for the sake of the country and that goes for Cory Aquino and the ‘church’. If we must abide by the Constitution, we must abide with the separation of church and state. A Constitution is the written social contract between the government and the people. Is Cory Aquino now a liberal? Or is the Church also now ‘liberal? Will they put their opinions to the test of elections and be candidates? If they are, then their views must be regarded as a Party stand, and not as it has been made to appear – as a neutral but superior force against the state.

More importantly, President GMA cannot be forced to resign on the basis of accusations by the Opposition. Corruption and flawed elections come from the very system that we need to change. Suggestion for electoral reform, etc. etc. may mean well but they treat the symptoms and not the disease. If Noli de Castro, a popular but ignorant broadcaster takes over, you can be sure that he will not be thinking of constitutional reform that would eliminate the vice-presidency. He will have tasted the perks of the presidency and understandably would be more difficult to convince him to part with them rather than President GMA. Let me reiterate in this column that the accusations against President GMA have not been proven. They remain allegations of critics bolstered by media hype until proven and brought before the courts.

I was surprised to read that Sen. Aquilino Pimentel did not want any ‘constitutional reform’ unless President GMA is first punished. Once I asked Sen. Pimentel how politics would shape when charter change became imminent? He said it will eventually be between those for charter change and those who were not. That is happening now. I hope that Sen. Pimentel would rise above his personal interest and support the cause he is supposed to champion. He may have his differences with President GMA her but I would expect him to rise above that. I’d like to think of him as a patriot first before being a vengeful politician.

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