Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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Unmistakable signs of deference to executive branch

Reader, with all the hullabaloo in Congress regarding the dengue vaccine (horrifying), the yearlong extension of martial law in Mindanao (alarming), and the Sereno impeachment complaint (disgusting), we have overlooked/ignored the pronouncement two weeks ago of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, which has all the characteristics and more (add ominous) of the cited three happenings that are fascinating us.

What did Alvarez say? He said a new constitution, among other things shifting us to a federal system, would be in place next year, in time for its ratification during the May 18 barangay elections. To that end, he said, Congress would start the new year 2018 functioning as a constituent assembly.

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But why the hurry? After all, President Duterte’s earlier schedule was for that new constitution to be brought up for ratification during the 2019 elections, and even Alvarez himself sponsored Resolution No. 1 in Congress calling for a constitutional convention. So why move the schedule up a whole year? What is that saying about haste making waste, etc. etc.?

Let us make an educated guess.

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First and foremost, there is the health of the President to consider. He has not exactly led a healthy lifestyle, and if he passes on, where would that leave his cohorts and family who have gotten used to power? The Vice President would take his place, and that would leave them out in the cold. Heaven forbid!

On the other hand, a new constitution, with its accompanying transitory provisions, would give the President the power that he needs, without the extraconstitutional revolutionary government to which the military said it would not accede. But now, since his extraordinary powers will be in the new constitution, the problem of a disapproving military would be solved.

Second, there is no problem about hurrying, because there will be no opposition. As Christian Monsod, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (also my husband), has noted, there are unmistakable “signs of deference to the Executive by institutions precisely tasked to provide the checks on any abuse of power, like the Congress and the Supreme Court.”

What signs of deference are we talking about? Take Congress, for example. The President says Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno should be impeached, and Congress is now continuing the impeachment proceedings even though it is clear that the person who brought the complaint has been shown to have no personal knowledge of the grounds—and, on top of that, his “facts” are wrong. Or the tax reform called TRAIN: The President wants it by the end of the year, and Congress approved the bicameral version even if it had no quorum, and, more importantly, no discussions (how can a body approve a document it had not even seen?). The false assurances of this bicameral TRAIN I will tackle later.

As for the Supreme Court, its decisions on Ferdinand Marcos’ burial as a hero, on the President’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, and on the continued detention of Sen. Leila de Lima are all clear evidence of deference. That august body is supposed to be “the last bastion of democracy” and the “conscience of the nation,” to which the people go to get relief from an executive or legislative branch that has abused them. Hah. Reader, that doesn’t appear to be a consideration with this Supreme Court. Think of how the voting has gone in all those three cases: four justices appointed by Mr. Duterte plus five justices appointed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (Justice Antonio Carpio was appointed by Arroyo, too. He is the exception that breaks the rule.) They constitute a majority in the three cases. It is pathetic what mental gymnastics they go through, to justify their rulings.

So, when the question goes to the Supreme Court (as it surely will) about whether the House and the Senate should vote jointly or separately in a constituent assembly (our only hope, you see, is that the Senate votes separately), I will give you any odds that this Supreme Court, with a majority of nine, will decide that the voting should be joint.

Beware, Reader. The death of our democracy is drawing near. The rise of constitutional authoritarianism is imminent. Fight!

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TAGS: new constitution, President Duterte, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez
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