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The Long View

The worm turns

05:07 AM January 17, 2018

Too many Speakers in the past, grown soft from Manila living, tried to be beloved and popular, their eyes cast, with permanent moistness, on the presidency. Thinking love can be bought, they would then find their ambitions crushed when they pursued higher office. The current Speaker, on the other hand, having experienced feast and famine, seems to operate on the principle that is better to be feared than loved (a corollary to this, of course, is that those who are feared experience a lot of simulated love from the fearful, which is indistinguishable from the real thing). While he may not be the first Speaker to think to himself that if the public won’t elect him to the presidency, it’s more productive to simply carve out a premiership for himself, since a prime minister only requires election by one’s (shall we say, easy-to-convince) peers, he is probably the first to resolve to pursue his goal by any means politically necessary.

I’ve said before that in politics, the most direct path from point A to point B is a zigzag and not a straight line. The President is a good example of this. The Speaker on the other hand, is untypical in that he believes in bulldozing straight lines regardless of the obstacles in his path. When the President proposed a constitutional convention — a pitch difficult to resist — the Speaker said no, we can brazen it through. When the President (or his people) took his sweet time appointing people to a committee to study and propose changes to the Constitution, the Speaker said no, we will expedite the process and he began the calendar year by saying he wants a plebiscite on amendments to the Constitution by May of this year. The House, of course, obligingly started holding hearings to howl for amendments.

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The Speaker’s berserker style not only leaves the President playing catchup (without risking looking disloyal; the President can propose a revolutionary government, with its accompanying risk for politicians like the Speaker, all he likes; the Speaker simply chugs along until he can regain the limelight once the President’s latest trial balloon pops, and the Speaker can tell the President and his other people, see, that won’t work, lemme at ’em!), it also channels the genuine frustration of his peers into a plan of action where their numbers matter.

What is that frustration? The Constitution, simply put, is impossible to amend. Either in a controlled manner, which is the only manner that counts for those in office, or in terms of the sectoral and institutional obstacles to a discussion on the subject. The only avenue for constitutional change that is easy to pursue, a convention, is the least attractive for people like congressmen or the officials of the executive because God knows what a convention, however packed with relatives or allies, might come up with. The Supreme Court in its wisdom has, for all practical purposes, closed the path for a people’s initiative. This leaves Congress — but the Constitutional Commission’s work left the phrasing of how this can be done ambiguous enough to bog it down in a debate between the House, which has asserted for some time that for the purposes of a vote on amendments, Congress’ two Houses vote as one body, effectively canceling out the Senate, and the Senate which argues the Constitution providing for a bicameral Congress logically makes the process for amendments a two-chamber affair.

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No House, up to this point, was willing to bring the confrontation to the point where the Senate could run to the Supreme Court and possibly get a decision that would permanently close off the House’s unicameral-style solution. But times change. For example, you only need one senator to accept an invitation by the House to either simply attend or participate in a vote on amendments, for the House to be able to argue before a pliable Supreme Court that the confusing constitutional requirement for a three-fourths vote of Congress to propose amendments was fulfilled. The House could then say it exercised political will, ending an impasse nearly a generation in duration.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, charter change, Manuel L. Quezon III, Pantaleon Alvarez, The Long View
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