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What choice will we have?

/ 12:24 AM March 03, 2016

We are moving into an uncertain future. Madmen with high-powered weapons are terrorizing the world, and their success is frightening. The rigmarole we have to go through just to catch a plane, particularly the airport security systems, is just one of the least examples—though it affects billions of people (more than 3 billion airline passengers were recorded last year)—showing their success. Another proof is the huge cost of security and intelligence services that’s taking away funds from much more necessary endeavors.

You know the story: Syria is collapsing with an estimated 11 million Syrians fleeing their country for their lives, in effect sending other countries wondering how to assimilate them, or thinking of denying them sanctuary as some almost equally mad US Republican candidates are proposing. Thousands of innocent people have been massacred in their own countries— ironically, in the name of a religion of peace.

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I’m not a bloodthirsty person, but I believe that the sooner these people are wiped off the face of the earth, the better. Nirvana is not for them. Annihilation into oblivion is.

As the Nov. 28, 2015, issue of The Economist noted: “Thailand elected a charismatic young prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, in 2011, only for her to be overthrown in a military coup three years later. Cambodia and Malaysia both held flawed elections in 2013 that were largely rejected by the opposition, plunging them into crisis. Vietnam and China continue to lock up dissidents and show no sign of letting the people choose their own rulers” (“From dictatorship to democracy: The road less travelled”). From this observation, the Philippines today is an island of calm, an oasis in a region fraught with conflict.

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Before the Supreme Court are petitions questioning Sen. Grace Poe’s eligibility for the presidency.

Will the high court decide based on a narrow interpretation of the law or take a humane approach based on the logic of events?

Two types of people have emerged in the way they interpret the Constitution: the “textualists” and the “progressives.” The textualists believe in sticking rigidly to the exact words of the Constitution. The progressives believe in taking into account as well the changes society has undergone since the Constitution was written.

I am very definitely a progressive. To be a textualist, one has to believe the framers of the Constitution were so prescient they could see clearly all the details of what the future will be. Take the case of the media industry. In 1986 we had black and white TV, no cellphones, no Internet, no interconnection with the world. And so it was not unreasonable to restrict media ownership to “100-percent Filipino” (not very smart, but at least understandable). Today, it makes no sense at all, and is totally impractical. Yet the Constitution doesn’t allow foreign ownership, even just in part.

The textualists also assume that the Constitution’s framers were all-knowing such that they could never overlook the smallest detail. But take this classic: When it comes to changing the Constitution, one way is for two-thirds of Congress to agree on calling a constitutional convention. Yet the Constitution is silent on whether the two chambers should vote separately or jointly. Obviously it should be separately, otherwise the 24 senators would just be “swamped” by 292 congressmen. Apparently, the Constitution’s silence resulted from the fact that the framers initially thought of constituting just one legislative house, instead of two on which they eventually settled in a last-minute decision. The Constitution isn’t the perfect document textualists assume it to be. That’s why you have to decide what makes the best sense now.

In Poe’s case, the issue is the citizenship status of foundlings, on which the Constitution is silent. Why? It’s a significant sector. And since the Constitution is silent on the matter, it is for the Supreme Court to determine this. How would the people (after all, constitution are all about people) want it? Would they want babies with unknown parents to be considered Filipinos from birth, or foreigners who need to be naturalized?

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It’s pretty obvious to me, though I don’t know what the rationale for being natural-born is. I know of many natural-born Filipinos I wouldn’t want to be president. How one has lived should be more important than how he/she was born.

The next uncertainty is, once chosen, what the next president will be like. We know their positions on a number of key issues, but are those coming from an “inherent belief” or merely “campaign talk?” And how effective will they be at carrying out their platforms? Benigno S. Aquino III, in his campaign for the presidency, promised the enactment of a freedom of information law, but he never pushed it. On the other hand, he did not campaign to stop mining but, once elected, he did.

We really have no idea what sort of leader the next one will be until they get there and start governing. We can make assumptions, knowing their character and history, but somehow power changes people in ways you can’t predict.

I wish there was a way campaign promises could be made legally binding. As it were, all presidential candidates promise to appoint only qualified people to key government offices, yet history shows that president after president, appointments have seen too many unqualified  friends or loyalists getting into such posts, including the Cabinet. Yes, appointees without the expertise required for their job.

Corporate success is driven by appointing proven managers; and failure is the offshoot of incompetent choices. No leader can succeed if he/she doesn’t have the right people around him/her, whom he/she could listen to for straightforward advice. And not only listen, but also act on as advised. We don’t have much confidence a leader will make the “right” appointments. How do we force them to?

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E-mail: wallace_likeitis@wbf.ph; Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Coup, democracy, dictatorship, Elections 2016, Grace Poe, Migrants, Syria, terrorism
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