The pork scam, even with all its association with luridness and evil, is not the most repugnant term in the country’s political discourse. It plays second fiddle to another term. You know what the most repulsive and repugnant term is? Charter-change or its many guises and forms.
As a stand-alone term and devoid of context, charter change, or cha cha as we call it now, is not intrinsically bad. A constitution is a living thing despite the efforts of legal conservatives to place it in a time warp. It has to be interpreted according to the times and the current realities, not out of a rigid and constructionist mindset.
So what made Cha-cha such a horrific initiative in the Philippine context? Easy answer. Power-hungry politicians who want to be president-for-life, or presidents who want to violate what is – to most Filipinos—a sacred text in the Philippine Constitution: that the president should serve a single term of six years.
When President Aquino recently said in a TV interview that he is open to a charter change initiative that would allow him to seek another term, the nation reacted in disbelief. Was he joking? Was he under the weather? Was he fed poison by his legal and political advisers? We don’t know his motivations and state of mind during that TV interview. But we are sure of one thing. He is oblivious to contemporary political history.
And from that interview setting, he failed to see the reaction of his most implacable enemies. A chance for EDSA Kwatro.
What Filipinos have not forgotten is the end-days of the Ramos presidency. His political shills had floated a charter-change initiative, obviously to pave the way for an amendment to go around the one-term provision in the presidency. Which would then allow Mr. Ramos to run for a second term.
We all know what the reaction was. All political, civil and religious groups set aside their differences to abort Mr. Ramos’s planned cha-cha. The popularity of Vice President Joseph Estrada, then the president-in-waiting, made sure that there was a massive attendance at a big Luneta rally. But it was the political, business and religious elite that delivered the strong message to Mr. Ramos— pursue cha cha at your own risk. Even the military which was served by Mr. Ramos before his election to the presidency aired rumblings about the term-extension plans of its former chief of staff.
The political group backing the cha cha was so unnerved by the mass protest that it fielded a sure loser, Joe de Venecia, as pre-sidential candidate.
Some parallels are worth noting.
Mr. Ramos’s claim to fame was a shot at economic tigerhood. Indeed, an international news magazine had a cover story on Mr. Ramos’s supposed accomplishment—move the country into the ranks of newly-anointed economic tigers. It turned out that it was a puff-up piece with very little basis in reality. The 1997 financial crisis did not really hit the Philippines as hard as it wrecked Thailand but the specter of interest rates soaring to 36 percent showed that the economy under Mr. Ramos was still not that strong to withstand regional meltdowns.
It also turned out that the emergency steps taken in the early years of the Ramos administration to solve a crippling power crisis was anchored on an emergency law that favored the power producers over the consumers. Its provisions provided for the long-term screwing of the consumers, in a setting that charges one of the highest electricity rates in the region. There is still mass suffering today due to the EPIRA.
The allies of Mr. Aquino have invoked the same line of reasoning—that right now there is no substitute for Mr. Aquino, the miracle worker so loved by the Davos crowd. Growth rates have been both high and steady. Credit upgrades have come from the raters. While our FDI is still niggardly compared with what our neighbors get in form of direct investments, it is still an improvement from previous administrations.
Like Mr. Ramos, Mr. Aquino has earned the applause of the foreign economic publications, especially the parachuting journalists who have not looked beyond GDP growth and credit upgrades. This question was never asked. Is there a sad sidebar to all these glowing figures and upgrades?
And Mr. Aquino’s shills say this too: Look at the anemic field of presidential hopefuls.
Even with double-digit growth rates, even with a field of presidential hopefuls dominated by pompous jerks, even with all the applause from the multilateral institutions, the allies of Mr. Aquino should know this: Filipinos won’t accept a term extension. And that they want a new president after the term of the incumbent is duly served – even if that incumbent were a saint.
When a president oversteps the bounds of tolerable indiscretion and misrule, they get agitated and they topple that president through street protests.
The implacable enemies of Mr. Aquino are now excitedly watching every progress on the term-extension initiative. If no sane mind puts a stop to it, the enemies can easily stir the perfect storm called EDSA Kwatro.