When I got in to this [the presidency], I remember [it was for]one term of six years. Now, having said that, I must of course listen to my bosses.
— President Benigno Aquino 3rd in TV5 interview
Clearly, President Benigno Aquino 3rd isn’t listening to his avowed bosses. Despite the plunge in his survey ratings to their lowest ever, even before the public had fully digested the widely supported Supreme Court ruling against his illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), he still thinks Filipinos want him to rule beyond 2016.
In his Wednesday interview with TV5 legal analyst and Ateneo law professor Mel Santa Maria, Aquino also argued that the Judicial branch of government must be stopped from reviewing and restraining the Executive and the Legislative, because lately the former was doing so “more often.” Even though hardly any of his “bosses” share that view (just ask around your workplace, parish or community).
Nonetheless, let there be no doubt that the President and his administration have the wherewithal to undertake the constitutional revisions he wants.
Hostaged by anomalous pork barrel papers in the hands of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and keen to maintain the ruling coalition’s dominance, Congress would rubber-stamp Aquino’s amendments after some public show debates.
The Commission on Elections, chaired by former Aquino election lawyer Sixto Brillantes, can use the dubious Precinct Count Optical System (PCOS) or other electronic canvassing machines to churn out the needed majority ratification of the charter change provisions.
And pro-Aquino media and civil society can make it appear that the people welcome the revisions. As for the international community, don’t expect major nations like the United States to object to the collusion of Palace, Congress and Comelec for Cha-cha. Especially if allowing foreign forces, bases and nukes are among the changes.
Marcos Con-con and Aquino Cha-cha
Similarities between this Cha-cha scenario and Marcos-era constitutional crafting is anything but merely coincidental. Both men aimed to expand their powers: dictator Ferdinand Marcos through a presidential-parliamentary system, Aquino by clipping the power of judicial review.
Along with martial law, the 1973 charter, drafted by a democratically elected constitutional convention, enabled Marcos to serve beyond the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms. Aquino’s planned amendment could extend his term or lift the single-term restriction on the President.
Marcos allegedly bribed Con-con delegates, and got a handpicked assembly of barangay leaders to ratify his constitution under military rule. Aquino’s pork-barreled Congress, as constituent assembly, would propose amendments, which vote-counting machines could duly approve.
Cha-cha could also modify or repeal provisions that now pose legal problems for the Bangsamoro Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement escalating US military deployment in the country and providing American forces access to Philippine bases.
To win support from key sectors like business, their desired amendments could be added to the Cha-cha list, including the easing or lifting of restrictions on foreign ownership of land and enterprises in resource extraction, public utilities, and media.
The bottom line, of course, is for Aquino and his coalition to extend and expand their rule, purportedly to sustain the claimed reforms of the administration.
Don’t let lawbreakers recast the law
Stopping the Aquino Cha-cha train is about as hard as blocking a real locomotive, but block Cha-cha the nation must.
First, it would be imprudent, if not dangerous, to give more powers and more years to the President who trebled PDAF, created DAP, and used both to control Congress and decapitate the Supreme Court. Unless Filipinos want to see more liberties taken in public spending, foreign alliances, the separation of powers, and aspiring “sub-states,” we must oppose Cha-cha.
Second, it is highly unlikely that the common good would be served by amendments crafted by lawmakers who have obscenely gorged on pork barrel, and are out to punish the very Judiciary which defended not only the Constitution, but also Congress’s exclusive power of the purse. Having seen what senators and congressmen have done with public money, we don’t want them anywhere near the fundamental law of the land.
Third, the past four years have shown how crucial and indispensable an independent Judiciary is in checking abuse and balancing the people’s interests against the powers that be.
With less power, the Supreme Court might not have been able to scrap the institutionalized theft that is pork barrel, and the DAP’s rape of democratic budgeting through Congress. And if Aquino got away with creating the Philippine Truth Commission exclusively to investigate the past administration, he could have done the same to target anyone he doesn’t like, while always sparing his friends and allies.
What Aquino reforms?
As for continuing his supposed reforms, there is ample verified material in print, online and in everyday life to show that Aquino’s rule has failed in delivering good governance.
As many columnists and ordinary Filipinos have repeatedly observed, Aquino protects his Kaklase, Kakampi, Kabarilan clique, while crucifying his perceived opponents.
Thus, the biggest spate of smuggling ever — the loss of more than 2,000 containers in 2011 — the largest state casino loss of P400 million in May of that year, and the billion-peso firearms bidding, perhaps the worst overpricing scandal in the Philippine National Police, are all spared from serious investigation.
But opponents are quickly thrown in the slammer. Hence, in their plenary statement last month, Catholic bishops decried selective prosecution of pork barrel abuses.
That PDAF scam leapt under Aquino to more than P20 billion a year. Plus: he augmented the corrupt scheme with more than P150 billion in DAP monies, which the Supreme Court unequivocally said “were allocated to PAPs [programs and projects]not covered by any appropriations in the pertinent GAAs” or national budgets.
Major programs hyped to high heavens have turned out to be duds. Public-private partnerships are stuck in first gear even after four years. Aquino’s rice self-sufficiency claims have stopped as prices and imports soared this year when grain production should have exceeded consumption.
Claims of declining crime have proved false: corrected data show that incidents nearly doubled since 2010. Also debunked are assertions of disaster response effectiveness. Aquino’s claim of pre-positioned vessels, aircraft and relief goods proved worthless when Yolanda hit.
Even basic things like vehicle license plates, port operations, and commuter trains, which have been well taken care of in past administrations, are now breaking down.
It would be crazy to change the Constitution and suffer more of Aquino.