Round one: CDO
As this is written, the first round of presidential debates is taking place at Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro. Hosted by GMA Channel 7, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Commission on Elections, four bona fide presidential candidates and one “tentative” candidate are to face off in this first ever presidential debate to be held in Mindanao. Depending on how they address the issues, this should give Mindananoans a foretaste of what to expect should anyone of them become the president.
On stage are the administration standard bearer Manuel Roxas 2nd, UNA’s Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, PDP Laban’s Rodrigo Duterte, PRP’s Miriam Defensor Santiago, and the independent Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares, who is still contesting her disqualification by the Comelec on constitutional grounds before the Supreme Court.
There will be three such encounters: the second to be held in Cebu on March 20, hosted by TV-5, Philippine Star and the Comelec, the third in Pangasinan on April 24, hosted by ABS-CBN, the Manila Bulletin and the Comelec.
The preassigned topics include agricultural development; poverty reduction/asset creation and distribution; charter change; peace and order. The Cebu round will discuss disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation; health care; education; and fighting corruption. The Pangasinan round will turn to traffic and public transportation; electoral and political reforms; foreign policy; tax reform and national defense. Each round will last two hours.
It is not clear how the topics were arrived upon. Did the parties propose or agree upon them, or were they dictated by the organizers? As this is the first of the three encounters, wouldn’t it have been more productive if the candidates were asked what they think are the nation’s most pressing problems and how they propose to address them? That would have instantly put them on their toes and given the audience an idea of what to expect should whoever among them capture the presidency.
Agriculture and poverty
As an agricultural country, we cannot avoid asking the candidates about agricultural development. But we have heard the same question again and again, and we could almost predict how our politicians will answer even in their sleep. Nothing has worked till now. Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture has become one of the most corrupt agencies of government, and the business of importing or smuggling the country’s main staple remains infinitely more lucrative than growing it.
Our poor farmers and fisherfolk are among the country’s poorest; they need cannot radical agricultural reforms to lift their boats. But no such reforms are possible unless situated within a correct and comprehensive philosophy of development that seeks simultaneously to develop industry and technology and breathe new life into the dead manufacturing sector. Such a philosophy, driven by an acute sense of social justice, is what will ultimately crush poverty and moderate the runaway inequality.
The most highly developed industrial countries cannot do without farmers. But in these countries their political leaders fight for them. Who was the last Filipino president who ever fought for our farmers? Who was the last president who ever took notice of how poor our rice and coconut farmers were as against our rice and coconut traders? Isn’t it time for someone to say that we shall put the farmers at the center of our development strategy by reinventing, if necessary, the very concept of agriculture just to abolish poverty and moderate inequality?
Will someone have the courage to propose that areas that are highly vulnerable to the weather should shift to other productive pursuits, and that many who continue to grow rice at very poor yields, in areas that do not have the natural advantages of the Mekong Delta should shift to other high-value crops.
Why not castor oil?
One Filipino consultant who is providing consultancy to a new country in Oceania believes that since we are not likely to overtake Vietnam, Thailand or even Myanmar in rice production, or bring down our production costs to half their level, we should not hesitate to shift to other crops. And he nominates castor oil. It is one versatile product that is used in food, medicine, perfumes, as well as in the manufacture of soap, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, etc. It is grown in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh and, according to Wikipedia, has an annual yield of 270,000 to 360,000 tons or 600 million to 900 million pounds.
The point is merely illustrative. We have one of the world’s best agriculture schools in Los Banos, Laguna–we should tap its technical expertise, as much as our neighbors have. And our political leaders should lead not by recycling old nostrums that have already repeatedly failed but rather by thinking out of the box.
The next issue in CDO is charter change. This is apparently in response to Duterte’s pre-campaign statements on federalism and parliamentary government. This is a legitimate advocacy, which I have long supported it; in 1982, I wrote the first political party document that advocate it. This was the political platform of the Social Democratic Party, which Reuben Canoy and I organized before Nene Pimentel and his group organized the PDP.
Many people, like the members of the National Transformation Council, believe systems change is long overdue. But I cannot see how charter change could result from the May elections or could be debated by those seeking the presidency. Why do I say so?
Because under the Constitution, the matter of proposing any amendment to, or a revision of, the same Constitution belongs:
First to the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or
Second, to a Constitutional Convention called by two-thirds of all the members of Congress, or convened directly by the electorate following a plebiscite called by a majority vote of all the Members of Congress, calling for such a convention; or
Third, to the people by direct initiative, upon petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of the registered voters therein.
President is excluded
The President is totally excluded from this process altogether. He has no authority or power to propose any amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution. It is therefore simply absurd for a presidential candidate to proclaim that if elected, he would propose a shift to a federal or parliamentary system of government. Even more absurd for him to say that if elected, he would establish a “revolutionary government.” One mounts a revolution to proclaim a revolutionary government, not win an election in order to overthrow the Constitution.
It might have been more instructive if instead of “charter change,” the debate had taken up the state of the Constitution and the rule of law under B. S. Aquino 3rd.
On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the EDSA “revolt,” when Malacañang’s paid hacks are recycling their verbal attacks against the Marcos “dictatorship” and singing paeans to the Aquinos’ imagined virtues, those seeking to succeed B. S. Aquino 3rd could examine without any blinders or false prejudices what kind of “dictatorship” Aquino has put in place?
First, he destabilized the Judiciary by bribing the members of Congress to impeach and remove the sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Then he seized the Congress’ power of the purse by siphoning off hundreds of billions of pesos from the General Appropriations Act into the illegally confected Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the High Court has struck down as unconstitutional.
Finally, he excluded the Senate from having any constitutional say on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, contrary to the clear provision of the Constitution.
What has been the effect of this power grab, and what do the candidates propose to do about it, if elected president?
There has been a great silence even among the political parties, and the constitutional and legal scholars on this. This has consequently allowed Aquino and his Malacañang lackeys to warn against a new “dictatorship,” should Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos become, as he probably would become, Vice President after the May election–an office with no clear job description and no known constitutional powers or responsibilities. Aquino is haunted by his own shadow, but the candidates have not had the courage to say how this has affected the political prospects of this country.
Peace and order
On peace and order, it is good to remind everyone that Mayor Duterte’s idea of killing all criminals will not do. The killing must stop, whether in the hands of lawless elements or in the hands of law enforcers who may not hesitate to terminate small-time drug pushers while allowing the big drug lords to get away and support candidates for high office and political parties. The candidates ought to be able to show the nation how they have performed against crime, without themselves committing a bigger crime to “solve” a small crime.
The Zamboanga siege
It would be good for Mar Roxas in particular to tell the nation how the slaughter of over 200 members of the Moro National Liberation Front, plus the death of so many more military men and civilians, the destruction of 10,000 homes and the displacement of over 100,000 residents during the infamous “siege of Zamboanga,” which he and Aquino personally commanded, served the nation’s interest, and what should be done to make sure such ruinous mistakes are not repeated in the next administration.
In lieu of Babala?
The candidates should also be asked for their own personal assessments of the strength of the communist and Islamist insurgencies, and how they propose to deal with them. Deserving special attention is the government’s dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Despite the petition filed by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), some bishops and this writer before the Supreme Court against the constitutionality of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and the failure of Congress to enact the proposed Basic Bangsamoro Law (Babala) under FAB and CAB, the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process was reported to have signed in Kuala Lumpur a new agreement with the MILF creating an “economic zone” in the areas covered by the MILF camps. What exactly do the candidates think of this?
There are issues meant for the third round that feed into “peace and order” discussion in the first round. These include China’s decision to deploy missiles to the Paracels following Obama’s summit with the Asean leaders in California. Are we now face to face with the danger Sen. Claro M. Recto warned against in the 1950s, when he said the US military presence in the country could become magnets for attack instead of deterrents? Shouldn’t the candidates be heard on this?
Having to write this piece before the debate started, I could not anticipate the quality and content of the exchanges. But by raising a few critical points, which may or may not have figured in the debate, I hope I am able to show whether or not the CDO encounter was at least half as good as the Republican and Democratic debates.
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In Memoriam: A small circle of old friends writing for the Times paid their final respects to Fred de la Rosa, former Times editor and publisher, at Funeraria Paz Saturday. These included publisher/editor Rene Q. Bas, Rony V. Diaz, Johnny T. Gatbonton, Arnold Moss, Yen Makabenta, former Ambassador Jimmy Yambao, and myself. Also present were Speaker Sonny Belmonte, Jr., former Senator Eddie Ilarde, the economist Gonzalo Jurado, Ernesto Banawis, Edward Tipton, and painter Manuel Baldemor. It looked like Fred would have some interesting company on his last journey—-Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Umberto Eco, who wrote “The Name of the Rose,” were called to God too. Let’s pray for them.