LENT is a time for reflection, for contemplation. It is an occasion for renewal, for humility and spirituality. So goes the conventional wisdom.
We take a weeklong break to observe the Holy Week. We try to relate to the sufferings of our Lord. We fast and deny ourselves life’s luxuries and excesses. We visit churches. We pray, confess and ask for forgiveness for slighting our fellowmen and for breaking the commandments of heaven. We seek solace in the embrace of our Lord.
Others spend the time enjoying the beaches, vacationing in summer hideaways or visiting relatives in the provinces. The affluent ones leave the country for respite from work.
Time virtually stops during the Holy Week. Nothing moves. All establishments including restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, beauty shops, offices—government and private—are closed. Even the media—radio, television and newspapers—suspend their broadcasts and publications for a few days. That’s how we reverently observe Holy Week.
Yet, it seems that the message or the relevance of the Holy Week is lost on us. There is hurrying departure from an otherwise spiritual observance to a secular one. More and more people look at the Holy Week as an occasion for enjoyment and hedonism and not as a season for spiritual renewal and rebirth.
This kind of tourism is good for the economy, no doubt. Good for local employment, too. Business establishments, i.e. hotels, shops, restaurants, resorts, etc., register peak sales during this season. But more than the periodic spike in business, what we need critically at this time is moral renewal, one that would transform the people and their leaders—in character, values and outlook.
Which brings us to talks of amending our Constitution, to change the form of government from presidential to parliamentary. Admittedly, there are flaws in our basic law. The presidential system and blind economic protectionism are supposed to be two of them.
But when you consider that even the clamor to abolish a flawed institution—the political dynasty— has languished for decades, waiting for our lawmakers to enact an enabling law, you begin to question the wisdom of rewriting the Constitution.
It is not that our lawmakers are unaware of political dynasties. They are. But they try to justify dynastic families by distorting the concept of popular will. “Let the people decide,” goes their mantra, meaning the voters can perpetuate dynastic clans, if they wish. Yes, they do not violate any law since there is no statute that defines “political dynasty.” But the spirit of the highest law is too clear for all not to appreciate. Technically and literally, the insensitive legislators are violating the intent of the Constitution.
Admittedly, there are deserving political dynasties. Senators Pia Cayetano and Alan Peter Caye-tano are able and conscientious lawmakers. It is not surprising to hear people say that we should have more of the Cayetanos in government. Fact is, I respect and admire them. Either one is highly qualified to run for higher public office. I am sure they will not disappoint us.
But we are missing the point here. The spirit behind the constitutional provision on banning political dynasties is to democratize power, to give every qualified Filipino a chance to serve the people, to strengthen political pluralism and to level—as the cliché goes—the playing field.
In many provinces, towns and cities, political dynasties prevail. The chain of succession from the great grandparents, to the grandparents, to the parents, children, spouses, cousins and minor relatives has remained unbroken in many places by reasons of wealth, name recall, political bullyism and, in some rare cases, performance and achievement.
In some cities, the ruling family’s political control is absolute. Their candidates from the mayor to the lowly barangay captain win every election unchallenged. Money flows freely. The modern royalties have become permanent fixtures in the local political theater. Woe to challengers who have no political patron, money and organization.
There’s no need to tinker with our Constitution. With all its flaws and weaknesses, the Charter has served our country and people well. What the time calls for is the change in men, and men’s hearts, not in the system of government.
We could navigate from presidential to parliamentary but we would still find ourselves adrift if the same immoral, corrupt and incompetent officials rule our land. If the constitutional ban on political dynasties could not be deleted or amended, what guarantee is there that a shift from presidential to parliamentary would save the country from further economic, political and social decline? Action or inaction on political monarchy has become the acid test.
The law is only as good as the men who implement it. Unless and until our leaders demonstrate fidelity to their sworn duty to protect and advance the constitutional wisdom, it would not serve us to amend our Constitution.
Let’s us begin the process of change not by rewriting our Constitution but by doing what is patently doable now: Introduce electoral reforms. With political will, the Commission on Elections could come up with a series of innovations to overhaul the conduct of our elections. It should find a way to abbreviate long, drawn-out electoral protests, put a cap on irresponsible campaign spending and punish dishonest statements on political expenses. More important, send a big fish to jail.
The Senate and the House are expected to do no less. Much is expected of, much can be done by responsible lawmakers in the way of improving elections. They need not wait for a constitutional convention to reform the system. There are ways to correct weak electoral laws without violating the Charter.
Over and above these efforts, President Noynoy Aquino 3rd should launch a moral revolution from the top. Notwithstanding his recent popularity ratings, his moral armor remains unscathed; his vision of an honest government is strong and resonant. No matter how low or how mean his detractors try to hurt him, Noynoy will prevail. His moral moorings, rooted in the legacies of Ninoy and Cory, are solid as rock.
He has the moral ascendancy and the credibility to lead a distressed nation in a moral crusade. His personal intervention will make a difference between success and failure in national growth and ethical change. He should seize the moment. The momentum is on his side, the people are hungry for a historic change. May he find strength in the renewing, reinvigorating powers of Holy Week.
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