The almighty "incumbent": guess who?

Mon, 05/01/2006 - 00:00

The proposed constitution may not necessarily result in a strong republic. But last-minute provisions and other revisions in various sections of the ConCom draft charter and modified by the "people's initiative" petition can only lead to a very strong "incumbent president." These provisions and revisions would give extraordinary powers to President Arroyo, among them:

  • Arroyo will act as both the "head of government" (the prime minister or PM) and the "head of state" (the president). The only power denied her is the power to dissolve the interim parliament. This restriction, however, is missing in the people's initiative petition.
  • As the president, she could wield martial-law powers merely by saying that there is an "imminent danger" of rebellion. This "imminent danger" clause was written in the Marcos 1973 Constitution but was stricken out in 1986. The late Senator Arturo Tolentino, a constitutional expert who had wanted that power removed from Marcos in 1971, had said, "I don't think it's right that the president has only to say there's an imminent danger of rebellion to suspend the writ of habeas corpus."
  • The Supreme Court will be stripped of the power to review requests from any citizen as to "the factual basis" of how the president uses martial-law powers.

  • A safeguard provision in the current constitution will be removed. This provision specifies that even if martial law is declared, it will "not suspend the operation of the Constitution, nor supplant the functioning of the civil courts or legislative assemblies, nor authorize the conferment of jurisdiction on military courts and agencies over civilians where civil courts are able to function nor automatically suspend the privilege of the writ."
  • Arroyo will have exclusive "supervision and direction" of the Cabinet, of which the interim PM will be a member. She "can" delegate unspecified powers to the interim PM, but only when she chooses to.
  • The ConCom draft gives Arroyo the power to insert one-third of her Cabinet plus 30 new members of her choice into the unicameral interim parliament. The petition allows her to include all her Cabinet members in the new parliament but has no provision allowing the president to name 30 new members to parliament. Either way, this would consolidate her hold on the entire legislature and make her virtually immune to impeachment.
  • Arroyo will, in effect, be able to write laws. Commissioner Raul Lambino, in the transcript of the Dec. 14 ConCom session, said that the president will exercise "limited legislative powers" based on a provision that only members of her cabinet will be allowed to propose laws of national application in the interim parliament. But in an interview, he took this back. "I categorically deny that," he said. "I strongly say there is no such provision."
  • Senate will be dissolved, neutralizing a current bastion of opposition to Arroyo.
  • Arroyo will be impervious to any attempts at removal through no-confidence votes by the interim parliament.
  • Arroyo, since she holds the title of president, cannot be summoned to appear before parliament during question hour - which is one of the internal checks in a regular parliament.

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