Following a dictator's playbook - Part 2 of 3

Tue, 05/02/2006 - 00:00
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Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Second of Three Parts

by Raissa Robles

The Arroyo government's campaign to change the constitution seems to be following a playbook written by a dictator. His name: Ferdinand Marcos.

The Entire Series
 
Part 1: Cha-cha or dictator's waltz?
 
Part 2: Following a dictator's playbook
 
Part 3: The Supreme Court has the ball
 

In 1972, Marcos manipulated, bribed and intimidated key delegates of the Constitutional Convention to grant him extraordinary powers. He dangled a promise to cancel elections the following year and struck a deal with convention delegates that those who would vote "yes" to his extraordinary powers would automatically become members of an Interim National Assembly. He then set up "citizens' assemblies" to ratify his constitution.

Last year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formed a Consultative Commission (ConCom) to draft a new charter. A handful of commissioners inserted last-minute provisions in this draft, granting President Arroyo extraordinary powers.

Some ConCom members who represented various leagues of local government officials also prodded the body to insert a section canceling the 2007 polls and giving all elected officials a bonus three-year term. In return, pro-Arroyo local officials recently convened citizens' assemblies to start a sign-up drive to ratify "substantially" the same provisions that the ConCom had proposed, giving the president extraordinary powers.

The difference is that the people's initiative is proposing even stronger powers for Arroyo than the ConCom did.

Some of those helping Arroyo push charter change are also the same ones who cooperated with Marcos more than 30 years ago, among them House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., ConCom chair Jose Abueva, ConCom committee on style chair Gilberto Duavit, Concom deputy floor leader Alfredo Abueg, ConCom vice chair for Mindanao Pedro Romualdo and ConCom member Gerardo Espina Sr.

ConCom member Vicente Paterno, once a member of the Marcos Cabinet, says that Arroyo is taking steps similar to those employed by Marcos to ratify the 1973 constitution. Paterno adds that Arroyo could succeed in acquiring extraordinary powers even without first imposing military rule. "It can be done," he says.

In fact, Paterno was the first to raise Marcos's name during the commission's plenary sessions last December. Reading fresh insertions in the already approved transitory provisions a day before the ConCom was dissolved, Paterno was moved to ask, "Are we going back to the Marcos regime?"

Similar insertions

Paterno noted that with the new insertions, there was now a remarkable similarity between the structure of power that Marcos fashioned for himself through the 1973 constitution, and what the ConCom proposed to hand over to President Arroyo. "I have to say it's the same," Paterno bluntly told his colleagues during the commission's Dec. 14 plenary session.

Among the new provisions were:

  • Immediately upon the charter's ratification, a unicameral assembly to be called an "interim parliament" would be formed.
  • The interim parliament will choose an interim prime minister among themselves. But the interim prime minister would be a mere member of the Cabinet of the "incumbent president" (i.e. Arroyo)
  • Incumbent president Arroyo will immediately wear two hats by exercising the powers of both the "head of government" (the prime minister) and the ceremonial president (head of state). The only power of the prime minister denied her is the power to dissolve parliament.
    n Incumbent president Arroyo will have exclusive "control and direction" of the Cabinet.
  • Incumbent president Arroyo can insert one-third of her Cabinet, plus 30 new members of her choosing, into the interim parliament.
  • Only members of her Cabinet can propose bills of national application in the interim parliament, relegating everyone else into filing local bills.

The official transcript of the Dec. 14 plenary session recorded a heated and passionate exchange among the ConCom members. (The entire official transcript is on the PCIJ website, http://www.pcij.org.)

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