Following a dictator's playbook

Tue, 05/02/2006 - 00:00
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Paterno, unconvinced, told his colleagues: "There is no distinction between this arrangement and the Marcos structure. I am looking for a way by which I can tell the people, 'No, this is different.'"

Paterno and other commissioners noted that the ConCom draft charter was actually proposing two very different power structures: one for during the interim parliament headed by Arroyo, and another for the regular parliament.

During the transition, Arroyo would retain her title as president but be more powerful than the interim premier. After the transition, the prime minister would become the more powerful figure, relegating the president to mainly ceremonial functions.

Extraordinary powers

Lambino conceded to Paterno that he could think of "no parliamentary government that had that kind of power" Arroyo would have during the transition period. To which Paterno said, "Then why call it a parliamentary government?"

Lambino replied, "Because we are now in the interim period. After 2010, there shall now be separation between the powers under the head of state and the head of government."

Paterno then asked worriedly how the Arroyo transition period "will be different from the Marcos government except for the martial law powers." Lambino gave the assurance that Arroyo would exercise only powers provided by the newly proposed charter. As he saw it, she would be unlike Marcos, who not only retained the presidential powers stipulated by the 1935 Constitution, but also enjoyed the new ones granted by 1973 charter to the
president and prime minister.

Yet earlier that day, Bengzon had told colleagues that during the transition, "the president still retains her power as president in the 1987 Constitution with no diminution thereof."

Paterno suggested that they at least make the interim prime minister the "administrative head" of the Cabinet. But Abueva, Lambino, Bengzon and Abueg refused the amendment. Put to a vive voce vote, Paterno's suggestion was defeated.

The only change the four ConCom officers grudgingly accepted was to place the Cabinet under Arroyo's "direction and supervision," instead of under her "control and supervision."

Since the hour was getting late, Commissioner Oscar Rodriguez, mayor of San Fernando, Pampanga, moved to suspend ConCom rules requiring the printing of a clean copy of the proposals before final approval. He obtained ConCom's consent through a viva voce vote.

ConCom floor leader Sergio Apostol, a former congressman, then moved to approve all the amendments on third and final reading. Nineteen members raised their hands in agreement; eight said "no."

Fast-tracked amendments

Even if only 27 or less than half the 55-member commission had voted, many being absent, the motion was carried. The body then adjourned. It was 9:37 p.m. of Dec. 14; it had taken the commission less than five hours to approve Arroyo's extraordinary powers.

The ConCom draft remains the mother document for the ongoing people's initiative. But the initiative is pushing for even more powers for Arroyo.

Concom had wanted the interim parliament to have a free hand in electing the interim prime minister from among its members. The people's initiative wants Arroyo to nominate the premier who will then be elected by his or her peers.

This is to avoid gridlock and ensure "a three-year period of harmony and unity among our top leaders," Lambino said in an interview.

Concom had placed a cap of one-third of the Arroyo Cabinet that could become members of the interim Parliament. The people's initiative removes that cap and says "incumbent members of the Cabinet who are heads of executive departments" will all be in parliament.

Lambino adds that even if Arroyo fires a Cabinet member, "it does not follow he will cease to be a member of parliament."

The people's initiative has also embraced Commissioner Bengzon's view, not Lambino's, regarding the breadth of the incumbent president's power during the transition period. The attachment to the initiative's petition to the Commission on Elections proposes that "the incumbent President and Vice President continue to exercise their powers under the 1987 Constitution" upon ratification of the new charter.

On to Part 3: How Marcos forced the ratification of the 1973 constitution


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