A new Quarter Storm. Student militants at the University of the Philippines have threatened to scale up their anti-government protests after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to give away their scholarship slots to indigenous Filipinos (lumad). Should this happen, it could mean a rebirth of the famous First Quarter Storm that triggered the long campaign which ultimately turned into a violent uprising against the Marcos government.

• Ombudsman ouster. DU30 has ordered the suspension of Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang in violation of a Supreme Court ruling which says the President has no power to suspend a deputy Ombudsman. Carandang incurred the President’s ire for allegedly releasing documents related to his secret bank accounts, earlier referred to in opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th’s exposé against the President. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, a retired Supreme Court Justice, says the order is unconstitutional and has refused to enforce it. So, DU30 now threatens to enforce it himself. Can a constitutional crisis be avoided?

• Smartmatic swindle. Despite massive denunciations of electoral fraud committed in the 2016 vice-presidential and senatorial elections, by the Venezuelan election provider, Smartmatic, and despite criminal charges filed against Smartmatic’s Venezuelan project manager Marlon Garcia for fraud against the front-running vice-presidential candidate former Sen. Bongbong Marcos, who ultimately lost the final count, the Commission on Elections still renewed Smartmatic’s contract and purchased 97,000 vote counting machines for P2.2 billion for the 2019 senatorial elections.

This was a clear violation of law, which authorized the Comelec to purchase the VCMs within one year from the date of the last elections. This means not later than May 9, 2017. The contract was signed on January 12, 2018, and became public only hours before the acting Comelec chair Robert Lim retired on January 31. Lim had taken over in an acting capacity after Chairman Andres Bautista was forced to resign amid a nasty corruption and family scandal. The contract, if not revoked, is certain to add fuel to the street marches, and undermine the integrity and legitimacy of the next elections.

• Con-ass con game. The House of Representatives seems determined to railroad its proposed constitutional change through a constituent assembly, made up of political turncoats and sycophants, who have lost all moral authority to speak for the electorate. Under the leadership of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who was a card-carrying member of the Mindanao Independence Movement before the DU30 regime, and flaunts his sexual misconduct in office as an example to be emulated, these political goons would like to subdivide the unitary Philippine state into several parts, with the foolish hope of putting them back together again as a federal union.

The CBCP speaks out
This has been attacked by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in its January 2018 pastoral letter as “immoral.” The point can be argued. The mere idea of shifting from one form of government to another is a political choice, dictated by political and other considerations. It is morally neutral in itself. What is indubitably immoral is when some politicians try to impose a change which they claim is coming from the sovereign people who have absolutely nothing to do with it, and from which the proponents alone expect to immediately benefit. It is a blatant violation of the principle, adhered to by legislators everywhere, that one does not enact a law for one’s own immediate benefit.

What is even more execrable is when the idea being rammed down the people’s throats contradicts natural reason and objective reality. The belief that the authoritarian Reich can federalize an existing unitary state springs from no other source than the foolish and arrogant notion that they can do anything they want to do just because they are in power. They can square a circle and declare white is black. Even the Almighty and all-powerful God respects the first principle of non-contradiction, but not these people. Their will is all that matters.

All existing federal unions began as separate autonomous or semi-autonomous states, regions or provinces; they needed to come together into a harmonious whole, so they federalized. There is not a single federal union that began as a unitary state, which was broken up into several parts for the avowed purpose of being put together again as a federal union. The certain result of this is balkanization, not federalization.

Tragic beyond measure and beyond our native comprehension is the failure of the President, his congressional allies, and eminent men of the law, including one former Chief Justice and deans of law colleges, to recognize the first legal requirement concerning the amending or revising of the Constitution. This is clearly spelled out in Article XVII of the Constitution, titled “Amendments or Revisions.” It says, any amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution may be proposed by the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members; or a constitutional convention, convened by Congress or by the electorate themselves, and by direct initiative of 12 percent of all the registered voters, provided every legislative district is represented by three percent of the votes therein.

Nowhere in this provision is there any mention of the President participating in the process. I have been saying this repeatedly from the very beginning, but no one seems to be listening, so I have to repeat it ad infinitum: Nowhere in this provision is there any mention of the President participating in the process. Yet the President has come out openly as the most aggressive proponent of the proposed Charter change. And none of the eminent men of the law from San Beda College and everywhere else, whom he has appointed to his constitutional consultative council, have had the courage and good sense to tell him the Constitution does not allow him to get involved.

Their appointment to the council appears to have invested them with such self-interest that they can no longer tell right from wrong. Even among the usually morally upright, arguing against self-interest is always among the hardest things. It is easy to see something is wrong when somebody else does it, but when we ourselves do the same thing we get blinded by our self-interest and self-esteem. This is a shame, but it is a fact of life. It is what’s happening to all these legal luminaries in DU30’s consultative council.

When Cory Aquino was organizing the Constitutional Commission that would draft the 1987 Constitution, some bishops close to her asked me if they could nominate me as a possible member. I thanked them for the thought, but said I believed the Constitution should be drafted by an elected convention, not an appointed commission. That was one of the reasons I campaigned against the ratification of the Constitution, only to become its staunch defender after its promulgation.

After the 2001 ouster of President Joseph Estrada, when Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became President, partly because of Justice Puno’s unorthodox doctrine of Estrada’s “constructive resignation,” a group of newsmen came to ask me about a report on the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that I was allegedly being considered for the position of Secretary of Foreign Affairs. No presidential emissary had talked to me about it, and I still had some questions about GMA’s legitimacy at the time.

So, I told the press, “I am the wrong person to consider for this job, because I have serious reservations about the legitimacy of the President.” They all stared at me dumbfounded. I imagine that if, for any strange and unimaginable reason, I had been asked to become a member of DU30’s council, I would have told the President, “Thank you, sir, but the Constitution does not allow you to do it.” I had expected one of my more learned friends in the council to have told the President that. But no one dared, and so what is clearly wrong has now assumed the full appearance and mantle of right.

• Spratlys militarization. A recent PDI story showed pictures of China’s massive fortification of the seven contested reefs in the Spratlys, one of which lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These are known as the Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef, Calderon (or Cuarteron) Reef, Burgos (or Gaven) Reef, Mabini (or Johnson South) Reef, Panganiban (or Mischief) Reef, Zamora (or Subi) Reef, and McKenna (or Hughes) Reef. Panganiban lies within the Philippines’ EEC. According to the report, Kagitingan had the most construction as of last year, spanning 110,000 square meters.

On Kagitingan, Panganiban and Zamora, runways, lighthouses, radomes, hangars, multi-story buildings and communication structures appear to have been completed, says the report. Last December 30, three military ships capable of transporting troops were photographed docked at Panganiban, the report said. Military sources view this heavy fortification as the surest indication that China intends to fully militarize the area in order to exercise control over the vital waterway.

China’s unimpeded island-building and fortification activity has been facilitated by DU30’s refusal to assert the Philippines’ rights over the disputed areas, including those within its EEC, despite a ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague upholding those rights. This is supposed to be pursuant to his so-called “independent foreign policy,” which entails pivoting away from the US, which has been the Philippines’ first ally from the very beginning, and aligning with China economically and politically.

• Secrets on Benham Rise. This is compounded by the situation in Benham Rise, a minerals-rich submarine area near Aurora province, believed to be the size of Greece, where China is now conducting scientific research under terms and conditions known only to the President. This has triggered public demands for transparency, but unless and until DU30 insists on it, Beijing will find no reason to respond to the Filipino public. This is a serious national sovereignty issue that could blow up in DU30’s face.

• Phony war with the communists. After DU30 scuttled the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front in Oslo, CPP/NPA members associated with CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison in Luzon started getting arrested, but DU30’s communist coalition partners continue to run his government and the communist base in Mindanao and the Visayas continues to grow under Cabinet Secretary and National Democratic Front vice chairman Leoncio Evasco Jr. What is DU30’s real game plan, and what will happen when the military and everybody else finally find out?

• Corruption, rising prices, sinking peso, food crisis. Despite the media hype about so-called economic growth, government corruption is unchecked, the so-called TRAIN law has not improved the MRT ride for the long-suffering commuters, but simply brought in a runaway train of skyrocketing prices, compounded by a sinking peso against the US dollar, and an impending rice shortage which could starve millions soon. A big bad wolf now sits outside the nation’s door.

Each of these problems could sink this administration. Together, they could all sink the nation. Each and all of them demand an immediate solution. But instead of looking for specific solutions to particular problems, DU30 seems obsessed with more unaccountable power. He has not been able to use properly the power he has for legitimate ends, but he wants to have more power for illegitimate ends. So, seeing the massive opposition to his inverted “federalism,” he now wants to turn the Republic of the Philippines into a “political hybrid” like the People’s Republic of China and the autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

He just cannot seem to understand that no matter how the “People’s Republic of Davao” may sound in his ear, changing the structure or form of the Philippine government is neither his right nor his duty under the Constitution.

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The Manila Times

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