OPINION ON PAGE ONE By Francisco Tatad – A ‘constitutional protectorate’?


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  • Type Research ship FleetMon Research ship Icon
  • Flag China Flag of China
  • IMO 8887935
  • MMSI 412962000
  • Callsign BIHG
  • Year Built 1995
  • AIS Class –––
  • Length 180 m
  • Width 23 m
  • Draught Avg 7.9 m / 
  • Speed Avg/Max 11.3 kn / 19.6 kn
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A CHINESE “research ship” (Yuan Wang 3) which reportedly arrived in Davao on July 16 from the port of Jiangyin, a transport hub on the Yangtze River in China, and was supposed to have left yesterday, has triggered so much speculation after Rappler, among others, suggested it may not be a simple and innocent “research ship” but a satellite tracker and an intercontinental ballistic missile tracker which can correct trajectories, if needed, to put nuclear ICBMs right on target. We do not expect a thermonuclear war between the Philippines and China on the Spratlys (we have no nuclear weapons), or between our nuclear allies and China; but it may be necessary for the Duterte government to put out a full statement on this matter before we sink into national paranoia.

In June, a Chinese military plane en route home from a military exercise in New Zealand refueled in Davao; before that, a Chinese transport plane reportedly unloaded 25 crates containing electronic surveillance equipment, and some 120 Chinese “technicians” who had come on board reportedly took long-term billets in a hotel in Matina. Meanwhile, mass immigration of Chinese nationals (“Enter first, visas later?”) has brought close to a million Chinese “transients” into the country under various disguises. These visits had all been cleared by Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, whose decisions could not be reviewed or countermanded by the Bureau of Immigration, National Security Adviser or Department of National Defense.

Anxiety over China
But public anxiety over DU30’s unusually close ties with China has lately ratcheted up after large propaganda streamers appeared in some places, sarcastically proclaiming the Philippines as a “province of China.” This happened on July 12, on the second anniversary of the international arbitral ruling on the Philippine maritime dispute with China, which Beijing refused to recognize and which DU30 decided to set aside in favor of Chinese economic aid, “investments,” and political protection, which has prompted DU30 to boast that President Xi Jinping will not allow him to be removed from power by his own people.

Nonetheless, the latest report from the Cabinet security cluster says China’s illegal occupation and militarization of disputed areas in the Spratlys remains the biggest threat to the nation’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and well-being. Given China’s installation of cruise missiles on some of these islands, and the overflow of Chinese nationals in Metro Manila and several other regions which seems to foreshadow a possible invasion, it is easier for critics to magnify the significance of the visits of Chinese military planes and ships to Davao. Indeed, it is easier for those so minded to picture DU30 as being more inclined to protect Chinese interests than those of his own country vis-à-vis Beijing.

A clear and coherent statement on Yuan Wang 3 and the Chinese military aircraft visits to Davao would go a long way in tempering rising public concern over DU30’s role in China’s political game plan in the region. It would be a major hurdle if DU30 could explain with sufficient transparency and candor his current effort to railroad constitutional changes in pursuit of expanded executive power and in gross violation of specific provisions of the Constitution.

The bigger hurdle
No member of the illegally constituted constitutional Consultative Committee has dared to dispute our categorical assertion that DU30’s direct involvement in the effort to propose constitutional amendments is a patent violation of the Constitution. But some low-level supporters of this unlawful initiative have tried to justify DU30’s effort by saying that no previous effort to change the Constitution ever followed the constitutionally prescribed means of changing it.

Pure humbug
This is pure humbug.

The effort to change the 1935 Constitution was done through elected delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, presided over by two former presidents, one after the other, namely Carlos P. Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal. Some controversies erupted during the closing stages of the convention, but these did not affect the legitimacy of the convention and its product. The proclamation of Martial Law and the abolition of Congress affected the final shape of the 1973 Constitution, and gave the President and Prime Minister the opportunity to propose amendments to the new Constitution.

This was not in accord with the provisions of the new Constitution, so its constitutionality was questioned before the Supreme Court. The court read the Constitution right, but ultimately ruled that in view of martial law being still in force and the National Assembly not having convened, the President and Prime Minister, who exercised legislative powers, could under those exceptional circumstances propose the constitutional amendments. But the dissent of Justices Claudio Teehankee and Cecilia Munoz Palma, who held that Marcos did not have the power to propose constitutional amendments, may be said to have outlasted the majority opinion.

DU30 vs Marcos
DU30’s situation is not on all fours with that of Marcos in 1976. Nor is it with that of Cory Aquino in 1986. Cory Aquino became a revolutionary president after the military tore up the 1973 Constitution and ousted Marcos. She was not bound by any constitutional provision on how to write a new constitution, and she proceeded to do so by appointing a 50-man commission to do it.

In the case of DU30, the 1987 Constitution provides no role for him in proposing any constitutional revision or amendment. He has the full opportunity to become the first president after Marcos to comply with the letter and spirit of the Constitution by allowing Congress on its own, or the Filipino people by themselves, to propose constitutional amendments, if they so wish.

But there is even no indication that the people for any valid reason want the Constitution amended.

As we have stated so many times before, the proposed federalism is completely idiotic because self-contradictory: it is an attempt to declare that a circle is a square. You federalize by combining several separate territorial units into one whole; you do not federalize by fragmenting one integral unitary whole into 18 separate regions. Not only is it conceptually and intellectually indefensible; there is also no way of making sure the 18 regions will survive the fragmentation. Sixty-seven percent of the national income comes from only three of the 18 regions.

A businessman who is able to talk to DU30 has told me that the President himself knows this particular math, and has no illusions about the viability of his federalism project. Even his choir of close-minded columnists has now begun to express doubts about it. DU30 is reportedly more interested in dismantling the present system and putting himself in charge of the “Transitory Provision” which would give him more powers than Marcos ever had under the 1976 amendments. These included concurrent legislative powers, which allowed him to issue presidential decrees even while Congress was working on a particular statute.

Cromwell’s ghost
Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and the rest of those who inhabit the extra-constitutional fold around him seem to have no problem with DU30 behaving as a de facto revolutionary president. But the latest word is that they would like to propose a “constitutional protectorate,” with DU30 as the Lord Protector of the Realm, like Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland (1653-1658). It is not easy to take this rumor seriously, but it is crazy enough that one cannot afford to dismiss it automatically.

Cromwell was a self-styled Puritan Moses, a brilliant politician and military commander who defeated the Confederate and Royalist coalition in Ireland, occupied the country and ended the Irish confederate wars. Although a deeply religious man, who believed God was guiding his victories, he was identified with penal laws against Roman Catholics, who were the minority in England and Scotland, although the majority in Ireland. Churchill called him a military dictator; Trotsky called him a revolutionary bourgeois; Milton, Thomas Carlyle and British historian Samuel Rawson Gardiner called him a “hero of liberty.”

A member of parliament for Huntingdon in 1629; for Cambridge in the Short Parliament in 1640, and in the Long Parliament from 1640 to 1649, he was one of those who signed the death warrant for King Charles I in 1649. He dominated the short-lived Commonwealth of England and sat in the 1649 Rump Parliament until he dismissed it in 1653 and replaced it with the short-lived Barebone’s Parliament, before he ruled as Lord Protector of England (and Wales), Scotland and Ireland until December 16, 1563. He died of natural causes in 1658, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. After the Royalists returned to power in 1660, they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains and beheaded.

It is not known whether Puno, Pimentel and their claque have anything to do with this insane idea, or how they plan to sell it to the Filipino people and the rest of the world. It seems unmistakably clear though that there is a relentless and open-ended search not for ways and means of governing the nation wisely and well, but how to establish an earthly kingdom for a very sick and delusional head of state.

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