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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Shall we talk terms now?



by FRANCISCO TATAD

Having previously discussed on this page the principal reasons why President B. S. Aquino 3rd must go “now na,” as Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa emphatically puts it, we must conclude by saying that this would be for the good of all, including Aquino himself. The system is broken, so we must fix it; it is diseased, so we must replace it. The only way to do this is for Aquino to first vacate the office. Then the work of national transformation could proceed.

Not having much bias for work, Aquino should welcome the opportunity to be finally freed of his duties. Instead of daydreaming of yet another term, which does not even exist in our laws, he might wish to imitate his late mother who, aware of her limitations, literally rushed out of the presidency as soon as her term was up. Until her son came, many thought she was the least prepared for the office. He proved us all wrong in that respect.

Until now, the Lipa and Cebu assemblies organized by the National Transformation Council, while calling on Aquino to step down, have left the timing of his departure at his own pleasure and initiative. However, some people have begun to show impatience. In Cebu on Oct. 1, they called upon the Council to “pursue all necessary and available lawful means to compel Aquino to step down at the soonest possible time” and to “immediately organize an alternative government.”

The stated purpose of the “alternative government” is to prevent a political vacuum from arising should Aquino finally exit, and every other member of government is prosecuted and jailed, as many people believe they should be, for corruption and other offenses. But the unstated purpose seems even more persuasive—to prevent Aquino from saying that he just could not step down despite his many sins, because he does not want to relinquish power to his embattled vice president Jojo Binay, and there is no other structure to assume the office he would relinquish.

Although the Council has declared a clear desire to avoid “people power,” especially one that would involve a military presence, it is now beginning to be asked if it can be completely avoided, should Aquino refuse to heed the call of the assemblies. After Lipa and Cebu, the next declaration will be coming soon from Mindanao, where Aquino’s effort to create a separate political entity for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has sailed into a host of unforeseen problems, including the arrival of elements identified with the extremist caliphate known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The demand from the assemblies will tend to escalate.

Can one foresee a point where the people will have to take direct action to press their demands? How far away are we from that? What will make the people march? Will it be enough for their moral and spiritual leaders to say, after the old Christian sages of the 11th century, that it is good that this thing be done, that they have the power to do it, therefore they have decided to do it?

Unfortunately for Malacañang, it has tried to falsify the Council’s clear message, by saying that the Council wants to abolish the projected 2016 elections as the method of choosing the next set of national leaders. This is not quite correct. Some people may have taken that view, but not the Council.

In my case, for instance, I seriously believe that we should now put paid to our rigged elections once and for all. Following the example of the Apostles who drew lots to choose a replacement for Judas after he hanged himself for betraying our Lord for thirty pieces of silver, we should replace our rotten elections with an honest-to-goodness lottery, where no candidate needs to spend a single centavo to corrupt or fool the voters or use any foul tactics to intimidate his adversaries.

Many would dismiss this as a crank proposal because it would leave everything to chance and do away with the “right of the people to choose their own leaders.” But the truth is that we have never had any truly clean and honest election, and the people have never really exercised their “right to choose their own leaders.” Invariably the politico-criminal syndicate chooses for them, especially in the last two national elections.

And yet this is not the position of the Council. As far as the Council is concerned, elections remain the only known and viable “democratic method” of choosing the nation’s leaders. But these have to be clean, honest and credible elections, except that we have not shown the slightest competence to conduct such elections. For the longest time, we have been enacting and reenacting an electoral farce, which reached its lowest low in 2010 and 2013, when the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic illegally divested the precinct count optical scan voting machines of their safety features and accuracy mechanisms.

The system has been thoroughly corrupted and debased, but Aquino has shown no interest in fixing it at all. Neither have the other politicians who daydream of succeeding PNoy. There are a number of them with oversize ambitions, but not a single one of them has had the courage to say they would not participate in any crooked election. Everyone is simply interested in controlling the cheating machine for their own ends. Only the Council is passionately interested in cleaning up the system so that the people’s vote, rather than the syndicate’s choice, will ultimately prevail.

So the Council does not believe we should have elections in 2016 unless and until we have at the very least totally overhauled the electoral system. This is but the first in a series of political and constitutional reforms, which should include a change in government structure. But it is the irreducible minimum. And it is non-negotiable.

Another non-negotiable first step is the prosecution of all those involved in the misuse of the pork barrel system, otherwise known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, pursuant to the order issued by the Supreme Court when it struck down the PDAF and the DAP as void and unconstitutional. This is necessary not only because the Court has ordered it, but above all because we need to clean up our political class so that we could have more public servants than rogues and thieves in public office, and so that the next administration could focus on its program of government, instead of simply putting on Aquino’s black robe as persecutor of one’s adversaries and protector of one’s criminal friends and lackeys.

No politician of any consequence has declared these two basic points as a conditio sine qua non for the holding of the next elections. Only the Council has. On the basis of this alone, the Council may have shown greater merit than the entire Aquino administration and those aspiring to replace it in looking after the common good and the public interest. But don’t take my word for it.

In a roundabout way, Malacañang has suggested that Aquino would like to dialog with the Council, probably when he is not too busy kicking his dead or jailed political opponents around, and blowing his own horn before polite and ill-informed audiences. I am sure the Council would be glad to oblige. But would he be ready by then to discuss the terms under which he would vacate his office?

fstatad@gmail.com

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