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Friday, April 3, 2015

Usurpation


This looks painfully like a badly conceived life support system for a draft law that is probably already dead.
Last Friday, on the first anniversary of the “comprehensive agreement” with the MILF, President Aquino announced the formation of some sort of “council” to help sort out the issues associated with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Although none of them were present during the ceremonies, Aquino went on to mention the names of several prominent citizens composing the “council.”
No one has so far explicitly accepted the vague assignment. To be fair, no one has rejected involvement either. All of them must have been surprised by the assignment and are still sorting out their own issues vis-à-vis the “council.”
What we know from the announcement is that the “council” will spearhead the convening of some sort of “peace summit.” They will study the issues, hear whatever voices need hearing and submit a report to the President at some unspecified time.
Is this “council” advisory to the legislative branch? We do not know.
Is this “council” officially mandated and supported with government funds? We do not know that too.
Will it displace the peace panel that was supposed to have studied the issues and cleared the way for legislation? That seems to be the case, which is strange.
If this council will convene a “summit,” what sort of legal standing does it possess? On what grounds will it gather people together and present the gathering as some sort of “voice of the people”?
Let’s begin from the ABCs.
It is the task of Congress alone to fashion legislation involving some sort of BBL. It is this deliberative body that settles questions and clears the issues. If it is passing an “organic act,” it is the task of elected people’s representatives to consider the constitutionality of doing so.
Fashioning the legislation is entirely in the domain of the legislative branch of government.
Should any constitutional issues be raised, the matter will be brought for settlement before the Supreme Court. Only the Court, not a mob outside it, can rule on the constitutionality of whatever law is passed by Congress.
As things stand, the BBL appears most tenuous. Miriam Santiago’s Senate committee is reported set to release its report concluding the BBL to be unconstitutional. That will impact the considerations of the committee chaired by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos that is tasked with drafting the legislation on the matter.
At the House, the committee assigned to go over the proposed BBL is meeting stiff resistance. Congressmen seem unwilling to go along with the Palace’s dictate.
Although a June deadline was set for passing the BBL, that will likely not be met. The politicians are feeling the public pulse. That pulse, at this time, is soundly adverse.
The latest Pulse Asia survey is most telling. The greatest resistance to the BBL is among the people of Mindanao — precisely those who are supposed to be most enthusiastic for peace. The BBL now seems to be a concept without a constituency.
Given the constitutional arrangement we abide by, what then is the place of the “council” in the constellation of institutional domains? None.
This council is nothing more than a Palace contraption meant to generate some form of political pressure applied to Congress and eventually to the Supreme Court. Its outcome could only be the erosion of institutional domains — therefore the diminution of our constitutional arrangement.
There are historical parallels to this effort.
In the mid-sixties, Mao Tse-tung, severely discredited by the awesome failure of his stupid Great Leap Forward, was quickly losing influence over the Communist Party and the government. The Great Leap Forward resulted in widespread famine estimated to have killed 20 million.
To regain political leverage, Mao unleashed his fanatical Red Guards on both the Party and government. In the name of defending the revolution, the Red Guards went on a rampage, condemning officials for “revisionism,” undertaking purges themselves and assaulting government offices, basically taking the law into their own ignorant hands.
In the turmoil that ensued, priceless antiquities were destroyed, institutions were overrun, universities were shut down and the economy was undermined. Order, and sanity, was to be restored only after Mao died.
There is an analogy closer to home.
In 1991, the Cory Aquino government wanted the US bases treaty extended. The Senate was set to vote in favor of immediate termination. The lame duck president had lost the ability to influence the Senate vote.
An exasperated Cory gathered her loyalists and marched against the Senate of the Republic. That was a pathetic endeavor. Proper operation of our institutions dictated that the matter be settled by a Senate vote, not by sloganeering in the streets.
The senators voted to expel the US bases. It was read a victory for national independence — and a ghastly political defeat for Cory Aquino. She did not behave as a president should and reaped the grapes of political wrath in the aftermath.
In both cases, Mao’s Red Guards and Cory’s Yellow Army, the sitting chief executive resorted to extra-institutional means to assault the standing institutions. The intended result could only be the weakening of the standing institutions, therefore the constitutional order.
In the case of Mao, it took years to rebuild institutions and restore the proper functioning of the legal order after years of chaos. In the case of Cory, the Senate simply slapped her with a rejection.
In the case of the BBL and Noynoy’s funny “council”, the likely outcome is that Congress will reject the draft legislation and recommend renegotiation. The son will suffer his mother’s fate.

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