Forum On Constitutional and Fiscal Autonomy Groups (CFAGs)

Photo credit: GMA News

By: Christian S. Monsod

I am asked to provide the framework and the context of our forum today, with each of the 6 eminent speakers sharing with us the role of their institutions in our democratic system of checks and balances and the importance of their independence and unobstructed work in serving the best interests of the nation and our people.

My talk consists of three parts – first, the intent and design of the Constitution with respect to the constitutional offices with fiscal autonomy. In doing, so, I may touch on other provisions because the constitution must be read as a whole even when specific issues are on the table. The second part is the context of this forum. And the third part is “the challenge we face”.

(A) THE CONSTITUTION AND THE INDEPENDENT CFAGs

What is happening today at the political scene with threats of abolishing the Congress and the Supreme Court, the aborted zero budget for the CHR, the resignation of the Comelec Chair, the impeachment charges against the Chief Justice and the threat of it against the Tanodbayan, among others, is not the design of our Constitution when it provided for separation of powers and a system of checks and balances.

The backdrop of the Constitution was the overthrow of a dictatorship described by its Framers as “a nightmare of greed, intolerance, brutality and disrespect for democratic institutions.”

Its inspiration was EDSA and the restoration of democracy. But EDSA was more than that – it was the promise of a new social order with radical changes, but through democratic means.

That was a tall order. And before the writing of the Constitution, national consultations nationwide were held to listen to the people and they overwhelmingly preferred the stability of familiar structures under the 1935 constitution – a democratic, representative, presidential system, with checks and balances and separation of powers. And, they wanted the power to directly vote for their president. But from the expeirence of the Marcos regime, they also wanted safeguards against the return of authoritarianism in any form, they wanted social justice and wanted our national destiny to be firmly and safely placed on Filipinos themselves.

All this was, in many ways, counter-cultural and therefore “radical” because our history is marked by a tendency to give up powers to colonizers and dictators, of deferring to so-called “strong” leaders, of allowing a business oligarchy to rule our economy and of over-dependence of the poor on rich landowners for their basic necessities.

This is validated by the studies of experts that a number of factors account for our laggardness among our neighbors in addressing mass poverty and inequality, but foremost are flawed policies and weak institutions that are rooted in a feudalistic system that has been impervious to change for generations and, of course, its companion evil — corruption.

Thus, the Constitution can be viewed as affirmative action for our democracy. It seeks to correct the shortcomings of previous constitutions, to address the “wrongs” of history and to empower and enable the ordinary Filipino to rise above himself. It makes difficult the consolidation of powers. It provides a system that should correct itself when it theatens to get out of control. And in that process of correction, the role of the people is a critical factor.

Our Constitution is considered one of the most progressive in the world alongside that of South Africa. We already have the provisions that many countries are trying to install in theirs in the search for peace and development.

The 1987 Constitution was the first time that we spoke to the world as a truly independent and democratic Filipino nation. It is a document that had not been imposed on us by any colonial power or by a dictatorship.

High on the list of its new provisions are measures to strengthen the system of checks and balances, such as a new Article on Social Justice and Human Rights as the central theme or “heart”of the Constitution to empower the poor as the center of development and a new Article on Education and other means to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

The three traditional branches of government exercise checks and balances on one another, but subject to the “checking” powers of three independent constitutional commissions and the new office of the Ombudsman – a system that is unique to our system. Plus the Commission on Human Rights. The Constitution also strengthened   the Judiciary that can be overpowered by the Executive and the Legislative, with the power of judicial review of “grave abuse” by any agency or instrumentality of the government. We learned in law school that the legislative is the purse, the Executive is the sword and the Judiciary is the conscience of the nation.

The Office of the Ombudsman is tasked to act swiftly and inexpensively on any act or omission by any public official on anything illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient. It was even proposed to be called “sumbungan ng bayan”, to encourage the poor to bring their problems to it. Moreover, the appointment of the Tanodbaysn is vetted by the Judicial and Bar Council, not by the Commission on Appointments, and to further insulate it from political influence or interference, the Tanodbayan has the power of appointment over the officials and employees of the Office, except for its Deputies. The Congress also saw fit to give it prosecutorial powers and to “investigate any serious misconduct in office allegedly committed by officials removable by impeachment, for the purpose of filing a verified complaint for impeachment, if warranted.”

The powers of the Ombudsman must surely make a president uncomfortable if he has “moist eyes” on being an autocrat, as my friend Rene Saquisag would say.

To ensure the independence of these institutions, their basic powers are inscribed in the Constitution and cannot be diminished by ordinary legislation, they all have fiscal autonomy and the Tanodbayan and members of the constitutional commissions, except for the CHR, can only be removed by impeachment, just like the President, Vice-President and members of the Supreme Court.

The impeachment process was liberalized under the 1987 Constitution as part of the broader accountability mandate, with fewer votes needed in the House and in the Senate compared to the 1935 Constitution, the addition of “betrayal of public trust” as a ground for it, and the meticulous steps to hasten the proceedings. But the principles of “good faith” and “honest mistakes” on the part of the official as well as its primary purpose as a remedial process to maintain constitutional government, and not as a personal punishment, still apply.

This is a serious undertaking that should not be cheapened by other motives. And those that abet it also encourage our people to disrespect the Constitution that would devalue it as the most potent weapon to protect their rights and their freedoms. Cheapening the power of impeachement would constitute, wittingly or unwittingly, a step towards what mental health experts refer to as “malignant normality” which can take different forms but, in the case of democratic countries, considered as part of the democratic process. Thus, a dangerous leader becomes normalized, and malignant normality comes to dominate the governing dynamic.[1]

The Commission on Human Rights is also a creation of the Constitution but is not considered on the same level as the Office of the Ombudsman and the Constitutional Commissions under Article IX. It’s power is to investigate violations of human rights, civil and political. regardless of who commits it, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At this point, may I take a moment’s digression on the matter of civil and political rights as distinguished from economic and social rights.

The 1987 Constitution cut the umbilical cord of the 1935 and 1973 constitutions to the United States Constitution, which gives primacy to civil and political rights because it is a country of immigrants who all started from the same position and only wanted to be free from autocracy.

Our Constitution gives social and economic rights equal primacy with civil and political rights because we are a country of inequalities from the colonial days to the present where the starting positions of the rich and the poor are not equal. Social Justice is about the adjustment of these starting positions.

To make that adjustment, the State can use its police powers such as income distribution programs (primarily quality education and quality health care, ensuring the inalienable rights of labor) and asset reform programs for the poorest of the poor (agrarian reform, urban land reform and housing, ancestral domain and fisheries reform).

(B) THE CONTEXT OF OUR FORUM

Why this forum in the first place? Because there are alarming signs of creeping authoritarianism and of threats to our democracy through constitutional or extra-constitutional means and, equally alarming, signs of deference to the Executive by institutions precisely tasked to provide the checks on any abuse of power, like the Congress and the Supreme Court.

The talk of the town is a revolutionary government with total powers as a transition to a federal-parliamentary system and the added matter of a PDP-Laban draft constitution that may be a more serious problem than the RevGov for two reasons: (1) it would constitutionalize a “strong” president with extraordinary powers and a centralized federal government in the transition, (2) it changes the central theme of our Constitution from social justice to the agenda of business.

These are big issues because Social justice and Human Rights is the centerpiece program of the Constitution for a reason. To finally correct the oppression of the Marcos regime and the centuries of injustice to the poor by a ruling elite, many from business, which has yet to be completed. Business and the PDP-Laban appear to have completely forgotten the context of the 1987 Constitution – the historic event of EDSA – in which they both played a part, and where we promised the poor a new social order. We forget that promise and there is hell to pay from the poor. As my former colleague at the Comelec, the late Haydee Yorac, would say – “Let justice be

done though the heavens fall.”

We are told that the best predictor of the behavior of an elected official who aspires to be an autocrat are the statements of the person himself because those are what brought him to power in the first place. As early as 2015, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte already mentioned his plan for a revolutionary government. He would padlock Congress and the judiciary through extra-constitutional means. The RevGov, he says, is meant to fix government and the Constitution because “the wellspring of corruption is the Constitution itself,”

And we are all familiar with his utterances about the evil of drugs: ‘If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.’

How could he be any clearer about his agenda? And from all accounts, his Filipino audiences whether here or abroad reacted positively to his statements even the outrageous with the foul language.

Why that reaction? Was it because they saw in him the authentic representation of the real change they have been waiting for?

In 2016, many voters deserted the mainstream. As someone describes the phenomenon – most voters “hungered for politicians who can make a rousing argument for drastic solutions.”

And if many of us are increasingly frustrated about a system that can’t seem to find its bearings, can you imagine the frustration of the poor amidst a first world culture of consumerism and of shameless self-promotion by those in power to preserve their entitlements and domination of national policies?

In other words, Duterte the Mayor got it right on the deeper yearnings of the people and was elected by a huge plurality. And the question is: can Duterte the President pull it off on his own terms – the radical change he promised? Whether a RevGov was a trial balloon or not is really irrelevant. We can only ignore the sentiment behind the vote for him at the peril of undertaking the wrong solutions.

Hence, the RevGov. The President and his people are saying that his reform agenda is suffering delays because he underestimated the gravity and complexity of some of the problems, like the drug problem. More important, the president is being obstructed by corrupt politicians, a lazy or disobedient bureaucracy, an entrenched oligarchy and the destabilization plots of the Yellows and the Reds.

There are opinions that the RevGov option is being floated by the President because the issues of corruption, extra-judicial killings and underperformance on his election promises are beginning to catch up to him. And a RevGov is the quickest way to abort these threats. But the President is not that reckless and there is always his supermajority in the Congress, whose loyalty however may not be always total,, and a Supreme Court that is increasingly deferential to him with three questionable decisions – the Marcos burial as a hero, the martial law ruling that virtually allows him to proclaim it anytime anywhere, and the dismissal of the de Lima petition to be freed from detention on the basis of technicalities, and not substantial justice.

In fact, a reading of the PDP-Laban proposed federal constitution retains the provisions on the Supreme Court, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Human Rights and the commander-in-chief powers. There are no amendments to weaken the offices and safeguards. And it may occur to us that the agenda is to keep the institutions but to appoint people totally deferential to the President to occupy them, after the incumbents have retired or have been removed from office through impeachment or “for cause”.

A revolutionary government is defined as a government after an overthrow, repudiation or replacement of an established government or political system to effect some desired result. There is nothing in the Constitution that allows it. It is always described by its proponents as a temporary measure. In practice, a revolutionary government is just another dictatorship. It’s about power, either by one person or a revolutionary council. In practice, its “transition period” can last a long, long time. In short,, a revolutionary government in whatever form may be the biggest threat to date to our democracy.

As a lawyer, surely the President is aware of the legal consequences of going outside the Constitution to address his problems of governance. He can be considered as resigned from (or as abandoning) the presidency and abrogating the Constitution on behalf of a “revolutionary government” of his own making, for the reason that the government that he now heads is not performing. That sounds like a “theatre of the absurd”.

The military has already said that it would not go along with a revolutionary government and will choose to uphold the Constitution. I believe that the military will stay the course.

Without the option of a revolutionary government, the President has only one other option to become an autocrat — through “constitutional authoritarianism”. In other words through charter change. As stated in the summary of the PDP-Laban proposal, in the transition to a federal-parliamentary government, we will need:

(1) a popularly elected presidency to hold and unite the country together and ensure that the transition to federalism and as an arbiter of regional disputes;

(2) an effective president to deal with powerful countries like China and the United States, as well as to effectively compete in a globalized world economy;

(3) a president who can decisively address the numerous national security problems and natural disasters;

(4), a pure parliamentary system without strong political parties can be unstable. It will take time to build strong political parties and a president to ensure that there is no gridlock in our political system and a president who can remain decisive in cases of national crises.

The time line for implementing federalism would start with the enactment of a new Regional and Local Government Code within 18 months (unless extended by the President) from ratification of a federal constitution (originally scheduled in 2019) through an organic law for each region, over a minimum transition period of 10 years, or up to about 2032.

During the transition, the Regional Government shall be a Regional Commissioin composed of the current governors and mayors of the regions exercising both executive and legislative functions. During that period, it is up to the State (i.e. central or federal government) to determine the each region’s competence, capacity and resources to become a federal state and the nature and scope of the decentralization and devolution.

Which means that many regions may have to wait about 15 years to reap the benefits of a federal state, if any. And, hopefully, because all the pitfalls and complexities of the shift are acknowledged by the PDP-Laban proposal, while still going all out on that slippery slope that could ruin our democracy. And when experts say that the problem of “ imperial Manila” can be solved by ordinary legislation like amending the Local Government Code of 1991.

Since the Article on Transitory Provisions of the PDP-Laban draft is still to be written, we will not really know the details of the transition until then. But a “strong” president and a more centralized system is clearly a critical factor in the transition to 2032.. The question is: what happens to a Constitution suited to the requirements of President Duterte and what happens to us, if he dies before his time. He will be 87 by 2032.

All this looks like a future that is dependent on the roll of a dice. To date there are more questions than answers in the proposals of the Duterte Administration..

All the above are largely outside the radar screen of our people. We have a problem in our hands.

W are told that an ignorant people can never remain a free people because democracy cannot survive for long with civic ignorance. And if we do not do anything about it and prefer to live with our frustrations about who is accountable for things that go wrong, someone will eventually come and say, I will solve all your problems, if you give me total power. And we will give it to him. And that’s how democracy dies.[2]

The fact is we have so far failed in human development not because of the Constitution, but because we have not fully implemented it, especially its provisions on social justice and human rights and on local autonomy. The Constitution is not the problem, it is part of the solution.

But how can the Constitution be properly implemented or even debated if there is pervasive ignorance of it? About 73% of our people admit to not knowing anything about the Constitution.[3] The civic education of our people is a responsibility of government. And a government fails in that duty when it tells the people to trust President Duterte with total powers and engages in partisan political propaganda rather than a truthful account of our history and the content of the Constitution.

(C) THE CHALLENGE WE FACE

The challenge to civil society, the church, the media and the government people who care, is to fill this gap on public education. If we don’t fill the gap with an intelligent and comprehensive education campaign, including a possible dialogue with the president, the people may be misled into supporting a misguided, even a self-serving, overhaul of the Constitution.

I am reminded of that paraprosdokian: “I would like to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.” Maybe it is time for all of us to make our voices heard, though not exactly in the same way.

Why and how should a dialogue be sought with the President?

First, lets be clear about our assumptions.

  1. The assumption of this paper is the position of the farmers I work with that President Duterte’s heart is genuinely for the poor and he is sincere on being the bearer of change. But sincerity is not a substitute for correctness. He must also be correct on how to fulfill that vision. But he is at least an “enigma” with the contradictions that all of us have, but more intensified for his own reasons. He shows some signs of what mental health experts call “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” or NPD and of paranoia which exaggerates threats to himself that is manifested in streaks of vindictiveness. But the issue about him is not “mental illness” but of “dangerousness”, especially if given total powers.
  2. I believe that there is a statesman in every politician and it is up to us to find it in whatever way we can. As long as there is a window of rationality, however small the opening, it is worth the effort to try.
  3. Democracy is about dialogue and compromise. There is very little space in the room for purists.. But we all have a right to be heard.
  4. We want him to know that we are willing to work with him on the goal of a new social order using the lens of social justice and peace-making and want to discuss alternatives on how it can be done without resorting to a revolutionary government (which may be turbulent and divisive under any circumstances) or a major overhaul of the Constitution, and especially not with the PDP-Laban version which is a shameless betrayal of the EDSA legacy.
  5. Bringing the President down with people power is not a good idea. He is still a beacon of hope to many of the poor and we must heed that sentiment. He is also a duly elected constitutional President and we should respect it, regardless of the survey ratings, as long as he abides by his oath of allegiance to it. If he does not, we have a fight in our hands for our freedoms. We have fought five of the last 6 presidents on issues of principle and have won all al them.[4] A Pulitzer awardee reminds: “the most common way that people lose their power is when they think that they don’t have any.”[5]

In closing, in the turmoil and confusion of the moment, allow me to paraphrase Albert Camus when he received the Nobel Prize that, regardless of the consequences, “we must put ourselves at the service not of those who make history, but of those who suffer it.

Thank you and good day

[1] The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, 2017

[2]

[3] Pulse Asia survey of July 2017

[4] Marcos (on dictatorship), Ramos (on Pirma), Estrada (on Concord), Arroyo (on Sigaw ng Bayan,) Pinoy Aquino (on Hacienda Luisita)

[5] Alice Walker

Shift To Federalism: A Lethal Experiment, A Fatal Leap, A Plunge To Death, A Leap To Hell*

Photo credit: cebudailynews.inquirer.net

(Speech delivered by Chief Justice (ret.) Hilario G. Davide, Jr. on 21 November 2017, 12:00pm at the Joint Membership Forum of the Makati Business Club (MBC), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and the Employees Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) held at the Turf Room, Manila Polo Club, Makati City)

Dear officers and members of the MBC, PCCI, MAP, FINEX and ECOP; guests; ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you, Marife for your generous words of introduction.

Thank you again Mr. Chua, our MBC Chair, for inviting me to this joint membership forum. I am definitely honored and privileged to be with the officers and members of very prestigious and highly respected groups of business leaders whose views affect and have immeasurable impact on the development, progress, peace, prosperity, security and stability of our country and on the lives of our people. In the worst of adverse circumstances and times, they can even influence the way to the opposite of any, some, or all of these. Perforce, their views must be carefully and seriously considered by the Government and our leaders, especially those who are tasked to fulfill the prayer of the sovereign Filipino people in the Preamble of our 1987 Constitution. What is this prayer? It is the imploring of the aid of the Almighty God to build a just and humane society; and to establish a government that shall embody their ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop their patrimony and secure to themselves and their posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace.

Chairman Chua ordered me to talk, for a minimum of thirty minutes, on the much publicized and propagandized topic: the shift from the unitary to the Federal system of government in our country; and, for that purpose, to amend the Constitution via the shortest mode – a Constituent Assembly. This shortest mode is expected to submit for ratification the proposed Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines in May of 2018 so that the first elections under the Federal system can be held on the second Monday of May 2019, the date of our next regular national synchronized elections.

Why the unusual haste in this move to the Federal system? Your honest guess is as good as mine. The fact remains that early in his term the President, who is openly for the Federal system, wanted a Constitutional Convention. But he later agreed with Speaker Alvarez of the Lower House to have, instead, a Constitutional Assembly to save on expenses and to expedite the process. The President even issued in December of last year an Executive Order creating a sort of Preparatory Commission which shall be tasked to draft the proposed new Constitution for the Federal Republic of the Philippines to be thereafter submitted to the Constituent Assembly. It appears, however, that the Lower House cannot wait for that. Through its Committee on Constitutional Amendments, it is now rushing the drafting of the proposed Constitution for the Federal Republic of the Philippines by a Constituent Assembly with three proposals at hand serving as its working drafts. The first proposal, in sixty-three (63) pages, is Senate Resolution No. 10 filed by then Senator Nene Pimentel during the Fourteenth Congress; the second is Resolution No. 08, in eighty-three (83) pages, introduced lately in the Lower House by Representatives Aurelio Gonzales and Eugene Michael de Vera; and the third is the proposal, in sixty-seven (67) pages, submitted by the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute. Each of these proposals can produce the longest Constitution the Philippines will ever have.

The principal reason adduced in these proposals and also by other known proponents for the shift to Federalism is that our present unitary system is highly centralized and has created an “Imperial Manila” – not imperial Makati – which nurtures and perpetuates a tremendous imbalance in its favor and against the present political subdivisions or local government units – the autonomous regions, provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays – in the exercise of governmental powers and in the distribution and allocation of government resources, funds, and projects as well as in development, growth, progress, prosperity, and stability. To remove that imbalance there must be put up between the highly centralized authority and these local government units a strong autonomous sovereign governmental authority or seat of power which shall share with the authority and power of the central government to the end that the local government units will truly enjoy the blessings of genuine autonomy.

I would forthwith assert that a shift to federalism or amendments to our present Constitution to accomplish the goals and objectives of the proponents of Federalism is totally unnecessary. The reasons adduced to support it are deceptively misleading and unfounded. All such goals and objectives can adequately and sufficiently be accomplished, and the reasons disproven, by merely, but effectively and efficiently, implementing the relevant provisions of our present 1987 Constitution for strong local autonomy and decentralization. One whole Article of this Constitution – Article X – is devoted to Local Government. It provides for the infrastructure guaranteeing this local autonomy and decentralization. This Article orders Congress to enact a Local Government Code which shall, among other things, provide for more responsive and accountable local government structures instituted through a system of decentralization, allocate among the different local government units their power, responsibilities, and resources (Sec. 3). The first Congress convened under our present Constitution enacted in 1991 the Local Government Code.

This Article X likewise provides that local governments shall be entitled to an equitable share in the proceeds of the utilization and development of the natural wealth within their respective areas, in the manner provided by law, including the sharing in the same with the inhabitants therein (Sec. 7). It provides for the creation of metropolitan subdivisions (Sec. 11), and grants local government units power to group themselves, consolidate, or contribute their efforts, services, and resources for purposes commonly beneficial to them in accordance with law (Sec. 13).

The same Article X directs the President to provide for regional development councils for purposes of administrative decentralization to strengthen the autonomy of the units therein and to accelerate the economic and social growth and development of the units in the region (Sec. 14).

In brief, effective decentralization or power sharing between the central government and the political subdivisions are already assured and mandated – not denied or impeded – by the Constitution. On the contrary, they are hampered or impeded by the failure to implement the Constitution.

If more are still needed, Congress needs only to amend the 1991 Local Government Code.

Our 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, which was drafted by the 1986 Constitutional Commission is the best Constitution of the world. It is the only which is PRO-God, PRO-Filipino, PRO-people, as well as PRO (spelled P-R-O) in all of these: life, marriage, family, poor, social justice and human rights, women, youth, environment, among many others. It is the only Constitution that institutionalizes the doctrine that a public office is a public trust, meaning that all public officers and employees are servants of the people (Section 1, Article XI), thereby enshrining the “servant leadership” principle that Jesus Christ Himself proclaimed. It contains sufficient provisions against abuse of powers and guarantees people’s active participation in governance, including the use of people power. I know this Constitution very well because I was, together with our good friend, Ricardo Romulo, among the Commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission who drafted it. When we voted on its final draft on 12 October 1986, I ended the explanation of my affirmative vote with these words: “This is the Constitution I am willing to die for.”

Thanks to the Supreme Court, two previous attempts to amend this 30-year old Constitution failed. The first was to lift the term limits of elected officials especially that of the President to allow the then incumbent President to run for re-election; the second was to adapt the parliamentary system so that the then incumbent President who cannot run for re-election can run for Congress and be elected Prime Minister.

Sad to say, however, a recent survey disclosed that only about 27% of our people know about the Constitution. Upon the other hand, a great majority of its provisions, especially on social justice, have not been implemented. A number of provisions require enabling statutes or laws to give life to them. The commands for Congress or the Government to do so are prescribed about 150 times in the Constitution through such phrases as “The State shall”; “Congress shall”; or “as provided by law”. Similarly, the public trust character of public office remains wantonly disregarded by our public servants.

Shall we now entice or lure our people to amend or revise a Constitution which only 27% of them know? Or, worse yet, a Constitution that is not fully implemented and given life primarily because Congress has been sleeping on its solemn duty to pass laws to implement its mandates?

Needless to stress, all public servants who propose to amend the Constitution, especially that of adapting the Federal system, must first meticulously examine and understand the Constitution and honestly ask themselves: Have we done enough to be true and faithful public servants elected or appointed under the Constitution? They must remind themselves that upon assumption of office, each took a solemn oath to, among others, “uphold and defend the Constitution” (Sec. 1, Chapter 10, Book I, Administrative Code of the Philippines). By express mandate of the Constitution (Sec. 5, Article VII), the President, Vice President, and Acting President shall take a solemn oath to, among others, “preserve and defend the Constitution.”

What our country and our people need today is not a change of that Constitution by adapting the Federal system. What are needed are first, authentic and genuine change in the hearts and minds and values of our leaders to the end that they truly be genuine, authentic public servants or servant-leaders; second, that same kind or virtue of change in our people that they be at all times vigilant and assertive as the true and responsible masters of these public servants, and always unyielding to the whims and caprices of false or fake public servants, especially in these times of false news, fake news, post truths.

A shift to Federalism is a lethal experiment. A fatal leap. A plunge to death. A leap to hell. To paraphrase the book of Sirach (Chapter 2, verse 3) concerning sin, federalism is “a two-edged sword: when it cuts, there can be no healing.”

The Federal system of government is definitely not suited for our country and our people of our generation and even those of the succeeding generations. It cannot fit into our history, culture, character, traditions, beliefs, hopes, aspirations and longings, and even our idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. The best fitted for these is the unitary system, which has proven itself to be so.

Federalism cannot fit into our training and experiences in the art of politics, government, and governance. Only very few of our people have experienced how the Federal system works. They are the very few who have lived or worked in federal states, like the US or Canada, or who are assiduous political scientists or sociologists who have studied in theory the workings of Federalism.

Untried and untested in our country and by our people since we attained our independence on 12 June 1898 or 119 years ago – or even before that – Federalism would be a foreign invader or a stranger that would come not on its own conquering will and without gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It would come at our reckless and imprudent instance, instigated only by a few.

For the Philippines, the Federal system proposed in the three versions I mentioned earlier would be evolved by dividing, breaking up, splitting and fragmenting the country into various separate parts known as States or Regions. This is an anomalous procedure because it is an anomalous deviation from the historical and traditional mode of forming Federal States or governments. Under this mode, existing sovereign states would unite or agree to subordinate its governmental power to that of the central authority in specified common affairs (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed., 519); or, a federal government is a league or compact between two or more states, to become united under one central government (Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th ed., 610). Thus the original separate sovereign states would become component states of the federal government.

How would the unitary Philippines be divided, broken up, split or fragmented? Let us examine the main features of the three proposals

In the Nene Pimentel version, the Philippines, to be known as the Federal Republic of the Philippines, would be divided into eleven (11) States [namely: the states of Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Minparom (Mindoro Oriental, Mindoro Occidental, Palawan, Romblon, and Marinduque), Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, and Bangsamoro]; and one Federal Administrative Region composed of Metro Manila. The Federal State would be governed by a Federal Constitution, and would have Federal Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Departments. The Federal Legislative Department would be vested in the Federal Congress composed of the Senate of 75 members [with each State represented by six elected at large] and nine elected by overseas Filipino citizens; and the House of Representatives of not more than 350 members [elected from the various legislative districts in the various States].

The Federal Executive Department shall be headed by the President, with a Vice President, both of whom shall be elected as a team. A vote for the President shall be also counted for the Vice President.

Each of the eleven States composing the Federal State shall have an Executive Department, headed by the State Governor, with a Vice Governor, and a unicameral Legislative Department composed of three representatives from each province and each city located within the territorial boundaries of the States [elected by the Members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and Sangguniang Panlungsod from among their members], plus three representatives from the sectors of the farmers, fisherfolk, and the senior citizens.

In the Gonzales Proposal, the Federal State would be composed of Eighteen (18) Regions [namely, the National Capital Region, Ilocos, Cordillera, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao, Soccksargen, Caraga, Bangsamoro]. Each Region is autonomous, equal, and sovereign [except to the extent that their sovereignty is limited by the Constitution and federal laws]. It shall have its own basic and organic law – meaning a Constitution.

The Federal Legislative Power is vested in a Congress composed of the Senate with a minimum of two and a maximum of six Senators from each Region; and the House of Representatives composed of one elective District Representative for each of the Legislative Districts apportioned by law among the provinces, cities, urbanized independent component cities and municipalities; and of party-list representatives to the extent of 20% of the total number of Representatives including those of the party-list.

The Federal Executive Department is vested in the President of the Federal Republic. There is a provision for Vice President.

As to the Eighteen (18) Regions comprising the Federal State, the Executive Power is vested in the Regional Governor elected by direct vote of the people in the Region. There is a Regional Vice-Governor. The Governor has the power to grant reprieves, commutation of sentence, and pardon.

The Regional Legislative Power is vested in the Regional Assembly composed of three Assembly Members from each province, from the highly urbanized independent city or municipality within the Region, plus sectoral members appointed by the Regional Governor for sectors representing labor, peasant farming, fisheries, and senior citizens.

Under the PDP-Laban Proposal, a parliamentary form of government is set up under a Federal system. The number of Regions or States to compose the Federal State is still undetermined; it is still under study. However, Regions or States are to be created by way of a plebiscite in the proposed Region, and until they are formally established, the Federal Government will exercise power over them.

The Federal Legislative Power is vested in the Parliament of the Federal Republic, which shall be composed of two Houses – the Federal Assembly as the National Legislative Department and the Senate. The Assembly shall be composed of not more than 400 Members [60% of whom shall be elected by plurality vote from each Legislative Electoral District and 40% by proportional representation by region for a political party with closed list of nominees]. The Senate shall be composed of three Senators from each Region. The Assembly shall elect a Speaker, and the Senate, its President.

The Executive Power is vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Prime Minister is elected by the Assembly. He may be removed by a vote of no confidence by the Assembly. Upon the other hand, the Prime Minister may advise the President to dissolve the Assembly.

The President shall be the Head of State to be elected by direct vote of the people upon being nominated by at least 20% of all the Members of the Assembly who are members of a registered political party. He shall have a term of five years and may run for another term.

The President is even authorized to dissolve the Assembly for failure of Parliament to pass a budget for two successive plenary votes or for two successive majority votes of no confidence on the Prime Minister.

As to the Regional Government, there should first be an Organic Act. Below the Regional Governments would be local governments to be governed by the 1991 Local Government Code until the enactment of the Regional and Local Government Code.

The Judiciary is not even spared in this Federalization. While basically the Judicial Power as embodied in Article VIII of the present Constitution, substantive changes are proposed. In the Nene Pimentel version the Court of Appeals is abolished to be replaced by the Intermediate Appellate Court to be distributed to the various States. Divisions of the Sandiganbayan will be assigned to the component States. In the Gonzales version, the Court of Appeals is abolished and in its stead Regional Court of Appeals will be put up.

Eventually, there would be massive reorganizations of the Judiciary through laws defining and apportioning the jurisdiction of the various courts taking into account the needs of the component States or Regions resulting in the establishment of State or Regional lower courts.

Both the Pimentel and the Gonzales versions abolish the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). Appointments by the President of the Members of the Judiciary shall be taken from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines approved by the Commission on Appointments in the Pimentel version and by the Federal Senate in the Gonzales version.

Similarly, the Constitutional Commissions would become Federal Constitutional Commissions (Audit, Civil Service, Elections). What would follow would be the establishment of States or Regional offices.

By the way, the three proposals retain the existing political subdivisions or local government units – autonomous regions, provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays.

This dividing, breaking up, splitting, fragmenting, and disconfiguring of the Philippines will not build a just and humane society and will not bring a harvest of harmony, development, progress, prosperity, peace, and stability. On the contrary, it would build and bring the opposite.

What then will happen and what shall we have under a Federal system? So many. But, let me just enumerate a few – just eighteen, so far.

            First, Federalism would divide our people and cultivate in them forced double loyalties: to the central federal government and to the States or Regional governments which shall have its own basic law or constitution, and ultimately own flag and anthem. In all government buildings we will have two flags. At flag ceremonies we will sing two anthems.

            Second, Federalism would create a horrible enlarged and bloated bureaucracy. From hereon I shall refer to this as the Federal Bureaucracy. This would be due to the establishments of new layers or strata of governmental authority or seats of power – the Federal or central government, the various component States or Regions and the existing political subdivisions, and the reorganizations of the Judiciary as well as the Constitutional Commissions.

            Third, under this Federal Bureaucracy, the poor would become poorer. Inevitably and unavoidably, the people would be burdened with more taxes of all kinds to support and maintain the Federal Bureaucracy. Some of you who had worked in some Federal republics know that a huge part of your income went to Federal and to State taxes.

Fourth, this Federal Bureaucracy carries with it the creation of more juicy elective positions which could guarantee fortune, fame, and power to shrewd politicians and their families. We shall have more political dynasties at the different strata.

            Fifth, I heard it before, and this keeps on ringing in my ears, that what would come if Federalism is erected is not actually Federalism but FEUDALISM. Indeed, the proliferation of political dynasties would increase the number of feudal States or Regions. My good friend and colleague in the 1986 Constitutional Commission, Christian Monsod, has already described most of Philippine society as “still feudalistic dominated by a ruling class that rotates among themselves the levers of power through changes in administration… The fact is that 1% of the families make the laws, dispense justice, implement programs, and control media” (Speech at the Social Justice and Human Development MINCODE National Conference, Ateneo de Davao University, 8 May 2015).

            Sixth, because Federalism breeds political dynasties and creates feudal societies, democracy would be at risk. In his latest book, Understanding Philippine Society, Culture and Politics (2017 ed., p. 246), the noted sociologist Professor Randy David said: “The reign of a few political dynasties, even if legitimized by elections, goes against the idea of democracy…viewed against the exigencies of today’s complex societies, political succession on the basis of lineage has got to be one of the biggest sources of societal dysfunction.”

            Seventh, the Federal bureaucracy with feudalism and political dynasties provide the greatest temptation to keep and maintain private armies to ensure perpetuation of power. Warlordism would be a necessary evil.

            Eighth, this Federal Bureaucracy would necessarily involve the creation of thousands of new non-elective positions or offices which will be filled up by thousands of warm bodies whose main credentials would be loyalty to politicians. A huge part of the government’s resources and income would be wasted for their salaries.

Ninth, this horrible enlarged and bloated bureaucracy would further widen the grounds and opportunities for massive graft and corruption because new offices vulnerable to graft and corruption would sprout, such as those for public works and infrastructure projects and the issuances of permits and licenses.

Tenth, in this Federal bureaucracy controlled by feudal lords and political dynasties, the conduct of free, honest, orderly, peaceful and credible elections would be a nightmare. Yet it would be very expensive.

Eleventh, in reality, contrary to the claim of its proponents, under the Federal system there can be no equal or equitable distribution of natural wealth or natural resources among the component States or Regions because the natural wealth and resources of our country are not evenly geographically distributed. Some States or Regions would be impoverished from the start as against the others.

Twelfth, this federal bureaucracy would be a fertile ground for the enemies of the State – the communists and the terrorists – to spread their wings and control. They can either enter the mainstream of society by the election of their comrades, or hold hostage political leaders or even political dynasties in some States or Regions.

Thirteenth, the rule of law will suffer a lot in this federal bureaucracy in the hands of the feudal lords and political dynasties.

Fourteenth, the Federal system proposed both in the Nene Pimentel and PDP-Laban versions would weaken the Judiciary because of the return of political interferences and pressures in the appointments of Members of the Judiciary. As I earlier stated, in both, the Judicial and Bar Council is abolished. The JBC was precisely established in the present Constitution to insulate the Judiciary from partisan political interferences and pressures. There is much politics too in the IBP.

Fifteenth, under a Federal system, the criminal justice system in the country would be put in disarray as a consequence of the unavoidable classification of crimes and offenses into federal and state crimes and offenses.

            Sixteenth, a constitutional amendment to adapt the Federal system would more likely be a red herring. As the process for that begins, the door would open for other amendments because the Constituent Assembly is free to do anything. These other major amendments could include the adoption of the parliamentary form of government, which is now proposed in the PDP-Laban version; the removal of Filipino citizenship requirements in the national patrimony and economic provisions; and even removing the restrictions on the President’s power to declare Martial Law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. Removing the citizenship requirements would be an outright surrender of the Philippines to foreigners, at no cost to them. This is treason.

            Seventeenth, if adapted, the transition to the Federal system would be a slow, complicated, difficult, even confused and chaotic. Uncertainty, insecurity, instability would be its first harvests.

            Eighteenth, this is the last so far, and this affects the business sector – you the business leaders. The horrible enlarged and bloated bureaucracy under the Federal system, with the proliferation of political dynasties, would make life for you more difficult. In doing business, you will have to deal with several layers or strata of sovereign authority I earlier mentioned. You will pay more taxes. You can be victims of more graft and corruption. Worse yet, more shady politicians and more political dynasties can hound and harass you no end during all seasons. They and their families and cohorts, dummies or nominees can put up their own business empires. For survival businessmen may dance the music with them. That would be costly. They may even be compelled to abandon values, virtues and principles they cherish and hold dear.

Let us all pray that our pro-Federalism Senators and Representatives and other leaders will hearken to their conscience. Conscience, according to Mencken, is “the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking” or, according to Polybius who lived before Christ: “There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.”

To repeat what I said earlier, such a shift would be a lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death, and a leap to hell.

God bless the Philippines and the Filipino people.   Thank you.

On Charter Change Under The Duterte Administration

Legal Memorandum [1]On Charter Change Under The Duterte Administration: Resolution of Both Houses No. 8 Proposed Federal Constitution
by Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares[2]

Introduction

The specter of another charter change (Cha Cha) is again haunting the Filipino people. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with amending the Constitution, the moves to amend the Constitution under the Duterte administration are not merely proposing a shift to Federalism, but are actual efforts at centralizing power to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, granting him legislative powers, institutionalizing the discredited economic liberalization policy and diluting people’s rights.

There are two pending charter change proposals, the PDP-Laban Proposal which is basically more of a shift to Parliamentary-Federal form of government and Resolution of Both Houses No. 8 (RBH 8) filed in the House of Representatives on August 2, 2016.   This paper will focus on RBH 8 as it is the pending bill being considered by Congress today that will be tackled by Congress when it reconvenes in January 2018.

RBH 8 is an extremely dangerous piece of legislation both in terms of procedure and content. It contains provisions that abolishes Congress, grants Pres. Duterte legislative powers, practically abolishes the current constitutional commissions, and overhauls the judiciary from the Court of Appeals and Sandiganbayan down to the Regional Trial Courts and terminates thousands of government employees and officials. Considering that Pres. Duterte has the power to appoint all their replacements, RBH 8 makes him the sole appointing authority of almost the entire government, in one fell swoop.

RBH 8 also eliminates the “protectionist” provisions in the 1987 Constitution by institutionalizing the opening up of the country and the economy to transnational corporations. Worse, it essentially disallows the people from exercising the same ‘people power’ launched against a dictator in 1986 and dilutes many of the rights provided by the 1987 Constitution.

The 1987 Constitution contains two procedures in revising[3] the Constitution—the convening of a Constitutional Convention (Concon) or through Congress itself acting as a “constituent assembly” or “Con Ass”.

RBH 8 does not propose amendments via a Constitutional Convention but instead through Congress, where Pres. Rodrigo Duterte enjoys a super majority. Congress, acting as a constituent assembly can “expeditiously” approve RBH 8. The procedure under RBH 8 is “con-ass” where Congressmen and  Senators are the ones tasked with amending the Constitution—and approve the speedy approval of the anti-people provisions under it.

However, a Congress which has traditionally been compliant to presidential intervention and control cannot be given the task of revising the Constitution, especially under the present context. Additionally, Congress has previously passed many laws that have proven very detrimental to the people’s interest. It must be noted that, inter alia, our electricity remains high because Congress passed the EPIRA Law, gasoline and fuel are expensive because Congress passed the Oil Deregulation Law, mining companies ravage our natural resources because Congress passed the Mining Act and all efforts to repeal these anti people laws were resisted by Congress for years. Congress, as a constituent assembly, would also be the center of lobbying of big business interested in the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Please download the document here. “Chacha under Pres. Duterte”

Download Joint Houses Resolution RBH0008 on the New Constitution

 

[1] Opinion and Study drafted for MAK. (Draft as of December 4, 2017).

[2] Atty. Neri Colmenares is a human rights lawyers and is also the Chairman of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers. He has written various papers on human rights, international humanitarian law, and lectures in the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) seminars on various political and constitutional issues, including Jurisprudence in Amending the Constitution (The Chacha Jurisprudence).   He has studied the various charter change proposals since 2004 and written papers critiquing these proposals such as: (i) CODAL Legal Memorandum on Charter Change (January 20, 2005); (ii) House Resolution 1065: Charter Change under Pres. Gloria Arroyo (November 27, 2005); (iii) Neglect of Education in the Charter Change Proposal (June 6, 2006); (iv) Charter Change: Corrupting the Electoral System (January 26, 2006); (v) Charter Change of the House: Recipe for Dictatorship (January 17, 2006); (vi) Legal Memorandum on Charter Change Series of 2008 (September 9, 2008); (vii) Memorandum on the Surgical Charter Change (August 12, 2008); (viii) Legal Study on Constituent Assembly under HR 1109: A Comparative Analysis with HR 1450 (2009); (ix) The Latest Chacha Moves of Congress: Destroying Philippine Economy and the Future (2010); and (x) Critique of the Economic Chacha under Pres. Aquino (2013). He was an Associate of the Asian Law Centre when he was taking up his PhD at the University of Melbourne (deferred) and has recently appointed Associate of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society (CILIS) at the Faculty of Law in Melbourne.

[3] The third procedure, the People’s Initiative, is mandated to propose piecemeal amendments to the Constitution.

 

Tributes pour in for slain Filipino priest

Ambassadors, bishops and journalists describe Father Marcelito Paez as a courageous, patient and exemplary priest

 

Religious lay people demand justice for the murder of Fr. Marcelito Paezwho was gunned down Dec. 4 in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija province. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Inday Espina-Varona and Mark Saludes   UCAN  Philippines December 7, 2017

Ambassadors, bishops and journalists paid tribute to slain priest Father Marcelito Paez recalling his “unflinching courage” and patience in building coalitions for justice.

Father Wilfredo Dulay, coordinator-general of the Missionary Disciples of Jesus congregation, remembered his former classmate at the San Carlos Seminary as “always smiling, often laughing, at ease with everyone and putting anyone he was with at ease.”

“He was the caring pastor of parishioners wherever he was assigned. He was a good shepherd of the people,” he added.

While Fr. Paez was unfailingly polite to authorities, even when being provoked, Fr. Dulay said he was open about standing up for the victims of oppression and injustice.

“That was his ‘one mortal sin’ that attracted the wicked purveyors of death,” Fr. Dulay said.

Gunmen shot Fr. Paez on Dec. 4 in San Leonardo in Nueva Ecija province, 180 kilometers northeast of the capital. He died later at a local hospital.

The motive behind the priest’s slaying remains a mystery.

‘Servant of God and the people’

“He was true to what he believed in to the end; I mourn the passing of this servant of God and the people,” former journalist and now Philippine ambassador to Iraq Elmer Cato wrote on his Facebook page.

Cato said he knew “Father Tito” (Paez’s nickname) during his days as a central Luzon activist-journalist in the 1980s.

“As one of the leaders of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the Pinagisang Gitnang Luson para sa Adhikain ng Sambayanan, and the Central Luzon Alliance for a Sovereign Philippines, Father Tito was at the forefront of the anti [U.S.] bases and anti-nuclear movement in the region,” Cato said.

“We had many interesting conversations during the many protest actions in the region during those tumultuous times where we were all open targets. Father Tito and many others survived that dark period in our history although some of us did not,” he added.

Carlos Marquez, another journalist from the region, said Fr. Paez was “the brain” in many mass actions he had covered.

But the priest he said, never appeared grim whatever the challenge they faced.

Target

Fr. Paez, a retired priest, served on the national board of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines(RMP), a multi-denominational group of clergy, religious and laypeople that works with peasants and indigenous groups.

“His commitment to serving the rural poor is an inspiration to church people,” the RMP said in a statement.

“He served the people to his last breath. He sought to align the social teachings of the church with the legitimate demands of the people. He fought for people’s rights and interests,” said the group.

Benedictine nun, Sister Mary John Mananzan, said Fr. Paez was a good friend and passionate activist who never lost his calm demeanor.

He was known among poor people in a region as “a wonderful listener,” she said.

“It seems that church people are now the target. They should know that this will not stop church people from their commitments. History shows that the blood of martyrs water this commitment,” said Mananzan.

Fr. Paez was an exemplary priest, and surely God has welcomed him in His Kingdom,” said Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos

“It is indeed very sad news, a very tragic event and a great loss to the Diocese of Cabanatuan. Justice must be served and the culprits must be apprehended and prosecuted,” the bishop added.

Fr. Paez’s death occurred four hours after he facilitated the release of a political prisoner.

His murder happened during a two-day period which saw ten activists shot dead in Luzon and the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.

He will be buried in San Jose Diocese on Dec. 11.

Philippine military under fire over aid blockade

Troops are blocking aid to almost 2,000 indigenous people who fled their homes amid intensifying military operations against communist rebels in Mindanao last week, according to church officials in the southern Philippines.

 

Students and teachers from indigenous communities in Mindanao stage an indignation rally on December 2 in Quezon City to condemn the alleged food blockade in an evacuation center in Diatagon village, Lianga town, Surigao del Sur. A massive military operation in the province led to the evacuation of more than 400 indigenous families. Entry of aid and assistance from different humanitarian groups to the area are being prohibited by the military in the area.

Mark Saludes and Ben Serrano, Manila Philippines December 5, 2017

More than 257 tribal families from 14 communities fled their mountain homes in the town of Lianga in Surigao del Sur province to an emergency center nearby on Nov. 26.

Father Raymond Montero Ambray of Tandag Diocese said food and medical assistance from church and aid groups were being prevented from reaching them.

“The military is also deterring ordinary people who want to bring food and aid to evacuees who are starving and sick,” Father Raymond Montero Ambray of Tandag Diocese said.

Chad Booc, a teacher of the the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, said soldiers had set up roadblocks on mountain roads to Lianga, allowing only local government social welfare teams to deliver limited food supplies to the displaced.

Richmond Seladores, said a 70-person, multi-faith group on the way to aid the evacuees and participate in a nearby cultural festival Said the group spent hours negotiating for access to the evacuation center, but to no avail.

“The families have to make do with just five kilos of rice, two cans of sardines and two packs of instant noodles they received last week,” the group said in a statement. “These are inadequate for each family’s daily needs.”

Continue reading

Statement of Solidarity Philippines on the Brutal Killing of Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez

We strongly condemn the brutal killing of Fr. Tito Paez last December 4 in Nueva Ejica.  Fr Tito as a priest of the San Jose Nueva Ecija Diocese was coordinator of the Central Luzon Region of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Board member of Alay Bayan Incorporated, a disaster relief NGO, and an active member of the National Clergy Discernment Group.  Fr Tito had come from facilitating the release of a political prisoner, one of around 500 political prisoners held unjustly on trumped up charges because they dared to struggle for a better society.

Fr Tito, living in a society where poverty, exploitation, demolitions and killings have become the norm, was compelled by his Christian faith to stand by the victims and those struggling for justice.  He has now become one of the victims of this increasingly tyrannical society where human life is expendable.  Fr Tito has been consistent since the time of martial law in standing with those who most need to feel the presence of the church, giving witness to the true meaning of his ordination as a priest.

We salute the courage with which Fr Tito stood by his belief that a better society was possible.  While we mourn his loss, we also remember what Bishop Ramento said that even though he may be killed, yet his spirit will live on in the people.   This will be the same with Tito:  they may have killed him but his death only encourages those who strive for justice, peace and democracy to double their efforts.  The spirit of the people for freedom cannot be killed but only strengthened as tyranny increases.

We condemn the senseless killings which are increasing.  We demand that the GPH renew the Peace Talks with the NDFP.  The Duterte Regime claims the climate is not conducive.  It is exactly at that time when things seem the worst that the revival of peace talks is most needed.  Only when the roots of the armed conflict are resolved will the people experience fullness of life.We call for justice for Fr Tito and call on all peoples of good will not to let his death be in vain.  We will continue to be inspired by his living out of his Christian faith and join the people in their continuing struggle for a society where all can live in peace and security, enjoying a life where they no longer experience hunger, poverty, landlessness, homelessness.  It is this continuing struggle for life which incarnates the hope we reflect on during this Advent season. We will not forget Fr Tito.

Religious Discernment Group Statement On The Killing of Rev. Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez

Photo credit: Rappler

What has become of our country? The new killing fields of Asia?

Yesterday at 8:00 in the evening they gunned down Fr. Tito Paez, a 73 year-old retired priest of Nueva Ecija, for the simple reason that he assisted in the release of the political prisoner Rommel Tucay earlier in the day.

He was killed by assassins riding motorcycles in tandem, a manner of murder now so commonplace in the Philippines it is now considered routine alongside illegal arrests, extra judicial killings and forced disappearances.  What is happening to our country?  Has it become the location of the new killing fields of Asia. Violent death has become a daily occurrence in many of our poor urban neighbourhoods – random, arbitrary, brutal as in cruel and inhuman. It is doubly scary because the unnamed but usual suspects are law enforcers whose declared profession and vocation in life is to protect the lives of the people of this country.

Fr. Tito was my classmate in San Carlos Seminary. I’ve known him as jovial, always smiling often laughing, at ease with everyone and putting anyone he was with at ease. He was the caring pastor of parishioners wherever he was assigned. He was a good shepherd of the people and his one mortal sin, if I may dare to put it that way that attracted the wicked purveyors of death (cf Wisdom 1.16) was his open preference for the victims of oppression and injustice. The very same reason that brought Jesus our Lord, the sinless one who became sin for us, to the cross.

The poor, the excluded and marginalized were the friends of Father Tito Paez. Just like Jesus Christ he witnessed to the truth that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15.13)

Fr. Wilfredo Dulay, mdj
Convener, The Religious Discernment Group
cmiwtd@yahoo.com

The Pope to trade unions, “Defend the environment and the work of all”

Photo credit: Vatican Press

In a message at a conference in the Vatican, Francis asks not to ignore the excluded, fight corruption and educate consciences in solidarity. Many Argentinean trade unionists present

Cardinal Turkson and Secretary General Cisl, Annamaria Furlan, at the trade union conference in the Vatican

IACOPO SCARAMUZZI   | VATICAN CITY

“Today there is at stake not only the dignity of the employed, but also the dignity of the labour of all people, and the home of all people, our mother earth.” So the Pope wrote in a message to an international meeting of trade union organizations that took place yesterday and today in the Vatican. In addition to stressing the need to guarantee to all the three Ls: land, lodgings and labour [the three Ts: tierra, techo y trabajo], Jorge Mario Bergoglio denounced the risk related to two other “Ts”, “continued acceleration of changes” and “a paradigm of power, rule and manipulation” that could drive the use of technology. Francis finally asked trade unionists not to ignore the excluded, to fight the temptation of corruption and to educate consciences in solidarity, respect and care.

The Pope did not address a speech to the participants, as it had been suggested, but sent a message. The meeting, entitled “From Populorum progressio to Laudato si’. Work and workers’ movements at the centre of integral, sustainable and fraternal human development” Why does the world of work continue to be the key to development in the global world?”, and was organized by the Vatican Department for the Service of Integral Human Development. In addition to the secretaries-general of Cgil, Cisl and Uil, Susanna Camusso, Annamaria Furlan and Carmelo Barbagallo, who are currently engaged in a discussion on pensions with the government, there are numerous Argentinean trade unionists present at a time when the debate is taking place in Bergoglio’s homeland on a reform of work promoted by the government of Mauricio Macri.  Continue reading

Speaking Out Against Abuse

Photo credit: Our Time Press

Fr. Shay Cullen
7 December 2017

The front cover of Time Magazine for its last issue of 2017 shows a group of brave women who eventually found the courage to speak out against the sexual exploitation and harassment they suffered at the hands of abusive males and made the hash tag #MeToo trend on social media. There is a growing movement to name and shame the women abusers by going public, talking to the media and signing affidavits. Women have been trying to expose the abuse for many years using other hash tags but none has been so successful as #MeToo.

It came to light when some women began to speak out against the well-known Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. That became world news and many more women then found the courage to tell their story also to the media. He was forced to leave his position and go abroad and has since lost all prestige and power.

According to Twitter, as many as 1.7 million women and men used the #MeToo hash tag in 85 countries around the world. Many better known media personalities and politicians have stepped down or have been fired from their posts as a result of a number of similar allegations being made against them.

This is a movement that could greatly help the dignity of women and to change the male perception of them as objects or lesser human beings that can be used to satisfy their lustful desires and whims. This is a challenge to men to respect and to speak out against abuse and sexual harassment where they know of it.

They ought to take a stand on behalf of women and children and to teach their own children to do likewise. The next generation could be very different if they did so and break down the machismo-dominated attitude that makes some men believe that they are superior and can abuse those weaker and more vulnerable than them. The culture of silence and looking the other way when adults know of sexual abuse and harassment have to change. It is making them complicit and as it is tantamount to approving the abuse. This kind of social media and community education is vital to empower women and children.

In the Philippines the public attitude is slowly changing from indifference to child sexual abuse to that of concern and knowledge of how awful a crime it is and the need to report it and take fast action to help children and women victims to get help. This is not coming from the leadership but from the grassroots. Local and national leadership support the sex industry and the abuse of women and children as witnessed by the local government giving operating permits and licenses to sex bars and clubs where children and women are sexually exploited with impunity. The national leadership allows it despite that fact the sex bars are rife with illegal drugs. They are not a battlefield for the war on drugs. That can be easily won by legislation canceling all the operating permits and closing them down.

There is the growing knowledge that child sexual abuse is a serious crime especially by children themselves. When eight-year old Jessica was on her way to school in Bacong, Bataan, her neighbor Reynaldo Quiambao accosted her and asked her to go buy him a cigarette. She did it and when she came back to him he took her inside his house, into a bedroom and raped her. She was crying and begging to be let go. After the act of sexual abuse, he gave her twenty pesos (about $0.40 ). She went to school and was crying. Her teacher told her to stop crying and asked why but she was afraid of her teacher. When she went home she was crying and courageously told her elder sister Juliet. That was in August 2011. Her mother was very angry and immediately they went to the police and reported the incident. They responded and as it was within the legal time frame the accused was arrested and jailed under the inquest procedure.

The family sought the help of the Preda Foundation legal team and since Jessa was still traumatized she was admitted to the Preda Home for Girls. There, she felt safe and secure from her attacker and was welcomed by the other children who had similar experiences. She took the Emotional Expression Therapy and overcame the trauma and began to be happy and play and study again in Preda. She was empowered even at that early age and she was able to testify in court and point out the abuser and tell her story. It was like another #MeToo. Continue reading

Statement on the Impeachment Complaint against Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno

The Supreme Court is aptly called the last bulwark of democracy. As the final interpreter of the Constitution and the law, the Court occupies a critical role in the protection of civil liberties and the prevention of excesses by both the legislature and the executive. In short, a truly democratic State cannot exist without a stable and independent judiciary, which ironically happens to be the weakest among the three co-equal branches of Government.

An impeachment proceedings is an extra-ordinary way to remove from office a high public official occupying a position created by the Constitution. Because its target is an important public official, such proceedings has a very disruptive effect and must, therefore, be resorted to sparingly and only in extreme situations where the grounds relied upon are clear and compelling.

The impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno comes closely in the heels of the impeachment and subsequent removal of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. We fear that this consecutive attack against the head of the judiciary might create an unintended chilling effect on present and future justices that will eventually weaken the Court.

Without going into the merits of the impeachment complaint, the LAIKO unequivocally expresses its full support for Chief Justice Sereno. Our knowledge of how the Chief Justice conducts herself gives us reason to believe that she is a person of integrity unsullied by any hint of corruption. Her well-written opinions for the High Court are masterful and demonstrate an uncommon probity, impartiality, and intellectual acumen worthy of her high position.

Under Chief Justice Sereno’s watch, the Supreme Court has accomplished unprecedented reforms in the Judiciary, not least its computerization initiative that ensures transparency and accountability in the High Court and in the entire judiciary. Indeed, she is not only a woman of principles but a leader of action as well.

We therefore enjoin all Filipinos to speak up for what is right and to defend our democratic institutions. We also endorse the statement of the Coalition for Justice.

For the Board of Directors of Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas,

ZENAIDA F. CAPISTRANO
National President

Noted by:

+MOST REV. BRODERICK S. PABILLO, D.D.
LAIKO National Director
Chairman, CBCP Episcopal Commission on the Laity

06 December 2017