Con Ass: Potential Disaster

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Teresa S. Abesamis-125

Grassroots & Governance

How easily we forget. It is only a generation ago when we marched in the streets for years to oust a dictator, and promised ourselves and the world “Never Again.” Now, here we are again being bamboozled backwards into authoritarian rule; and so far, not enough pushback is being heard, especially from the business community. Nada.

In 1984, a year after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, and when I was part of the business community, a group of business executives and professionals were gathered together by the late Jimmy Ongpin and his Harvard and other Ivy League friends, including businessman Mon “Boy Blue” del Rosario, Dr. Alfredo “Alran” Bengzon and Jesuit Fr. Joaquin Bernas into a cause-oriented movement which they named Manindigan (To Take a Stand). The way we expressed our stand was to publicly protest in the streets, and publish our positions in the largely mosquito press, since Ferdinand Marcos controlled, through his cronies and the government, much of the mass media. Men and women who were used to wearing formal business attire began to sport blue jeans, T-shirts, and running shoes, and marched in the streets.

Being young enough then, I was thrilled to march side by side with highly educated colleagues who dropped their inhibitions and boldly risked their careers to fight the dictator.

What started as a small, ragtag band grew into a potent and loud challenge to the Marcos government. We marched from Santo Domingo Church to Plaza Miranda, down to Liwasang Bonifacio. In time, on Fridays, we marched on Ayala Avenue and began what became “the confetti revolution,” which featured dropping shredded yellow pages from tall buildings. From a ragtag band, our confetti revolution drew many business executives, senior and junior into our rallies.

Jimmy Ongpin and his friends put up Veritas, an activist newspaper edited by Melinda Quintos de Jesus and some of us began to criticize the government in our columns. The late dauntless Joe Burgos, (whose forebears include the martyred Padre Burgos), father of Jonas Burgos, whose whereabouts are unaccounted for to this day, began to publish his Malaya newspaper, pioneer of the Mosquito Press in hidden basements, which he moved from place to place.

In time, the heroic Letty J. Magsanoc together with print media icon Eggie Apostol Duran turned a women’s magazine, Mr. and Ms. into an activist medium which later evolved into The Inquirer. We in Manindigan were able to obtain op-ed space in Raul Locsin’s then Business Day newspaper; and continued writing in his Businessworld.

I am reminded of a poster I once saw which said “Revolutions begin in quiet places.”

Today, we have a rude, authoritarian, profane president who is getting high satisfaction ratings. And a House Speaker who has no compunctions about using his power to push his personal vendettas against his rumored foes. This is a Congress that seems to meekly follow the President’s expectations, whether they are legal or not. Senator Leila de Lima has been detained for over a year based on testimony of long-term convicts, who it is said, have enjoyed certain privileges. The judiciary, including the Chief Justice is under fire, and threatened with impeachment when no impeachable offense have yet been cited.

The Court of Appeals has dismissed several cases, despite strong evidence, including that of former Governor Joel Reyes who had been convicted in the lower courts of masterminding the murder of environmental and media activist Gerry Ortega. The CA has also rendered null and void the $10 billion due Marcos human rights victims which they had won in Hawaii.

Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos, who had been convicted with strong evidence of leading the group that killed detained Albuera, Leyte Mayor Espinosa inside his jail cell, has been promoted and reassigned, unscathed to Mindanao.

Already our freedom of the press is under siege with seeming threats to cancel broadcast franchises and related businesses of media owners. And so on and on.

Today, we are being rushed into a new Constitution, bandied about as in support of “Federalism.” There are proposals for No Election in 2019 and terms extensions for all elected officials, national and local, all the way, it seems, to 2030, because it is said it will take at least 10 years for the transition to a new form of government. This should please most incumbents. The new Constitution, it seems to have been decided, will be crafted by a Constituent Assembly, consisting of the present Congress. It is not yet clear if the Senate will vote separately from the House of Representatives. This House has already demonstrated its acquiescence to what the Speaker, or the President wants; and the Speaker has made no secret of his brazen carrot or stick approach to getting bills passed. Rodrigo Roa Duterte has made enough statements and decisions against human rights, which is provided for under the present Constitution. There is enough evidence of a rule of men rather than of laws.

1987 Constitutional Commission member Christian Monsod has made a case for there being enough provisions in the 1987 People’s Constitution and the Local Government Code of 1991 for decentralization of powers and budget authority; but that these have not been supported by proper execution. The LGUs still have not been given adequate budget authority despite the Code. This makes them still beholden to the central government. Local Autonomy has not adequately taken places intended.

Now, in lieu of an elected Constitutional Convention, we are being bamboozled into a Constituent Assembly, the rationale being the desire to save money (P6-10 billion or so), and time, to ensure that the new Constitution is ratified in May this year.

A federal form of government for us does make sense in many ways. The problem is, why the rush? And can we trust this government to do right by our people?

Sure, the economy is doing well, thanks to monetary technocrats in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and systems put in place by the outstanding BSP Governor Amado Tetangco and a few economic technocrats such as Ernesto Pernia in the present Cabinet. The Build, Build, Build program is laudable if carried out efficiently and effectively with less corruption than has been SOP.

It is still possible that this government will deliver the goods on the economy and on infrastructure. Let us hope doubling salaries of uniformed government personnel does not turn out to be fiscally irresponsible, given that if carried out, other civil servants such as teachers and health workers would not take this sitting down, if their salaries are also not doubled. The business community seems quite pleased enough with the way things are going. And seem to be indifferent, or quiet regarding brazen human rights and due process issues.

But what is the price to our sense of decency, our descendants’ sense of right and wrong, our equal access to protection of human rights, including freedom of speech and due process whether or not they are favored by the President, or other politicians?

Even without Constitutional change, human rights and due process under the laws are already being violated and abused. We are in danger of becoming a banana republic. Will the business community stay quiet, if not acquiescent? Ninoy Aquino and other human rights victims must be turning in their graves.


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.