Holding the citizenry hostage

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Greg B. Macabenta

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As I write this, President Donald Trump has just signed a bill representing a continuing resolution that would end the shutdown of the US federal government and allow the Senate and the House of Representatives up to Feb. 8 to craft legislation that will fund the government’s discretionary programs, containing provisions that will relatively satisfy the demands of the Republicans and the Democrats.

The two parties reached an impasse last Friday that triggered a shutdown of the government over the weekend and into Monday.

The principal bone of contention, according to the Democrats was DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy instituted by President Barack Obama and scuttled by Trump. The policy provided for a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation benefiting individuals who entered the US as minors and who remained in the country illegally over the years. These individuals called “the Dreamers” estimated to be over 800,000, have known no other country but the US and have been raised as Americans, except for their legal status.

The Democrats have insisted that DACA should be reinstated and a bill should subsequently be passed based on the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) which provides for a multi-phase process for qualifying Dreamers for conditional residency and, upon meeting further conditions, permanent residency, en route to citizenship.

DACA has bipartisan support, as well as the support of the majority of Americans because of humane considerations. But anti-immigrant hardliners in the Trump White House blocked approval of a bill crafted by a group of Republicans and Democrats and presented to Trump.


Trump, whose initials, DT, are also said to mean Double Talk, lived true to this pejorative by flip-flopping on earlier assurances of approval. He also upset the entire process by asking why it was necessary to allow “people from shithole countries” like Haiti and those in Africa into the US.

The tsunami of rage that came in the wake of that vulgarity left the US legislators scrambling to pick up the pieces. They tried to arrive at some kind of bill that would satisfy both parties as well as the confusing and constantly shifting Trump position (which Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer characterized as negotiating with Jello, a description that GOP leaders privately concede). But they failed to meet the deadline of Friday midnight, thus the shutdown.

Finger-pointing has inevitably followed, with both sides laying the blame on each other and on Trump (Schumer called it the Trump Shutdown while the White House described it as the Schumer Shutdown). In fact, it was THE AMERICAN SHUTDOWN, with the people of the United States being the principal victims “the primary hostages “of the partisan wrangling.

While both sides have sounded self-righteous, the fact is that the reason for the impasse was “and continues to be “the fact that the Republicans and Democrats do not trust each other and the leaders of both parties do not trust Trump.

It is a sad day when the citizens of the US are held hostage by a double-talking president but that has happened and could happen again if no bipartisan deal is arrived at after February and if that deal is not approved by Trump.

Meanwhile, the Philippine House of Representatives, is also threatening its own version of hostage-taking, initiated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez . This time, the bone of contention is President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow to institute a change in the country’s form of government “from unitary to federalism.

The broad objectives of federalism are generally positive. Conceptually, it would change the Manila-centric system to one that would provide equal opportunities for governance, along with corresponding economic benefits, to the various regions of the country.

The devil is in the details.

The US has a federal system of government that, in effect, allows autonomy to each of its 50 states.

To this day, debates continue over the interpretation of the concept of power sharing between the federal government and the state governments, with some insisting on more expansive powers for the former and others insisting on greater autonomy and powers for the states.

Fortunately a strong judicial branch, executive branch, and legislative branch, with the states represented in the last, have kept the US on an even keel. Checks and balances ingrained in the Constitution generally work and abuses are exposed by a militant citizenry and a militant press, as well as a militant justice system.

But it has taken America almost 250 years to arrive at this equilibrium. And only after undergoing a bloody civil war in 1861, just 85 years after the Declaration of Independence, where the United States nearly broke up.

Depending on when the pragmatist or the idealistic nationalist reckons the attainment of independence “June 12, 1898 or July 4, 1946” the Philippines is really a young nation and, to this day, it still has not gained full equilibrium. Its leaders are still scrambling to gain or consolidate power in their own respective turfs. The three branches of government, patterned after that of the US, are coequal for all intents and purposes, except when a power-drunk president or power-drunk leaders of the legislature fancy themselves more equal than the other branches. Or when timid leaders of the judicial branch allow themselves to be intimidated.

It may be said that the Philippines is still at that stage described by the late president Manuel Quezon as a government run like hell by Filipinos (which he preferred over one run like heaven by the Americans).

Like the Republicans and the Democrats in the US, the political leaders in the Philippines do not trust each other. They may pretend to, but each one has his or her own selfish agenda, with an eye on political and economic power.

The resistance to any change of governmental system, which will require amendments to or an overhaul of the Philippine Constitution, is based on the suspicion that each proponent of one kind of system over another, or one scheme over another, has a devious agenda. And the prevailing attitude is, “Why them, why not me?”

Thus there is conflict, which the Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, thinking he has more power than the other branches of government or anybody else for that matter, proposes to resolve by threatening to withhold budgets from leaders, regions, or provinces that do not go along with the proposed change to federalism. That is plain and simple hostage-taking.

So who are the hostages? The poor citizens of the provinces or regions that do not cooperate.

Of course this is nothing new.

Over the years, in Philippine politics, the mantra has been, “What are in power for?”

Did someone say that power is really in the hands of the citizenry? Ideally, yes. But not in a country of over 100 million cowards… or cows, being led along by the nose.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.