Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Saving face

The Filipinos’ knack to poke fun at themselves is beyond belief. Self-ridicule seems almost a justification for all and everything, whether it’s for misery or bliss.
We indict ourselves for our inability to follow the “rule of law” as the rationale for where we are now as a society or a nation, perpetually struggling to move up as others have already left us in the dust. As one blogger wrote: “Filipinos cannot progress if they cannot follow even simple guidelines.”
Where is the truism in this?
Yet, traditional Filipino culture reflects an enduring and time-honoured reverence for family values such as respect for elders and people in authority, in the spirit of bayanihan (cooperation), and the fruits of hard work. The Christian faith has also taught Filipinos to be eternally hopeful and to show their faith not only in the observation of church rituals but also in helping and serving others in need.
Manila compared to "gates of hell" by American author, Dan Brown.
With respect to laws, Filipinos have always lived under a regime of a law of rules since time immemorial, whether in the larger and narrower sense of the law as it relates to limits and sanctions on social and individual behaviour. Whatever violations or aberrations exist either as often or once in a while, these are common occurrences that are not solely endemic to Filipinos. After all, the crime rate in the Philippines is still lower than in Chicago or Detroit, for example. Or the chances of getting killed by guns are higher in Iraq or Afghanistan or even in the U.S. than in the Philippines.
Filipinos, in general, are slow to anger and not too easy to be aroused to rebel against their government to seek redress for grievances even if these would be sufficient to stir a civil war or widespread rioting in other societies. That despite corruption in government and dishonesty of its elected officials, Filipinos have kept their trust in their political system and continued to go through the periodic rituals of national and local elections even though these have not benefited them directly through greater access to social services such as education and health or to opportunities for a better life.
Where else in the whole world could we find people who are as easygoing as Filipinos, as if their social problems don’t really matter? Or where the capital city is described by a foreign writer like the gates of hell and yet would accept it as a matter of fact, not pure fiction, and even make fun of it? Or where the incompetence of their politicians is vividly displayed on television in competition with regular soaps but even this would not raise hackles enough to jolt the entire country?
Or where could you find various forums or discussion groups, whether on Facebook and other forms of social media, which provide an enlightened free-wheeling exchange of opinions on what ails the nation – from lack of sanitation and sewage system to urban planning? Or where else could you find so many pundits and newspaper columnists who never run out of ideas on how to run the government or change society in general?
Our society as a whole seems to have been infected by the virus of intellectualism that every hub where people gather or chat can boast of a discussion group bursting with good ideas.
Our country is an oddity in itself, an abnormal exception to the rule. It is not because Filipinos cannot follow guidelines or subject themselves to the grand imperial reign of the rule of law. But perhaps, because we have so much of these rules already, that we have been paralyzed to suffer in silence and acquiescence. Or is it simply, we are just a people who love to talk, talk, talk.
Because we love to talk, we also love to denigrate ourselves. We enjoy exposing our frailties and shortcomings; we don’t mind if foreigners like the writer Dan Brown would paint an ugly picture of our capital city, or Hollywood actors such as Claire Danes could dismiss Manila as “just f--king smelled of cockroaches,” or in more graphic terms, “There's no sewage system in Manila, and people have nothing there. People with, like, no arms, no legs, no eyes, no teeth.... Rats were everywhere.”
Our martyr complex numbs us to embrace these condescending remarks as the harsh reality of our fair city and forget that such horrible characterizations could also apply to other cities of the world, not just to us. But while other societies are apt to revolt, Filipinos would just shrug their shoulders and accept their travails as ordinary humdrum occurrences. If Manila were the gates to hell, then everyone passes through its gates before entering the afterlife.
Kidding aside, our country has progressed since we deposed that dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That’s a fact, not fiction. But not very much, though. The martial law years put our country back in the throes of the dark ages and we have not fully recovered from our false attraction for a strong leader. Little did we know that a leader could only be as strong as the people like them to be.
In 1987, the country ratified an important piece of document, a body of rules we ought to follow as a nation, which we call our Constitution. In this document, safeguards against a dictatorship or a return to an oppressive system of government were installed which are popularly known as the democratic provisions of the Constitution.
If we want change, we don’t have to start big, in the hopes that if we are successful, the many little things that we nitpick and grumble about daily will disappear. Neither do we have to be too ambitious.
Let’s just start with the basics. With what we have right now. Yes, with these so-called democratic provisions and see how far we could go. After all, it’s been 26 years since the 1987 Constitution was ratified and none of these so-called democratic provisions ever saw the light of day in the form of practical pieces of legislation.
What are these democratic provisions of the 1987 Constitution?
The Constitution speaks of prohibition against political dynasties in Section 26, Article II. There has been no successful initiative in Congress to define and implement this prohibition against political dynasties so far but it has been a hot political topic every election year.
Article 5 of Article VI provides for a party-list representation, a mechanism of proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives from marginalized or underrepresented sectors of society. Although this provision has been implemented as early as the May 14, 2001 elections, the party-list law is so murky and unclear that its implementation by Comelec is far from being adequate and effective or questionable if it truly serves the mandate under the Constitution.
A system of initiative and referendum is provided under Section 32, Article VI whereby the people can directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law passed by Congress. This provision apparently recognizes the effectiveness of referendum in advanced democracies, but so far, this remains untouched and has not been translated into law.
Another popular innovation in advanced democracies—a mechanism of recall—found its way in the 1987 Constitution, Section 3, Article X, but is only applicable to local government-elected officials. It is a positive step towards democratization of local politics but Congress has remained silent or simply uninterested in enacting an enabling law.
Lastly, and this has been controversial and has raised several questions before the Supreme Court, the 1987 Constitution in Section 2, Article XVII has allowed for amendments of the Constitution through a people’s initiative, in addition to calling a constitutional convention or holding a constituent assembly.
All these provisions are in the Constitution. They are there to recognize and uphold the bedrock democratic principle of government that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them, as declared under Section 1, Article II of the Constitution.
If President Noynoy Aquino is r-e-a-l-l-y serious about his presidency and historical legacy, he could direct his attention to these democratic provisions in the Constitution for the remainder of his term. The demand and public clamour already exists, but our leaders in Congress have remained deaf or intentionally playing dumb to listen.
Philippine President Noynoy Aquino ponders about the legacy
of his presidency.
It was during President Cory Aquino’s tenure that the 1987 Constitution was ratified, an important milestone in the country’s history. The country had just been liberated and was rising from the ashes of repression during the martial law years. President Noynoy Aquino, the son, could now complete the country’s ultimate return to democracy, if only he has the political will to do so. Completing his mother’s greatest legacy could be a crowning achievement of his presidency rather than the vacuous “daang matuwid” philosophy of government he’s been selling from day one.
If nothing of this sort happens, then the Filipino people should put President Aquino on notice, that they are seceding from the republic and forming a new government. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is about to form their own Bangsamoro nation, thanks to President Aquino, so why can’t the people do just the same? If nothing happens, we might as well all head to the hills and join the rebels.
President Noynoy Aquino can still save his derrière by acting as a true leader now—meaning, TODAY.

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