Cha-cha, martial law and holdover

Even the most rabid supporters of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo concede that Charter change (“Cha-cha”) via the constituent assembly (con-ass) at this time faces formidable obstacles. As I explained last week, these are the (1) numbers question; (2) constitutional issues; (3) time problem; and (4) adverse public opinion.

Win the Cha-cha. Given these daunting obstacles and the “no more time left” admission of Rep. Luis Villafuerte (main sponsor of the con-ass), why are the proponents still insisting on Cha-cha? That is because, if exploited shrewdly, it could result in win-win scenarios for the President. At the very least, these scenarios confuse the political opposition. They also discourage her supporters from abandoning her as a lame-duck President and from toadying to new masters.

What are these scenarios? The first is the possibility, though remote, of winning the Cha-cha. The proponents boast that they have almost reached the magic number of 196 (including some senators) to approve the shift to the parliamentary system.

They anticipate that by June this year when the “joint or several” issue shall become ripe for adjudication, the Supreme Court may be more inclined to Cha-cha because, by that time, only three (Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Antonio T. Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales) of the eight justices who rejected the Cha-cha in 2006 would still be in office, while the five others (Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Romeo J. Callejo Sr., Adolfo S. Azcuna and I) would have all retired and been replaced.

How do they get the nod of the people? Well, in a plebiscite, the electorate merely votes with a “Yes” or a “No,” something easy to manipulate with “guns, goons and gold.” The Marcos Supreme Court validated the 1973 Constitution via the mere raising of hands during citizen assemblies. Can the proponents persuade the present Court to uphold a similarly tainted plebiscite?

Martial law. What about the scorn of our people for Charter change? The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), El Shaddai, Jesus Is Lord Movement and other groups capable of mass action have declared their aversion to Cha-cha.

The Archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, and the 1,252-school-strong Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines headed by Msgr. Gerardo O. Santos have also announced their resistance to it. Former President Fidel V. Ramos said Lakas Party leaders agreed the other day to stop pushing for any Cha-cha before June 30, 2010.

Ironically, massive rallies and fierce demos could tempt President Arroyo to favor the second scenario, martial law. True, the present Constitution limits martial law’s duration to only 60 days. But Congress, by majority vote of all its members “voting jointly” may extend it. The proponents could easily deliver this number.

By June this year, the respected Gen. Alexander B. Yano will retire as Armed Forces chief of staff, which gives President Arroyo the opportunity to appoint a “friendlier” replacement. With martial law enforced by a compliant military and validated by an obedient Congress, the con-ass could then install the parliamentary system. Marcos has done it. Can it be done again?

Holdover. If for some reason, martial law becomes difficult to proclaim, a third scenario could arise from the alleged defects in the computerization of the May 10, 2010 elections. Already, foreign-based hackers have attacked the computer system of our Department of Foreign Affairs. They could also worm into the still-to-be-born automated voting system of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

But the TransparentElections.org.ph, an election watchdog headed by former Comelec chairman Christian S. Monsod and Augusto Lagman, raises the more immediate danger. Like Monsod, Lagman has credibility. He initiated the petition in “Information Technology vs. Comelec” (Jan. 13, 2004) that led the Supreme Court to cancel the automation of the 2004 elections because of the failure of the “Commission on Elections to perform properly, legally and prudently its legal mandate to implement the transition from manual to automated election.”

The group claims that the automation system adopted by the Comelec, the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR), lacks transparency. The automated ballots are not counted at the polling places where people could watch the tallying. Instead, they are brought to counting centers where they are tallied internally and secretly by electronic machines. Only the final figures are shown and electronically sent to the canvassing centers.

Lagman likens the OMR process to a basketball game between Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University with no running score shown. At the end of the game, the electronic scoreboard would just flash the score: Ateneo 100, La Salle 99. What do you think will happen? Pandemonium!

I do not know enough to judge it but Lagman says that the OMR could “cause a failure of elections.” In which case, no candidate would be elected and President Arroyo could continue as hold over president. Will this presage the “transition government” of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales?

At bottom, the proponents may view these scenarios as “win-wins” to keep President Arroyo in power indefinitely. However, they could also break our peoples? patience for normal democratic processes and ignite an EDSA People Power-type revolution or what the CBCP had described last year as “communal action.” Or worse for us who still believe in the rule of law, they may encourage mutinies and armed rebellions.

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