Why Reform the Charter?

As we celebrate the 25th year of the current Constitution after its rewriting in 1987, it is fitting that I devote some space in offering my few cents’ worth on where it has brought us so far. Prior to this rewriting, the affairs of the state were governed by the provisions of the 1973 Constitution, which saw amendments in 1976.

Upon its passage, the framers of the new charter heralded the return of the Rule of Law and they were jubilant in their proclaiming of a constitution that brought back the state in order and leveled the playing field. But it was a tall order, and they had to contend with the fact that the Marcos dictatorship virtually left the country in misery after a massive plundering by the strongman and his minions, totally disregarding the Constitution and virtually all institutions of governance. Therefore, the hopes that the new (and reactivist) constitution should straighten things up were at its highest.

Understandably, the resulting constitutional revision succeeded in endearing Cory to the masses, with the millions of them pinning their hopes on the new charter as a cure to the ills they inherited from Mr. Marcos’ misrule. Unwittingly, the very same constitution also cemented Cory’s relationship with the elite, foremost among them the Lopez clan of the Meralco and ABS-CBN empire, and with whom Marcos was said to have ‘gravely’ wronged, or those whose wealth the dictator allegedly expropriated for himself and his cronies illegally and by force. Thankfully, the new constitution not only did clear the last vestiges of dictatorship; it ushered in the return of the local elite who had cooled their heels in Europe and the United States at the height of social unrest in the Philippines. But were the vestiges really cleared? In the years following Cory’s rule, the once sidelined elite have slowly rebuilt their empires and, more significantly, they have expanded far and wide beyond our imagination. Indeed, it was back to business, and big business at that.

But why reform the Constitution?

The 1987 charter seems to be working just fine. But for who?

Reforming the Constitution, as always, is easier said than done. But a confluence of historical events, the mounting pressure on government by the growing social reform movement, and the widespread unrest in Mindanao and Southern Philippines have forced both the pros and the antis to rethink their long-held beliefs and deep-seated biased to resolve these by confronting the issues surrounding charter reform. Yet before it gained traction, proponents of charter reform had trouble connecting with people and had to contend with bad publicity and massive misinformation campaign waged by its critics and opponents who succeeded in confusing more the public by muddling the issue as an attempt to a wholesale change of the charter, popularizing what became the most derided political vocabulary in those times–charter change or cha-cha. Thanks to the media’s meddling and mishandling, cha-cha suddenly mesmerized the public and easily stoke passion and outrage against it. And suddenly, cha-cha scared  politicians and even citizen Juan: the former dreading the thought of losing their prized position, pork and perks and cutting short their terms of office; the latter for political disenfranchisement, of alienation in the affairs of the state. This was precisely the result of a good product given a bad social marketing by bad marketers–the most untrusted of politicos with whom people suspect will only deepen their pockets and consolidate their hold to power beyond public scrutiny.

Debates on charter reform can not but take into account the ongoing negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine panel over peace and development in Mindanao and Southern Philippines and the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people. As a Mindanawon, it is my fervent hope that the negotiations would establish clearly the fundamentals that define, frame and govern the parameters of the debate as both panels desperately seek arrive at a consensus. Unfortunately so far, consensus is not only elusive; it is momentarily unreachable under the framework that they are negotiating. For one, the acknowledgement by the Philippine government of historical injustice against the Bangsamoro, while a step forward, falls short in arriving at a  basic compromise for a substate as the acknowledgement demands both tangible and beneficial results. In fine, there is only one way to talk peace–and that is in the language of justice. The sustained Bangsamoro struggle, to my mind, is the game changer in the debate on constitutional reform as its struggle for self-determination and ‘nationhood’ can only seek refuge in a tolerant Constitution that truly upholds the spirit and prize the value of democratic multiculturalism.

Another provision in the 1987 charter providing argument for reform is worth reexamining: the separation of church and state.

We all know what the church–for brevity, this refers to all churches–has been doing and what our leaders in government have failed to do all these years as they simply look the other way when that ridiculous provision is conveniently violated. We may have the best laws in the Philippines, but it seems we also have the worst implementation and implementers of such laws. Which is which?

But I would gladly belabor the point of ridicule: by virtue of the church as a guardian and a monopoly of morality, it shall control–through its bishops and pastors and its instrumentalities–all spheres of human conduct, including political governance. The simplest way to describe the relationship between, or the separation of, the church and the state is one that is unilaterally and parasitically anomalous, one which guarantees the survival of a single organism. There is no symbiosis in this disorder!

Which brings my recollection to a proposed measure by senators Gregorio Honasan and Juan Flavier of taxing the church many congresses ago. The arguement was, and still is, premised on a very contentious issue that the church is even reluctant to discuss, much less admit–that it is sitting on a mound of cash, in the tens of billions by the latest estimate.

To say that the church, the Roman Catholic especially, is a wealthy organization is an understatement. The RCC’s global operation is far more extensive and cleverly complex than any multinational corporation on the Fortune 100 list. For starters, count how many church-run schools operate in your city. If counting church-run schools is tedious, determining how much money these schools make is next to impossible not because of the mind-boggling digits but simply because we have no way of knowing it. Lest we forget, these schools do not submit records to the BIR for taxation, nor file annual financial reports to the SEC. Indeed, the absence of income documents makes it impossible to track the wealth of these institutions.

But let’s number-crunch on the enrollment at some of the  elite catholic schools in the Philippines and think how much De La Salle, University of Asia and the Pacific, Ateneo de Manila, and University of Santo Tomas make each year from those expensive tuition and fees they charge each student? Easily a billion pesos. But we ask: Where have all monies gone? Certainly, not to the national treasury, but to the hidden vaults somewhere in Switzerland and the Vatican.

While the church makes a lot of money, we ask: Does it spend a lot of it? For what? On who? Where? Why?How? From its untold revenues in the billions (in US$ worldwide totals), how much of it is invested on social development to transform lives and communities? We do not have an accounting of these investments, if any, courtesy of the separation of church and state.

Another important change in the Constitution has to do with population.

Again, the influence of the church and its robed flock seem to scare politicians to hell to debate on the merits of a sensible and strong population management program. In this republic, we can only count with our fingers politicians, nay leaders, who can square off with a minister on contraceptives and other means of reducing population. But all these really lead us back to that provision on separation of church and state, which goes like this: What is good for the church is good for the government, and the country for that matter; what is good for the government is not necessarily beneficial to the church.

That is what is going on here and now. And it’s been going on since the invention of commerce.

What is more crippling is the inability (or total disability) of our leaders to stand up to this medievalization. And of course, the 1986 Constitution had, in two decades, spawned a new class of vampires, err, oligarchs who have been sucking the resources of this country as if they never run dry. These are the very vampires who are against changing their enviable lifestyle as guaranteed by the Cory Constitution.

Other than these points, I believe the Constitution is still worth adhering to. Term limits? No. In fact, the term limit for a president should be shortened to, maybe, four years. A shorter term limit puts pressure to deliver, and save the country from a collective heart attack over the misdeeds of whoever is in power.

Business and land ownership? Well, when the framers of the 1986 Constitution were debating and deliberating, there was no Internet yet. No Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, etc. So, their definition of strategic interests were mainly confined to the old bastion of agriculture and its related industries. But big business, rather global business, has always a way of encroaching into protected domains for and in the name of profit.

Part of being Pinoy is to accept the truth and the fact that many companies doing small, medium, and big business earning small, medium, and huge profits everyday are dummies.

How do we manage this? Maybe the anti-Dummy law can handle this? Of course, only partly. The ever growing and hugely profitable dummy phenomenon is guaranteed by the Constitution through its tacit approval in liberalizing sectors in the name of investments that are admittedly hard to come by these days.

Who defines what is strategic and therefore off-limits to liberalization. Man, who else, but the same vampires we identified earlier.

It’s really a no-brainer. Change the Constitution to get rid of these suckers! This is the long and short of it.

June 23, 2009

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An Inconvenient Truth (About Going to Ilocos These Days)

Photo by the author.

We trek up north Wednesday night for the MLE forum and launch of Sukimat. To save your precious time, let me just paste here the portion taken from the blurb for a preview. Here we go: ” . . . Sukimat—the work of scholars, academics, and cultural workers committed to the exchange and diffusion of knowledge and information on Ilokano and Amianan Studies—offers a way to rethink of education to democracy and freedom.”

A few weeks before, I had been to La Union on a related business, and thought the Ilocos trip was no different, except that it would take five more hours on the road. I took the Partas bus to La Union and it was relatively a good ride, except that, again, I could not and will probably never sleep while travelling by either bus, car, or plane. Maybe my insomnia or probably some unresolved psychological issue has something to do with this inability to sleep during travel, except by boat on a long trip.

I assumed then that the longer the trip takes, the more comfortable the ride is. I was darn WRONG! The four of us had purchased our ticket about 10 minutes before departure. It turns out we got the last four seats on the de luxe bus that was to take us to Laoag. Except for Dr. Agcaoili who had taken seat No. 24, Dr. Nolasco, Lucy, and I and a lady passenger from Paoay had the misfortune of occupying the last four elevated seats with defective backrests and recliners. WORST, the seats are too high that our legs were hanging like columns of chicken feet being drained in a Mongkok kitchen. The “ottoman” or the leg support was defective, too, making it extremely difficult to stretch our already tired hanging legs.

Photo by the author.

Minutes before rolling along EDSA, I had asked the conductor if he could lend me something to keep my back from being reclined too much and he was kind enough to part with his still unopened inflatable pillow that looked like he rarely used it. I had no choice but demand some comfort. After all, I paid not just the miles but for a comfortable ride. Remember it was “de luxe,” whatever that means to Lakay Chavit. The defective seats, I learned from the conductor, had been left unrepaired for weeks already and I was given the lame excuse that repairs can only be done once the parts–purchased by bulk–arrived from Mars or Jupiter!

Will someone blow this bus into pieces, please? I’m sure, replacement will come faster that they can claim insurance.

Photo by the author.

That inconvenient seat had me behaving like a little boy who has yet to undergo deworming; I could not settle down my seat from Manila up to Rosario, La Union. I must have tried all possible seating positions just to make myself calm, collected, composed, and comfortable to my supreme frustration. I had to keep my cool although I could smell blood and gunpowder already!

After La Union, I thought my ordeal was over because early on I had psyched up for a sleepless day or two and kept telling myself to get a full doze in my bed on weekend. I was wrong again. As soon as we hit Tagudin, signs of more inconvenience were all over the roads.

A few months back, the region had been battered by storms, and its network of national and provincial roads took the beating to the worst. Bad timing!

The bad roads and the ongoing repairs along the southern stretch of Ilocos not only lengthened travel time by more than an hour; it kept most passengers awake as the bus negotiated with potholes and had to tilt left and right more often than we could curse DPWH and the bus company management.

The mighty Abra River. Photo by the author.

By the time we reached Santa Maria for stopover, I was too tired to complain of my misery and resigned to the fact that I didn’t have enough vision to appreciate the majestic Ilocos coastlines at sunrise. I had to give up taking shots of the mighty Abra River as it pours into Bantay. Though weakened by my misery, I still managed to take some shots of the inconvenient bus and its inconvenient seats that gave me my most inconvenient ride to date.

July 20, 2009

The Comic Side of the National Artist Award Tragedy

In defiance to the gloomy skies and faces of thousands of Filipinos who are still mourning over the passing of Decency in the artistic community, here I am in my corner of the office in an unreasonably gleeful state despite missing an important protest march, the threat of a cancelled movie date and the prospect of going home very late due to heavy traffic. This joyful exuberance has nothing to do with some future good luck such as hitting the lotto jackpot; this has to do with the National Artist Award, yes, or how its honor was scandalized, disrespected, corrupted, and bastardized by ignorant, inutile, and reckless imbeciles whose passion and sole purpose of existence seemingly is to make our political and artistic life miserable.

We all know by now how those Fantastic Four–Alvarez, Caparas, Manosa, and Moreno–were inserted into the horror list courtesy of presidential prerogative, an exclusive power solely exorcised by the highest official of the land with the lowest moral wisdom and judgment, so far in history.

We all know by now also that two of the F4s, Alvarez and Caparas, have since broken their silence, them being the favorite ridicules apparently because they are the most deserving of the undeserving list.

Alvarez lawyered for herself, and rattled off her accomplishments in trying (in vain) to convince us she deserved the honor for being such a theater luminary.

Caparas, on the other hand, painfully lectured about the millions that flocked to watch his obra, the retake of the Maggie dela Riva rape saga, proudly his only one film with lesser relevance and contribution to the development of the local film industry because the rest of them have no relevance and contributes nothing at all. The four million he claimed to have watched his film watched not because it was a Carlo Caparas film; they watched because it was a Maggie dela Riva retelling, which was both fashionable as a story and as a genre during that period in the 90s when beautiful coeds in Metro Manila and in some parts of the country turned up in some canals badly beaten, raped, and shot to their death.

Arousing mere curiosity, as well as capitalizing on the penchant for flesh on the big screen especially among the male species, in all honesty does not and will never qualify for sensible, significant, much less critical contribution to the growth of the local film industry. Maybe Caparas is only referring to box office returns when he asserts his right to being chosen for the honor. While Viva could vouch his box office claim, it could not measure the real benchmark of a remarkable film simply because it had none, except perhaps for reminding that once upon a time, a beautiful actress was gang-raped by men who belonged to the elite members of the society. And then what? As we call it then, Caparas films belonged to a unique genre of ‘pito-pito’ films that had seen better days in the 90s. But it was gone too soon, much to the delight of the more discriminating taste of the moviegoing public that certainly deserved more than just the endless flesh-gun-and-knife formula of those ‘pito pito’ obras.

Alvarez may have some claim to fame, or honor for that matter. Maybe. Yet, credentials is not the be-all, end-all of the Order of National Artist. Credentials what? Will you please explain clearly, Ms. Vilma Labrador, if you can? Admittedly, I’m no fan of either Lumbera or Almario as artists, but I have no agenda in joining the furor except to question the logic, if any, in choosing these Singit National Artists, in the process abrogating the established tradition of collegiality in the selection process. Surely, nobody could explain the mess here, except for Labrador who, unlike her counterpart in the CCP, the eminent Emily Abrera, could never lose a sleep over her and her big, little boss’ latest indiscretion. Her insistence smacks both poor and bad taste, not to mention it lacks an aura of delicadeza because there was none, there is none, and there never will be until she has summoned all the courage to decline the honor and save not only herself but the Order of National Artist itself as an institution. She had already declared it would be her joy to accept it and share it with her family. How could she, or you, or we, undo that? She can’t, you can’t, we can’t.

NCCA commissioner Elmar Beltran Ingles seems to be the lone sensible voice today, more sensible than that Malacanang twitter who is not as lovely as her namesake pet looks, he who acknowledged the critical nature of selection as it involves people’s money and trust more than anything else.

These are unbiblical times yet we must lose no hope for a change of heart, as hoping for a miracle seems to be an exclusive affair of the umblemished souls, of angels, that are not on our side these days. Change of heart we make this a mantra with the following supplication that the Fantastic Four, most especially the beloved two of them, decline the honor. When everything else fails, then the other three awardees should do it for them, i.e decline the honor. I believe with this final act, the Fantastic Four, especially the beloved two of them, will live forever haunted by the ghost of a scandalous, disrespectful, corrupt, and bastardized award offered by ignorant, inutile, and reckless imbeciles with whom they are so beholden.

(This was originally posted on August 7, 2009 at the height of the National Artist Awards controversy.)

Picture Perfect

Every time we mention art, balance, harmony, and contrast come to mind. Art points to something beautiful, and artistic for that matter. This is the easy part of ‘explaining’ art, for oftentimes it is futile to fathom the ironies and subtleties of a Picasso’s or a Dali’s. The feeling of lost, of helplessness in giving meaning to art is not uncommon to us mere mortals who many times over stand clueless before a gallery. This helplessnes, of being lost, makes us reluctant to praise or criticize art in a gallery especially in the attendance of the ‘mighty’ in the society, lest we ridicule ourselves and cause them undue discomfort. Our partial ignorance of art seems to project the unevenness of wisdom that weeds out Aling Mameng from the doyennes of Forbes Park! Art in all its glory is very much tied to our past–a past that holds hostage the liberty that we purchased with blood but which remains unexorcised of its failures and deceptions. This is enough of a nightmare!

That ‘art imitates life’ is by all means arguable. Yet in life as in art, we place a premium on self-expression. Countless of times, our desire for freedom finds fulfillment not only outside prison bars but on the stage of darkened theaters, in the most passionate pages of prose and poetry, and on the streets soaked in farmers blood and sweat. This is often the case of a society that places low regard, if not total disregard, for liberty and full self-expression–the core of artistry and humanity. Beyond escapism, art is as comforting as it is instructive of liberty.

Photo courtesy: www-cord-edu2

Any attempt, therefore, to alienate art from the daily grind is an absurd undertaking especially for a nation like ours that has developed an affection with theatrocracy where actors and comic characters run and ruin the affairs of the state. We are familiar and extremely tolerant of this phenomenon and proof to this is our overwhelming choice a few years back of an actor-politician for the highest office of the land—a choice that nearly caused us national hemorrhage as our young and fragile democracy teetered in the control of one of the most incompetent presidents in history. Thankfully, the millions who filled the streets in protest sidelined the corrupt and abusive regime, at least momentarily, while the nation slowly rebuilt the collapsed institutions it left.

Yet the entire process that swept to power the new administration is a trademark craftsmanship of truly theatrocratic forces led by and comprised of recycled actors young and old who never failed a single location shoot.

Ours is a culture wherein art interweaves seamlessly with the civil, political, economic and religious facets to the extent that it becomes an essential tool for survival. Our resilience and an uncanny ability to laugh at our own tragedy are indicative of our uncommon trait as a people. Either we deliberately forget the lessons of history or we have grown accustomed and dumb to the antics of our politicians who have become a dangerous species in this republic.

For all its purported grandeur, art has its dark side deeply rooted in its own unique traditions of conflict and contradiction. Truly, art is an expression of freedom and individuality, a celebration of humanity, of sexuality, of the beautiful, the blissful and the harmonious. But art also celebrates the tragic, the disastrous, the ugly, the hopelessly unfortunate, the despaired, the rejected, the schizophrenic and the insane. Art, as in life, runs through a gamut of spectrum that polarizes artists and their craft, making the class cleavage in art more pronounced. Yet the cleavage serves a purpose: it offers a point for discussion, an avenue for conversation, of compromise between the socialist and the capitalist notions of art. Art, as in life, cannot but confront universal truths of conflict, of disagreement, of the many ills that beset societies from the First to the Last Worlds and make itself useful as a tool for resolution for in all honesty, whose empty stomach would care to appreciate the hues and contrasts of an Amorsolo, much less a Van Gogh. There is no way realism can be more real than a nation so reluctant and resistant to wake up to its senses after a brief delusion with reform, equality, progress and peace based on justice.

For decades, we have been unfairly and wrongly nursing a guilt over the failure of our forebears to print the whole picture of our storied and bloodied past. We were shortchanged by the piecemeal account as the whole story is only half-told and the whole truth withheld for the sake of presenting a well-mannered nation of people where only the acceptable, the beautiful and the pleasant exist. But thanks to the diligence of our scholars, we were able to get a glimpse of the other side of the story, the dark side of our history, and in the course recognizing the failure of our historians who wrote ‘the history’ for the few who had the pleasure of nostalgia and a bloated sense of insecurity.

Until this day, however, the wounds have not fully healed despite incessant attempts at rewriting history. It is to this that Edsa Dos amounts to nothing but a poor repeat of the previous revolution whose ghost now haunts us. Not much has changed, really. The stage actors may have been replaced, but the new ones read the same torn, old script.

Erap almost returned to Pasig. Photo courtesy: 2-bp-blogspot-com

The euphoria derived out of the two revolutions neatly packaged as the gathering of the broadest cross section of Philippine society has fizzled out. The momentous massing of gleeful people hysterical over hopes of inclusive democracy and captured vividly in the canvass of history has become a symbol of a despaired and disjointed people the moment each new administration took control of the levers of power.

Yet we glorify the images of those revolutions as a living testimony of our undying quest for sensible order, of justice that must be equally dispensed. But we concede: the images speak of our heightened restlessness as we have not completely unloaded our guilt.

While Edsa Dos might have reclaimed ‘morality’ in governance, it failed to broaden and widen the inclusive democratic space that we once yielded to authoritarian regime and oligarchy. It even shrunk it! It narrowed down further the alleys of poverty and hopelessness to a point of suffocation that only a paintbrush and a masterful stroke can breadth life, and thereby lend minimum dignity to its death. But while art desensitizes, it also cleanses—it cleanses us of our collective guilt by retelling our history as it happened, by telling our story as it unfolds. This is the primordial function of any art: to capture life as it was and as it is lived. This is how art does justice to life, by truthfully imitating life. Inaccuracies in life are a given, but never an artful and deliberately skillful curtailment of our freedoms.

The vivid images of the revolution captured and muted in canvass are a constant reminder to us free, artistic citizens to continue making history by continuing the revolutionary struggle, however bloody it may become, until we shall have unloaded all our guilt, and until we shall have displaced the regime of lies, control and deception.

It is only then that we can appreciate the hues and contrasts of an Amorsolo. It is only then that theaters can reclaim their lost audience to the battlefield. It is only then that galleries may be filled down to its last square foot. And we all look forward to that day. For now, we can only dream about peace for free.

(I wrote this eons ago and glad I found a hardcopy of this among stacks of paper)

I shall return . . .

The last time I made an entry on my blog at the other site–the password of which I have forgotten already–I promised an update, lots of them. That was eons ago. Actually, that was shortly after Ondoy ravaged my office and everything in it, save for my laptop which I instinctively brought home the night before the great flood.

Photo courtesy: http://www.abbeville.com

But as customary for us humans, promises are meant to be broken. Until, I forgot the password.

Now, I have to make use of my old smart phone where I can save on draft some notes, unlike in my new phone.

It feels good to be blogging again. Between my last entry at the other site and this first post here on WordPress, Facebook has been very kind, and uncomplaining with my thoughts, vile as they are at times.

And so I made another promise: to write my new passwords in my old phone’s draft notes.

I couldn’t make the same mistake the second time around.

Since it’s been awhile, I need to reacquaint myself with the dashboard.

The templates are numerous, though many of them are now for sale!

Indeed, you can’t close your eyes for a while as the world drives by.