Constitutional commission: Scrap 2007 polls MANILA -- The Citizens Constitutional Commission (Concom) recommended that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo head an interim parliament from 2007 to 2010. They also want to suspend the 2007 local elections to pave the way for the shift from a presidential to parliamentary government. The recommendations are contained in a report that the 55-member commission submitted to Arroyo Friday, after two-and-a half months of public consultation. Arroyo is expected to submit the report to Congress in time for the deliberation on Charter amendments. The House of Representatives recently adopted a resolution endorsing that Congress be convened into a constituent assembly (Con-ass), which would deliberate on the proposed amendments in the 1987 Constitution, including a shift in the form of government. The proposal would face a "fundamental legal obstacle," Concom member and former Cebu governor Pablo Garcia said, as the Constitution prohibits lawmakers from adopting measures that would benefit the ones approving it. If the Concom proposal would be carried by Con-ass, he said, even legislators who are on their last term would stay in office after 2007. Garcia considers "illegal and immoral" the proposal to scrap the 2007 elections. He said they lost, in an intense debate, their bid to block the proposal. "If I have to listen to my heart I would say yes to this because my daughter is an incumbent governor. But I have to listen to reason and conscience," Garcia said. His daughter, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, however, thinks differently. She agrees with the proposal, saying an election is "very costly and divisive economically, emotionally, and psychologically." "It's better to have the moratorium (on the 2007 election) and let's concentrate on developing our economy," she said. Representative Simeon Kintanar shares her view. "I am happy with that. We don't need elections, which is causing so much trouble. We need progress," he said. "Ang mga tawo dili gusto og elections. When we are already stable, we can go into serious elections in 2010," he added. Self-serving On the other hand, Cebu City's representatives -- Raul del Mar (north district) and Antonio Cuenco (south district) -- are against the proposal. "It will mean an additional term for us. I don't think the people will allow it. To favor that will be self-serving. It will be a term extension without a mandate," del Mar told Sun.Star Cebu Friday. For his part, Cuenco said, "The people will have the final say during the plebiscite. But I will not campaign for the scrapping of the 2007 elections." The former governor said a survey shows that people resist Charter change because they don't believe there's something wrong with the system. The people believe there is something wrong with the elected officials. "Now, the people will have a chance to change the people. But with the scrapping of the 2007 elections, the system will be changed without giving the people a chance to change the wrong people," Garcia said. Arrangements He disclosed that the proposal was disapproved during the first vote, at 18-16. But someone asked for reconsideration and, after lobbying, the proposal was carried at 22-19. The commission suggested that upon ratification of the Constitution, an interim parliament will be set up and start work from June 2007 to June 2010. Arroyo would remain President, with the Senate and the House of Representatives automatically becoming members of the interim parliament, the recommendation said. Most of the House members who readily agreed with the proposal were from the administration bloc who, believe it is the best move to carry out the much-delayed changes in the 18-year-old Constitution. Some members of the opposition, on the other hand, have not discounted the possibility that such a recommendation was a mere "bribe" to silence them, amid continued calls for President Arroyo to resign. The President called the Concom proposals "a road map...towards the fulfillment of our dreams" of being a wealthy country in 20 years. "The Philippines must not be left behind as it is being left behind," she said in a speech. "The key is systemic change, a change in the system." 5-year terms Under the proposals, members of parliament must be at least 25 and college graduates. They would serve a five-year term. The prime minister, who would exercise executive powers, would be elected by a majority of all members of parliament. In a gradual shift to a federal system, grouping existing provinces into autonomous territories will form the states. The current protectionist provisions in the Constitution -- which limit foreign participation in the economy -- will be liberalized, allowing corporations fully owned by foreigners to develop and use natural resources and lease agricultural and reclaimed lands. Foreigners would also be allowed to own schools offering college courses, advertising, mass media and public utilities. (AP/JPM/Sunnex) Impeachment complaints There is much debate between administration and opposition solons as well as disagreeing public partisans on whether the constitutional one-year ban can be applied to the several impeachment complaints already transmitted to the Congressional Justice Committee. The opposition’s argument that the other complaints amending Atty. Lozano’s and others’ with the alleged purpose of enhancing and adding allegations to bolster the issues against President Arroyo cannot legally be considered one composite complaint and not prohibited under the one-year ban. This argument is not in accord with the constitutional intention to allow only one complaint within a year to prevent presidential harassment. Adding those issues within the year is clear harassment on Gloria. How can one say that the “Hello, Garci” tapes are useless in the impeachment hearings even if they tend to favor the President simply because of the constitutional provision on the privacy of communication and Republic Act 4200 or the AntiWiretapping law which prohibits use of the wiretapped conversation for any purpose in any proceeding? Why useless, especially in this “Garci” case, when an American expert found that the tapes were altered? If it was proven by this expert, as he did, that the woman’s voice was altered, I don’t see why the altered tapes cannot be used to contradict the charge that she talked to a Comelec commissioner about electoral fraud. To stop her from using those certified altered tapes to defend her rights is a gross constitutional infringement. It may be well for Natural Resources Sec. Michael Defensor to continue advocating use in the impeachment hearings of the altered “Garci tapes” certified to by the American expert even if the issue of whether or not the tapes can be admissible in evidence in reference to the anti-wiretapping law. So be it if the issue reaches the Supreme Court. The issue may be whether the female voice was that of President Arroyo uttered about the subject matter regarding the status of all the candidates’ votes and the protection of the ballots of those candidates in the last 2004 elections. If the original voice in the conversation was that of another person whose voice was altered to make it sound like Gloria’s as found by the expert, then she has all the right to use those wiretapped tapes in her defense. Whoever the members to compose the Constitutional Commission (Con-con) to assist Congress in drafting the proposed amendments to the Constitution as will be created in due time by President Arroyo, the Commission should not lose sight of the problem of how to enforce the anti-wiretapping law. This may be a law just promulgated by Congress and not by a constitutional body, but the interpretation and application of that law are prone to be debatable on different legal opinions among legal luminaries of how wiretapped conversations should be dealt with, such as the problem lawyers are facing today in relation to the “Garci tapes”. This should be an item in the agenda of the commission to be addressed to the judicial and pragmatic application of that vague wiretapping law. Comelec hears poll issues Monday, May 21, 2007 It is 8-2-2 in official senatorial tabulation The Commission on Elections (Comelec), sitting as the National Board of Canvassers (NBoC), will hear at 2 p.m. today and at same time tomorrow reports on whether to declare a failure of elections in more than 80 precincts in 41 barangays in nine towns in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Shariff Kabunsuan, Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. The NBoC resumed the canvassing of senatorial and party-list votes at 4:30 p.m. yesterday at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) showing an 7-3-2 score for Genuine Opposition (GO), Team Unity (TU) and Independents after poll results from San Juan in Metro Manila and Catanduanes were canvassed. The Comelec set a two-day hearing based on the report of Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento on the non-holding of elections in certain municipalities, barangays and precincts in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Sarmiento is the commissioner-in-charge for ARMM and Region 9 (Western Mindanao). ARMM is composed of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, while Western Mindanao comprises the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Sur. Based on Sarmiento’s recommendation, the Comelec en banc has already set for May 26 the holding of special election in 13 municipalities of Lanao del Sur where no election was conducted last May 14. The towns are Pualas, Butig, Lumbatan, Marogong, Kapatagan, Sultan Dumalondong, Lumbayanague, Kapai, Madalum, Lumba Bayabao, Masium, Binidayan and Bayang. The special elections in the 13 Lanao del Sur towns are expected to play a crucial rule in the ongoing official canvassing of senatorial and party-list votes being conducted by NBoC since these municipalities have 700,000 to 800,000 registered voters combined. The precincts that will be covered in the public hearings are in the towns of Picong, Taraka, Tamparan, Marantao and Lumbaca-Unayan, all in Lanao del Sur; Barira and Kabuntalan, both in Shariff Kabunsuan; Indanan in Sulu, Akbar and Sumisip both in Basilan, and Tandubas in Tawi-Tawi. As directed by the Comelec en banc, Executive Director Jose Pio Joson notified the provincial election supervisors and regional election directors concerned about the public hearing which in turned notified all candidates and political parties concerned. At press time, the NBoC was scheduled to canvass the CoCs from Eastern Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, East Timor, Negros Oriental, Compostela Valley, Bohol, Ilocos Norte, Northern Mariana Island, Rizal, Las Piñas, United States, Antigua and Barbados, Bermudas, Turks and Caicos Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Island. Corruption Did you know corruption takes at least 10% from the budget? Almost a Perfect 10 Corruption has become so deeply entrenched in our system of government that it does not come as a surprise that the Philippines is annually ranked as one of the top corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International and other organizations who look into corruption worldwide. Our nation is actually called the most corrupt in South East Asia, according to the recent study conducted by a Hong Kong based consultancy firm (Political and Economic Risk Consultancy). The country scored a dismal 9.40 out of 10, where a score of 0 indicates least corruption in the region. The recognition is certainly less than flattering, but it speaks of a political culture in desperate need of critical analysis and sustainable reforms. What is Corruption? In broad terms, corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain. It encompasses unilateral abuses by government officials, such as embezzlement and nepotism, as well as abuses linking public and private actors such as patronage, bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud. Corruption arises in both political and bureaucratic offices and can both be petty or grand, organized or unorganized. Though corruption often facilitates criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and prostitution, it is not restricted to these activities. In the Philippines, corruption is not exclusive to any particular branch or position in government. Joel Rocamora says that corruption is a common practice from Malacañang to the police force and all the way down to barangay governments. Corruption in Public Service The pork barrel is the most common source of corruption for legislative bodies. Executive appointments in the bureaucracy strengthen the patronage politics in the bureaucracy and make it easy for public officials to siphoned funds. Regulatory agencies such as the DENR, DIR, SEC, LTO and LRA which enjoy discretionary powers to grant documents, permits, licenses and exemptions suffer from chronic bribery of “fixers”. Revenue generating agencies such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs are very vulnerable to corruption. Revenue spending agencies of the government such as the DPWH are given large cuts from the budget to procure materials and supplies and engage in secret deals with sub-contractors to obtain huge “discounts”. Relative independent bodies like GOCCs enjoy privileges compared to other government bodies and receive weak oversight from them as well. Corruption in the Private Sector Aside from this, corruption is also present in the private sector with the use of influence and money to corner contracts, concessions, franchises, obtain tariff protection, access to government funds and loans, anti-competitive practices of price fixing and avoiding legal obligations and responsibilities. The Economic Cost of Corruption Arguing for the merits of corruption is both futile and foolish. Those who believe that corruption is but a necessary consequence of development have a myopic view of the actual damage that it has. For the past 20 years, our country has lost $48 billion due to corruption exceeding our entire foreign debt of $40.6 billion based on a 2000 World Bank study. Nearly $2 billion dollars, or roughly 13 percent of the Philippines' annual budget, is lost to corruption in the country each year, according to the United Nations Development Program. The cut that corruption takes causes our government to overspend, resulting to overshooting the budget. Aside from that, debt service payment balloons as money is diverted to non-productive activities. These losses translate to a stunted economic development brought about by crony capitalism, thus producing low levels of spending on public services. Economic development is also hampered by the loss of foreign investors. With weak protection from corruption and slow and complex process for accomplishing necessary permits and licenses, foreign investors will not find our country a viable location for their investments. What attracts businesses to a particular country is a stable economic environment with relatively low taxes and costs and relatively clear and simple rules for setting up businesses. This is certainly absent in a political culture subscribing to patronage. Another downside of corruption to businesses is that the system is not conducive to small and medium-scale enterprises with limited capital because of the seeming necessity to grease the palms of people for permits and licenses. Corruption also skews economic competition towards those who are able to pay off corrupt individuals. For those that can’t compete, they are forced to go underground undercutting the state’s ability in raising revenues. The Social Cost of Corruption Although corruption is an individual act, the culture that it breeds has many ill effects both to the system that nourishes it and to society in general. After all, it is not a victimless crime. The cost of corruption runs high especially for the poor who bear the brunt of this damaging practice. When a government is corrupt, it is barely able to provide for services for its people. Medical supplies, educational textbooks and infrastructure are held hostage by internal arrangements agreed upon by the supplier or contractor of the products, congressmen, congressional aides, local officials, and their employees. The flight of money from the national budget to pockets of corrupt politicians leaves little room for the national budget to “properly appropriate funds for various government projects.” As a result, constituents are left to put up with substandard government projects, weak infrastructures, nearly expired medicines and shortage of classroom textbooks for public school students. Corruption then reinforces massive poverty. Corruption as Incentive Others who believe that the culture of corruption will inspire public officials to become vigilant and fight it are sorely mistaken. The lure of getting more money than their regular salary is enough of a motivation for a public official to be preoccupied with corruption. As such, this preoccupation promotes an unhealthy bureaucracy. With top officials involve in this grand scheme, social welfare programs for education, health and infrastructure are commonly reduced as mere sources for personal income. For lowerranked personnel working in an environment mired in corruption the concept of meritocracy becomes virtually absent. Instead of receiving promotions and rewards based on merit and solid qualifications, what happens is that corrupt structures swings heavily in favor of those who are enterprising enough to bend the rules for some quick cash. Absolute patronage ultimately destroys professional competencies. Destroying Public Faith Corruption endangers public order and safety. When public officials and other individuals continuously find ways to go around rules and formal processes, the rule of law is suspended and we create a culture of impunity. Corruption puts at risk public safety by allowing shortcuts to safety inspections or environmental compliance that are crucial in ensuring that the infrastructures we have are built securely enough to withstand possible accidents and will not harm anyone. Corruption also hurts the confidence that people have for their government. Looking at the trends in the Social Weather Stations, corruption has been the second most common source of dissatisfaction among the Filipino people for over a decade and a half. Losing that kind of public faith ultimately alienates the government from eliciting support for its programs and reforms. In this way, it will be harder to mobilize people if they deem that any effort from the government comes from a personalistic and patronage ridden agenda. In effect, the government loses its mandate to govern the people as it kills transparency and accountability with every corrupt act. The Few Over The Many Ultimately, corruption undermines the very essence of democracy by relegating to the sidelines the good of the majority for the whim and greed of the few. Engaging in corrupt practices removes the choice from the people on how to determine how the taxes that we pay are being spent by the government. Instead of being dictated by the needs for public welfare and even debt service, taxes are simply used to pad the salaries of public officials and those who have access to it. Since corrupt transactions are hidden, corruption makes no room for discussion and consultation with the people. Why we need to be aware... Knowing our candidates is important to achieve a genuine and substantial election process, which is necessary to a thriving democracy like the Philippines’. In addition to knowing the candidates, however, there is also a need to know and understand the current political and economic situation that our country is in so that we can have well-informed opinions about these controversies and issues. We must be aware of these developments to be able to paint a picture of what our country needs. This way, we can properly choose leaders who will be able to adequately address these concerns. Pushing to move away from personality politics to issue-based politics requires that we know the situation that the Philippines is in. Simply stated, we need to be aware of current events so that we can determine where an aspiring politician stands. Being armed with this information will allow us to vote more intelligently, since we will be basing our decisions on platforms and advocacies relevant to the country’s present condition. More than this, knowledge about current events breeds accountability – showing our leaders that we care about what is happening around the nation tells them that they cannot simply act without considering how their constituents will react. In a way, by keeping ourselves updated, we can act as effective “watchdogs” for our government, reinforcing the notion that they are indeed responsible and answerable to the people that they represent.
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