POSTSCRIPT / November 12, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Rx: Shock treatment, not a Cabinet shuffle

START 2003 RIGHT: Malacanang is sadly mistaken if it thinks that shuffling the Cabinet as a yearend exercise will produce a so-called Strong Republic and arrest the deterioration of the quality of our lives, including the political life of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The situation has gone so bad that nothing less than shock treatment can nurse this nation back to moral and economic health. Shuffling the same jokers in the deck is not shock treatment. It will not work.

She must act before the end of the year. Once the pre-election year 2003 rolls in, whatever the President tries to do by way of supposed reform, revamp, photo-ops, blood and thunder announcements, startling policy statements, et cetera, will just bounce off the skeptical public.

By that time, with election fever thick in the air, people will just dismiss any presidential announcement as mere gimmickry.

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FIRE THE RASCALS!: What the nation requires, which is also what President Arroyo badly needs, is resolute reform carried with such dramatic impact that there will be no doubt lingering in people’s minds that — finally — this time she means business.

What can President Arroyo do to shock this country back to its senses? If she is still aware of what’s going on around her, she would know what to do to save her administration. But just to be sure, somebody should tell her that merely rearranging the deadwood in her Cabinet has no shock value.

We have a few things in mind with guaranteed shock and cleansing effect, but we are not ready to say them. All we can say at this point is that she will have to discard some people close to her, fire (not rotate) some Cabinet members, and distance herself from The Firm.

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ABSENTEE VOTING ISSUES: Will the lawyers please explain to us laymen why the proposed Absentee Voting Law will not run into constitutionality questions if the Senate version prevails over the House copy in the bicameral committee ironing out conflicting provisions?

While the House version disqualifies Filipino immigrants who are enjoying permanent resident status in other countries, the Senate impliedly allows voting rights to immigrants who have not been naturalized in their adoptive countries.

We go back to Section 1 of Article V (Suffrage) of the Constitution which says that citizen-voters must “have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election.”

Note that the conjunction used is “and.” Even as a layman, it is clear to us that the voter must be a resident of the Philippines and at the same time a resident of the place where he proposes to cast his ballot.

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INTENTION TO RETURN: As enunciated by the Supreme Court, “residence” as used here does not necessarily mean physically residing in a place. The tribunal says a clear intention to return (“animus revertendi”) is sufficient to maintain one’s prior address as his legal address or residence.

An overseas Filipino who wants to cast his ballot while abroad could strain our credulity and use this “animus revertendi” line to satisfy the requirement that he must have resided in the Philippines for at least one year prior to the election.

But the same Filipino will have to flip and then claim to be also residing abroad to justify his casting his ballot in the Philippine embassy or consulate nearest his present residence abroad.

(We are assuming that the overseas voter does not opt to mail his ballot to the Commission on Elections in Manila — another mode provided in the absentee voting bill.)

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DUAL RESIDENCE ALLOWED?: In our illustration above, we have a voter claiming legal residence both in the Philippines and abroad. That claim may sound absurd, but it could happen.

We think that if a Filipino availing himself of the absentee voting law claims he is a permanent resident abroad, he cannot simultaneously claim that he is also a resident of the Philippines just because he intends to return home.

He has to choose one place of residence and stick to it. Voters who reside in the Philippines are not allowed to flippantly claim two residences, even if true, so why should Filipinos abroad be an exception and be allowed two legal residences?

This debate over residence would be minimized if the bicameral conference committee simply adopts the House version which defines “qualified overseas Filipino” as “a Filipino citizen abroad, not an immigrant of the country where he resides, who is a holder of a valid Philippine passport” (and who has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications under all pertinent laws).

The Senate version does not categorically grant voting rights to Filipino immigrants who have not renounced their native citizenship. It only impliedly allows this by not banning outright, as the House version does, immigrants (sometimes called “green card” holders in the US) voting in national elections, plebiscites and referenda.

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LESS COMPLICATED CASE: The case of other Filipinos who are temporarily out of the country at the time of the election but who are not immigrants or permanent residents abroad is less complicated.

They can register as absentee voters in their old precincts in the Philippines and cast their ballots by mail or at the nearest embassy or consulate abroad (depending on the final version of the law).

Since they will not claim two different legal residences (one in the Philippines and one abroad), they are not likely to stir objections about their resident status. They will just have to contend with the red tape of registering and voting while abroad.

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BUREAUCRATIC MAZE: Immigrants or permanent residents can use the same route as those who are just temporarily abroad, but their being registered as permanent residents of a foreign country could raise legal questions such as those we cited above.

Whatever status the prospective absentee voter claims when he registers, he will still have to muster boundless patience, stamina, patriotism and time to survive the bureaucratic maze awaiting him.

Assuming we can raise on time the huge amount needed to trace, inform, register and service some 3,000,000 prospective absentee voters abroad, we are not that optimistic that the Comelec will be able to manage properly this first-time job on top of its present chores.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 12, 2002)

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