POSTSCRIPT / January 31, 2006 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA, foes must share burden of solving crisis

SABIT LAHAT: If President Gloria Arroyo and the opposition know how to read, they should not miss the message of the bishops that (1) she still has to face the basic question of legitimacy, but that (2) her detractors should not use that unresolved point to advance their political agenda.

The bishops said in their last pastoral letter that our problems boil down to a basic moral crisis that we can solve only if we faced up to our respective responsibilities pertaining to that part of the problem that we have created.

For our common survival, we — including leaders on both sides of the political fence — must take in good faith the pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and heed its apostolic counsel.

The bishops said: “At the bottom of our political chaos is a crisis of moral values, a crisis of truth and justice, of unity and solidarity for the sake of the common good and genuine peace. Truth has become a victim of political partisanship as well as of transactional politics.

“xxx The root cause of our debilitating situation is the erosion of moral values. Its external manifestations are deceit and dishonesty, corruption, manipulation and a deadening preoccupation with narrow political interests, perceived in practically all branches and at all levels of government.”

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RUMORS, UNTRUTHS: Calling attention to the “continued and urgent need for renewal in the public life of our country,” the bishops said:

“We have all observed the failure of political processes to make public servants accountable for wrongdoing. What we have seen instead are acts of evasion and obstruction of the truth, as in the case of the wiretapping and Garcillano tapes controversy. While we acknowledge that patriotic and sincere Filipinos have heeded our call in July 2005 for accountability in public office and sought means for the truth to emerge, we also witness those who seem to use ‘the search for truth’ as a means of furthering their political ambitions.

“Pressure is thus brought on the ordinary citizen to take sides on the basis of speculation, whether this be with regard to destabilizing alliances, armed insurgency, or a brewing coup d’état. Have we become a nation of rumors and untruths?

“Tragically, many Filipinos have lost trust in political leaders from left, right, and center, and worse still, in the political institutions themselves which are perceived by many to be corrupted. Among an increasing number of our people, there is a sense of hopelessness about our country and the possibility of genuine reform.”

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WHAT THEN?: But what do we do? What can we do?

The bishops said: “The mission of the Church includes the renewal of the social order and public life through the teaching and inculcation of the values of the Gospel. ‘Any authentic search for peace,’ the Holy Father stresses, ‘must begin with the realization that the problem of truth and untruth is the concern of every man and woman.’”

They suggested facing the urgent issues from a moral standpoint:

¦ The search for truth (must) be relentlessly pursued through structures and processes mandated by law and our Constitution, such as the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, the Commission on Human Rights, the Sandiganbayan, and Congress itself as well as other citizens’ groups. Such bodies (must) be led and run by credible people, persons of integrity and probity.

¦ Confidence and trust in our political processes have to be restored. As a first step, political leaders (must) undertake electoral reforms posthaste. The Commission on Elections has to be transformed into a competent and reliable body beyond reproach. The call for resignation or even prosecution of a number of the Commissioners should not be lightly brushed aside. The electoral process, including counting of votes, needs to be reformed and modernized before the next elections.

¦ Elections in 2007 should not be cancelled. The Church recognizes that in a democracy power emanates from the people. This people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects… but it preserves the prerogative… (of) evaluating those charged with governing, and in replacing them when they do not fulfill their functions satisfactorily.

¦ Certain aspects of our Constitution may need revisions, (but) we do not support hasty efforts to change this fundamental law without the widespread discussion and participation that such changes require. Changing the Constitution involving major shifts in the form of government requires widespread participation, total transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate. This is best done through a Constitutional Convention.

In conclusion, the bishops said: “We, your bishops, are seeking to be faithful to the Lord’s command of love, and his call to his followers to care for all peoples, especially those whom he sees as the ‘least of my brothers and sisters.’ It is this Gospel mandate we wish to see making a qualitative difference in our efforts at healing and renewing our flawed political culture and corrupted public life.”

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TERM SHARING: In Congress, somebody should advise Rep. Herminio Teves (Lakas, Negros) to stop insisting that he take over the House ways and means committee now chaired by Rep. Jesli Lapus (NPC, Tarlac) who is already doing a fine job managing that key committee.

Teves is saying that there is/was a gentlemen’s agreement that Lapus would yield the chair to him halfway during the present Congress.

Lapus has been chairman since the convening of the present 13th Congress. He was vice chairman during the 11th and the 12th Congresses. As chairman, he has delivered crucial fiscal reform measures.

Even assuming that when the committees of the 13thCongress were being organized there was horse-trading during which Teves was promised his turn at the helm of the committee, that supposed arrangement is best forgotten.

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POP & SON TANDEM: With his son Margarito Teves already holding the post of finance secretary in the Executive department, it would not serve public interest to have the elder (85 years old) Teves in control of the House ways and means committee.

The reason for avoiding a situation where a father-and-son team controls fiscal and finance policies of both the Executive and the Legislative branches is obvious. It need not be discussed here.

There have been disturbing reports that the elder Teves — probably in anticipation of his taking over the House committee — already sat in some finance department policy meetings and presumed to proffer his opinion on various matters.

That is bad. It is a dark prognosis of what could happen if fiscal and finance policies and programs fall victim to family inbreeding.

Designation of House committee chairmanships is a sole prerogative of the House leadership, usually based on majority coalition political party allocation. It is not for individual congressmen to agree among themselves how to divide political spoils.

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SPEAKER’S CALL: The chairmanship of the ways and means committee, together with some similar positions, was reportedly allotted by the Speaker to the NPC (Nationalist People’s Coalition) weeks before the opening of Congress. The NPC, which also held this committee in the last Congress, agreed to support the speakership of Jose de Venecia despite taking a big cut in the number of committees allotted to it.

To this day, Lapus and Teves never met to discuss the matter. It was De Venecia who imposed the idea of “term-sharing” on several committees weeks after the 13th Congress convened. There was no need for him to do that since he has the sole prerogative to designate or replace his team at any time.

Among those earlier mentioned for probable “term-sharing” were the committees on appropriations (Rep. Rolando Andaya of Camarines), accounts (Rep. Ace Barbers of Surigao), suffrage (Rep. Teodoro Locsin of Makati), economic affairs (Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda of Albay) and public works (Rep. Eric Singson of Ilocos).

Except in cases of vacancies due to appointments to the Cabinet or a higher office where replacements must be made (but only by a partymate), term-sharing has never been carried out. After all, supervening events have altered circumstances and erstwhile justifications for changing chairmanships are no longer valid.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 31, 2006)

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