POSTSCRIPT / March 28, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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OFWs must get 10% of seats in Parliament

HOWLS OF PROTEST: One wild card coming up in the Cha-cha game is the 8-million-strong bloc of overseas Filipinos who stand to lose their newly-acquired right to vote for national officials.

Since all national officials — such as the President and the Prime Minister — in the projected parliamentary system are to be elected by members of Parliament representing local districts, the absentee voting right of overseas Filipinos is suddenly taken away.

Postscript warned as early as Dec. 20, 2005: “Expect questions, or even howls of protest, from overseas Filipino voters on the proposals submitted by the Consultative Commission on changing the government setup to a unitary parliamentary system.

“Under the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 (RA 9189), qualified Filipinos working or residing abroad are allowed to vote only for the President, Vice President, senators and party-list representatives — meaning officials with national constituencies.

“In the Con-Com proposals submitted last week to President Gloria Arroyo, the President and the Prime Minister are to be elected internally by members of Parliament from among themselves. xxx

“So, whom will overseas Filipinos vote for under the proposed parliamentary system? NOBODY! Unless, of course, we now hurriedly amend RA 9189.”

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SUFFRAGE LOST: With everybody glued to the Palace Initiative running alongside the Constituent Assembly campaign to propose amendments, who will ever think of hurriedly amending RA 9189 for overseas Filipinos?

After lobbying mightily for about 15 years and finally winning an overseas absentee voting law, the estimated eight million Filipinos abroad would be deprived suddenly of their newly acquired right.

Many of them have not even used this right because the cumbersome and badly timed administrative requirements inserted into RA 9189 had prevented their being able to vote in the 2004 presidential election.

Before our compatriots abroad raise hell, I suggest we consider the idea of granting overseas Filipinos their corresponding representatives in the proposed Parliament.

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10% 0F SEATS: With their being 8 million — overseas Filipinos comprise 10 percent of our population — and their hefty contribution to the national economy, they should be given 10 percent of the total seats in Parliament.

Filipinos abroad are generally better educated and of a higher economic standing than the average Filipino. They send some $13 billion to the home country annually, the biggest block of foreign exchange helping keep the economy afloat despite its being mismanaged.

We refer to them as heroes, which they are in a sense. Why do we not translate that to a political reality and recognize their heroism by giving them the seats in Parliament that they deserve?

If Parliament seats number 300 more or less (one district represents a 250,000 population), we should see overseas Filipino representatives occupying 30 of them (10 percent of the total).

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IT WON’T HAPPEN: Let us see how Malacanang and our politicians who shed crocodile tears for Filipinos laboring abroad handle this one.

You know what I think? I think nothing of this sort will happen for OFWs.

Reason: The shift to a parliamentary system is not a firm option of Malacanang. Its being floated and discussed like anything is just part of a Grand Distraction from the political problems of President Arroyo.

In the end — keep this in mind — we will continue in 2007 with the present presidential system with the wife of Mike Arroyo still in Malacanang as president all the way to 2010. Ciao!

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AM FOR IT: Some readers ask why I am against charter change. The answer is: I am NOT against amending the Constitution. In fact, I want changes made to it swiftly and mercilessly.

After almost two decades of improvising under a cut-and-paste, reactionary and wordy Constitution, it is high time the long-suffering nation did something drastic about its basic charter.

In fact, many of us newspapermen would jump at a chance to hack away its verbosity, to boil it down to just two-thirds of its present length without losing its essence and compromising its legal intent.

Note that we are just talking here of form, not yet of substance.

The more we will see the urgent need for charter change when we examine its substance. The Constitution is stuffed with just too many self-serving provisions inserted by various pressure groups. There is also a vengeful and reactionary bias running through it.

* * *

CON-CON PREFERRED: But how do we amend or revise the charter? As I told reader Joe T. Golez of pldtdsl, of the three methods allowed under the Constitution, I prefer a Constitutional Convention, or a fresh set of delegates convening to amend or revise the charter.

The main drawback here is that a Con-Con is very expensive and disruptive of the political agenda of key politicians who want to stay in power.

Disrupting the game plans of politicians is not a problem. It is actually a bonus.

As for the other problem of expense, we must sooner or later pay for our mistakes anyway. Over the long term, however, a Con-Con may prove to be a more economical procedure.

* * *

CON-ASS UNPOPULAR: The Constituent Assembly option, which converts the Congress into a plenary body tasked to propose amendments, is unacceptable to most people who are sane and wide awake.

Here we are talking of a full-blown system CHANGE, and then we are being asked to favor a Con-Ass that will retain all those creatures fattening in the pond of Congress. Crocodiles have never been known to know how to use their claws to rewrite a constitution.

Not only that. The con asses have made it known that they want to appoint themselves as carry-over deputies to comprise the transitory first Parliament! Ano, sila na naman? Where is the CHANGE that is supposed to be at the very core of the entire exercise?

* * * 

WHOSE INITIATIVE?: As for People’s Initiative, as I said in my Postscript last Sunday, what they are holding is actually a Palace Initiative.

Those signatures so far gathered are not worth the paper they are written on. We are wasting precious millions going through that crazy exercise just so Malacanang can show its financiers that it is pushing charter change and the right provisions.

This Palace Initiative is part of a Grand Distraction, so that by the time we wake up to the fact that we are stuck with what we have, it is already 2010 and too late to force an abdication of the unsteady throne.

Malacanang itself knows that its signature campaign will not move us any nearer to charter change. In this country, it is so easy to collect signatures. And nobody trusts signatures.

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ERRATUM: Nor does the population trust the Commission on Elections that is supposed to verify some 5 million signatures of alleged voters and certify as to their authenticity and integrity.

Btw, the decimal point in 4.8 million was inadvertently dropped in my Postscript last Sunday, making the figure come out as 48 million, which is 10 times the correct count.

The number 4.8 million comes from 12 percent of some 40 million registered voters nationwide, the number required by the Constitution to validate a People’s Initiative (provided no one congressional district collects less than 3 percent of its local registered voters).

* * * 

ALL GUESSWORK: Now I am saying that 5 million signatures are needed for the Palace Initiative for charter change. I rounded the 4.8 million to 5 million, because 4.8 million signatures is just the minimum required if there are 40 million registered voters nationwide.

In this country where a million votes can swing to either side of the fence when all the bets are in, 4.8 million is the same as 5 million once the operators get to work.

Besides, nobody — not even the Comelec — knows exactly how many voters there are in the 45,000 barangays scattered all over the archipelago. The guesswork makes all the fun and/or fund in Philippine elections.

(But ask any salivating commissioner what a 20-percent commission is on P3 billion worth of computerized election hardware and he has it instantly calculated in his head.)

* * * 

FUND-RAISING: A friend sidled up to me the other day to suggest good-naturedly not to come down too hard on the Comelec.

After all, he said, the poor commissioners are able to make big money only once every three year, during election time.

And, he added, with a commissioner’s term lasting only seven years, he normally has only two major elections to feast on. Kawawa naman, I said almost in tears, maybe we should really amend the Constitution and schedule nationwide elections every two years.

Now listen to this: We thought the fund-raising frenzy from the big pockets in business and among government contractors ended with the 2004 presidential campaign.

There was just a lull. Now the Cha-cha campaign has given the usual fund-raisers another excuse to tap the groaning donors all over again.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 28, 2006)

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