POSTSCRIPT / July 5, 2009 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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President’s health is not a state secret

ANGELES CITY — The state of health of the President is of public concern. It is not a state secret, and should never be. The people are entitled to know fully her physical condition, and she is duty-bound to let them know.

Section 12 of Article VII (Executive Department) of the Constitution – some parts of which were written in reaction to the people’s groping in the dark during the Marcosian martial rule while the President’s serious illness was kept from them – provides:

In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health.”

While it speaks of “serious illness,” the spirit of this section is to keep the people fully and timely informed of the state of health of the President and ensure continuity in the performance of his functions.

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DUTY TO TRUTH: The President of the Republic is not a private person. When direct questions about specific health issues are raised, she and her doctors have the duty to tell the whole truth in the spirit of Section 12.

Breast implants and the removal of certain growths may be considered by some as cosmetic and therefore not to be taken as an indication of any “serious illness” being corrected.

But with the possibility that these abnormalities could develop into a serious threat to the health and effectiveness of the President – and consequently to the state of the nation — they have to be fully and honestly explained to the people.

It is in this spirit that we expect Malacanang to be more forthright in answering legitimate questions about the President Arroyo’s confinement, tests and procedures at the Asian Hospital in Muntinlupa.

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SEND OUT SONA: Talking of the state of the nation, it has been suggested that, because of the A(H1N1) pandemic or other reason, President Arroyo forgo her State of the Nation Address before the Congress when it opens its session on July 27.

While the Constitution and tradition make the SONA mandatory, this observer has no objection to the President’s rendering her annual report by other means.

For instance, instead of using up the time of the Congress, she can just have her SONA (with graphics and other aids to understanding it) distributed to those with obvious need for it.

Malacanang can also secure space and time in mass media to disseminate and explain the SONA.

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SUIT, NOT GOSSIP: If the Senate investigates every rumor wafted its way, such as the story that one party in the poll automation joint venture was demanding P500 million from its partner, how can we clear the air for cleaner elections?

In this country where chismis is the national pastime, we never run out of grist for the gossip mill. Lapping up every negative rumor we hear, we get titillated but also get sidetracked.

On poll automation, scratch every rumormonger and one is likely to come upon a merchant or his agent lusting for a piece of the computerization cake.

If any law has been violated in the awarding of a Comelec contract, the aggrieved party should just file the proper charges in court instead of creating a congressional spectacle.

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LUCKY SENATOR: Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas raised yesterday the possibility that one of the dozen holdover senators could become president in case there is a failure of election in 2010.

Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, raised this possibility in his remarks in a forum here at the Holy Angel University on House Resolution 1109 seeking to convene a constituent assembly to introduce Charter changes.

Asked by auxiliary bishop Pablo Virgilio David of San Fernando what could happen if there is failure of election, Bernas said: “There are still 12 senators, one of whom would be Senate President. The Constitution says the Senate President will act as president until the president is elected.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s term ends in 2010, so whoever replaces him at the helm of the Senate would act as president in a failure of election.

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OTHER POINTS: In his speech and answers in the forum, Bernas also said:

* The nation should stop worrying about HR 1109 because it is impractical and not likely to be enacted in the limited time before the elections. HR 1109 was not necessary because the Congress, even without the resolution, can always function as a constituent assembly and propose amendments.

* Given the kind of members the House of Representatives has, Bernas does not want it to be the body that will amend the charter. He recommends a Constitutional Convention with members who are truly qualified.

* One reason why a constitutional amendment requires approval of both chambers of Congress is that they are so important and serious that two debates instead of one are needed.

* A plebiscite before the May 2010 elections is untenable, because even if the House passes a measure telling the Commission on Elections to schedule a plebiscite, the Senate can ask the Supreme Court to stop the exercise.

* A plebiscite requires money. But the Constitution says no funds are to be taken out of the treasury unless authorized by law, which requires approval of the House and the Senate.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 5, 2009)

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