Cha-cha and one-man rule
By Danilo S. Venida
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 10, 2018 at 5:26 am

The 1972 declaration of martial law was preceded by the 1971 Constitutional Convention, which Ferdinand E. Marcos orchestrated to shift the legislative function from a bicameral Congress to a unicameral Parliament. Marcos established “legitimacy” to his one-man rule, initiated on Sept. 21, 1972, when the 1973 Constitution was purportedly ratified through barangay assemblies. For 13 years, Marcos governed under a “constitutional authoritarianism.”

Today, the proposed shift to a federal system of government via Charter change (Cha-cha) dividing the country into several autonomous states is one more model for a one-man rule, in a transition that can take years. Just defining the territorial limits of each state, and the multifaceted relationship between the federal states and the central government, will be a very complex exercise. Implementing rules can prove to be cumbersome, the politics overwhelming. The Bangsamoro Organic Law legislative experience is one such exercise multiplied a number-fold. It will not be easy, unless authoritarian pressure is made to bear.

The scenario opens up real opportunities for what ex-US president Barack Obama referred to as the growing trend toward “strongman politics,” in his remarks at the memorial lecture for Nelson Mandela. One-man rulers strive to have a semblance of constitutionalism—using democratic processes precisely to undermine the fundamental basis of democracy.

Populism is the current impetus for the seeming global trend toward “strongman politics.” Governance systems all over the world have generally failed to deliver basic necessities to the greater number of people. Frustrated, these people are turning over their aspirations to a leader they deem will be able to change the directions of failed governance. Institutions have failed the people; the people, in desperation, take a radical option by giving up on institutions in favor of a strongman.

It is, thus, understandable for such a ruler to continue undermining the failed institutions to reinforce the people’s continuing support for his leadership. Congress is controlled; the Supreme Court is intimidated; media is attacked. Blame is thrown all over the place to justify to the people the merit of their choice. Sooner than later, all the people end up totally subjugated.

When the institutions of governance have been completely placed under control, the burden on free and independent media becomes increasingly more urgent. Fortunately, the social media infrastructure makes it impossible now for total control over media by any one-man regime. The struggle for the minds and souls of the people will be waged in cyberspace.

This is a distinct difference between 1972 and 2018. The absolute muzzling of media is no longer an option, the way it was for Marcos. Only by trolls and bots will the ruler fight media, constantly charging media with disruptive fake news accusations while proposing alternative facts and contrived realities.

The Cha-cha train to federalism will have to be slowed down. The Senate has declared that a “No-el” scenario for 2019 to pursue Charter change is unacceptable. It is time for the people to get behind the Senate.

The situation has been made more complex with the change in speakership in the House of Representatives. The speakership takeover by ex-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo exposes, without doubt, the insatiable greed of the country’s politicians to stay in power. Under the circumstances, the 1987 Constitution is the only stabilizing element to keep Philippine society on the ground in the next five years.

The real motivations behind the rush to Cha-cha will hopefully come to the surface, and more people will become involved in resisting the initiative.

The global setting is abuzz with trade wars and changing geopolitical positioning. Old and reliable alliances are getting disrupted. It will be risky for the country to move toward federalism amid all the uncertainties that are happening.

One-man rule is a system our country experienced just over 35 years ago, and the experience was traumatic. We have yet to get over the trauma. If we allow Cha-cha to bring us to this point once again, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves. We will be constantly taunted by that dictum: Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us.

Danilo S. Venida (danilosvenida@gmail. com) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.

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