Friday, January 8, 2010

Tragedies : GMA's Silverlining for CHACHA

Right smack in the middle of preparations for the Yuletide Season, when the nation has been struck by news of the Maguindanao Massacre and the sinking of two vessels MV Baleno 9 MV Catalyn B after the back-to-back typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, GMA saw a
golden oppurtunity to exploit.

First, these issues have conveniently redirected the people's attention and wrath away from the exposed urban planning disaster in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces of Rizal and Laguna, and the bane of Pangasinan that is the San Roque Dam. Second, it provided a
testing ground for the public's tolerance of and the administration's experimentations with Martial law. Third, it resurrected the ghost of Cha-cha past.

The first two have been rebounded back to the administration. Just when the public's outcry of the justice and compensation for the damages brought by natural disasters which were aggravated by poor urban planning, liberal policies on the environment and the drive to
rack up profits was gaining its momentum, The Maguindanao Massacre happened. For a few weeks, it transfixed the nation with highly graphic stories and accounts of how the bodies were found, what condition they were in and who the victims were. The massacre took home the record for the most victims of killings at any one time, and placed the Philippines ahead of Iraq and Afghanistan as the most dangerous place for journalists. The public turned their sights on the most probable perpetrators of the crime, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan. Soon, under the watchful eyes of the media and the public, after highly dubious evidences start to surface, the truth was revealed. The road of impunity has not stopped at the Ampatuans' door, and instead have led right up to the doorsteps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for being their "force multipliers", and lastly, to that of the "President" herself, for issuing Executive Order 546 which sanctioned the formation of Civilian Volunteer Organizations and for the ties that bind them come election time. So indeed, just as
the San Roque Dam became operational despite its structural flaws and ethical issues, and winning the 2004 and 2007 elections for herself and her cohorts, "the President has never been distracted" just as Gary Olivar has said.

The Martial Law Experiment or Presidential Procalamation No. 1959, was a calculated flop. It came thundering in the wake of the Maguindanao Massacre. Maybe, GMA thought that with the people so enraged by this unspeakable crime, the Martial Law declaration can ease itself comfortably without so much of a fight from the people. And boy, was she wrong! It sent the Senate, the constitutionalists and everyone who suffered during Marcos' Martial Law into uproar. After a week and a day of localized Martial Law, and with the disunited House still debating on the rules, GMA pulled out the proclamation, the plan is to "maintain it only as long as required, and to work to lift it once crucial objectives had been met” according to Olivar. Well, and what "crucial objectives might this be, kind sir? To ensure that the
Ampatuans keep their dirty secrets to themselves, especially after burnt election paraphernalia was found buried (disposed, taken cared of, eliminated, cleaned) within one for their compounds? To hoodwink the people that the Iron-fisted lady who governs the Strong
Republic does not tolerate any hanky-panky in her government, when she herself built this monster up to serve her purposes?

Maybe. Maybe not. Not when we remember Lore-Liar Fajardo's very candid statement, “I don’t think the President’s friendship with the Ampatuans will be severed. Just because they’re in this situation doesn’t mean we will already turn our backs on them.”

And that was the year that was. We welcome the New Year with bright eyes full of lingering Christmas cheer and spirit and revitalized with all the goodness that people reserve especially for this season and we were welcomed by the ghost of Cha-cha past.

Can you believe that the Lower House led by Speaker Prospero Nograles which dillydallied to convene when the Martial Law proclamation was made, can move faster than that and has actually managed to pass the new version of the Charter Change bill into its second reading before taking their Christmas break? The recent tragedy the administration is milking to push their Charter Change agenda is the marina disasters last December.

Once again, the floating coffins brought into fore the problem that plagues this industry. Most ships, both cargo and commercial, are second-hand ships with an average age of 35 years. Most of these are Japanese ships which they have deemed unfit for further voyages
after 10-15 years of sailing, which we, in turn, purchase and use to ferry products and people from one island to another.

The administration, meanwhile, took the upsweep of emotions for these maritime disasters to remind us of the need to liberalize our economic policies (read: Charter Change) claiming that “we need constitutional amendment to address the matter." One major point in
the 1987 Constitution that the Charter Change will adress is the premise that limits foreign-ownership of corporations to 60%.

Mr. Olivar said that relaxing "the more people there are who are "investing, competing to provide service, the better services will become." But Olivar also claimed that the local oil industry that had deliberalized years ago is different because it has a "natural oligopoly"
from the “huge investments required to look for oil.” Oil prices have more than doubled since the ceiling price was taken off. So with all the other basic services that were opened up to "competitors" or privatized, like electricity, water, telecommunication, even education.
Doesn't this trend already say something about the current economic policies which leans towards deregularization, privatization and liberalization? Olivar simply cannot conclude that amending the constitution and implementing economic reforms that will substantially put foreign-owned companies before our local companies, will and can transform into "better services and ... affordable fare" for the maritime industry.

Charter Change is truly a politically-charged issue. It cannot be done without people questioning the intent, motive and purpose of its proponents. When former Pres. Ramos proposed this, the people stumped it. When ousted Pres. Estrada revived this measure, the people made history again via EDSA 2. Now, a president widely believed to have commited electoral fraud is staunchly, bullheadedly leading its passage, Charter Change becomes even murkier.

It is not Charter Change per se that people are against, because surely the Constitution can do with some more improvement. Con-Con or Con-Ass won't spell much difference when the Charter Change is used to disempower the contituency the Constitution is supposed to protect.


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