July 25

Republican Crisis

I don’t know how much the Philippine president costs, but the troubles the current constitutional crisis is causing for the economy, the currency and foreign investment must make her very expensive indeed.

That this can be the cost of choosing a flawed republican model was debated in Australia in 1999.

As we mentioned previously, President Gloria Arroyo is accused of major electoral fraud.

Her supporters are abandoning her, including several of her ministers, her economic team, and her close friend , former President Corazon Aquino. There have been huge street protests and more are threatened. A counter demonstration in her favour has also been held.

But she is holding out.

Andrew Burrell in the Australian Financial Review (13 July, 2005) says the political system is a mess.

Her own party now proposes a change from the presidential system to a parliamentary system.

It is said that the present constitution is too rigid, that in a parliamentary system a smooth change of government would be assured.

Is Australia’s republican movement listening?

There are three problems with parliamentary republics.

First, the president is a politician.

The second problem is the power this politician, the president, has at his disposal.

Either he or she has almost no power, thus increasing the power of the prime minister and the government.

But if the president does have considerable power, that does not solve the republican quandary.

Rather then behaving as a leader above politics, the presidential powers are too often used for mere political advantage and not for proper constitutional purposes. An example is the present French Fifth republic.

The third problem is that for ideological and political reasons, republics often adopt electoral systems which result in instability, as in the French Third and Fourth republics.

The fact is –it is not difficult to write a constitution, but only a few constitutional systems work well, particularly when they are placed under pressure.

The American system is based on the colonial constitutions where the executive was not responsible to the legislature, and as well, on the English system between the Glorious Revolution and the development of responsible government.

The American constitution is at its weakest when it is time for a president to go, and he resists which results in paralysis.

But while it works in the US, it has never been successfully exported.

Our Westminster system has worked remarkably well over long and difficult periods of time in the constitutional monarchies of mainland Europe, in Australia, Canada ,New Zealand and other Commonwealth realms.

And yet, the republicans are trying to lull Australians into political change by forcing them to vote not once but three more times to change their constitution.

The first plebiscite is certain to be a "push-pollers" delight.

But to return to the Philippines crisis, we referred to this in an earlier column about a raft of scandals and fundamental problems in many republics across the world.

We began by referring to a column by Greg Sheridan in The Weekend Australian of 2-3 July, 2005.

He began with these words:”HI Garci."

This was a stentorian female voice in the most popular new ring tone for mobile phones in Manila. If it weren’t so tragic, it would be hilarious, for the voice is that of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, taken from a recording of a phone call she made to a senior Philippines election official.

According to Mr Sheridan, the President’s phone conversation is one of more than two dozen that were illegally tapped by Philippines military intelligence and later released by Arroyo’s political Opposition.

They reveal her ringing senior Commission on Elections (Comelec) official Virgilio Garcillano while the votes from last May’s presidential election were being tallied.

At that stage local votes were being consolidated into district and province aggregates. This is, says Mr Sheridan, the stage at which vote rigging traditionally occurs in The Philippines.

In a May 29 call Mrs. Arroyo plaintively asks Garcillano: "So will I still lead by more than a million?"

Mrs. Arroyo eventually beat her opponent, the movie star Fernando Poe, who died from a stroke a few months after the election, by a little more a million votes.

Nearly half that margin came in Mindanao, the site of a murderous Muslim rebellion, a province for which Garcillano had responsibility.

According to Mr Sheridan, Garcillano at one point says to the President: "The way in which your votes were increased was done well."

At another point Garcillano appears to be comparing vote tampering in Basilan with that in Sulu.

He says: "In Basilan the military wasn’t so good at doing these things, like in Sulu, with General Habacon. But I already talked to the Board of Canvassers in Sulu. I think we should just ask the election officer of Pangutaran to hide so he doesn’t have to testify."

The President says she has done nothing wrong. The government is paralysed. The economy is suffering -as are the people.

Until next time,
David Flint


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