Editorial : Period of waiting
THE UNITED Opposition is urging President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to resign. Sixty-two percent of Metro Manila residents believe she should quit. Former President Corazon Aquino also wants her to resign. The "Hyatt 10" is urging her to quit. Many business, professional, religious and academic groups say she should step down. The President has said, however, that she is not resigning.
The opposition is now considering impeaching her. But even if it pushes through, the impeachment court will take a long time to reach a resolution, unless something like Edsa People Power II happens. So it seems that Ms Arroyo will be with us for some time yet. And while the question of whether she should stay in office remains unresolved, political and economic instability is likely to continue.
In an effort to make Ms Arroyo more acceptable to the people, her advisers are planning a makeover to project her as a friendlier, gentler president. This is a cosmetic move, and we doubt if it will earn her points. It would be better if she did something that would greatly benefit the country in the interim. The first priority should be the economy, which has taken a heavy beating the past five weeks. The President has taken the first step by appointing replacements for the members of her economic team who resigned recently. We hope that the new appointees would attend immediately to the serious economic problems of the country.
An early resolution of the constitutional challenge to the expanded value-added tax law by the Supreme Court could help promote stability on the economic front. Then new Internal Revenue Commissioner Jose Mario Buñag will have to ensure the strict enforcement of the expanded value-added tax and continue the aggressive collection of taxes begun by his predecessor, Guillermo Parayno. The government needs a lot of funds, and it needs them now.
Under the Constitution the President cannot fire the commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). But she could enlist the help of civil society and the political parties in exerting pressure on the election commissioners to tender their resignation. The commissioners should realize that the Comelec is one of the most discredited government agencies today. A reform of the electoral process has to begin with the cleansing of the Comelec.
If a mass resignation of the Comelec commissioners can be obtained, the President should avoid packing it with disreputable characters and "dependable" political allies. She should consider appointing to the Comelec people of the caliber of its former chairs, Christian Monsod and Haydee Yorac. The nation will be grateful if she can clean up the Augean stable that is the Comelec. The cleanup could be the start of wide-ranging reforms in the electoral system.
It is not just the electoral system that needs changing. The political system also needs to be changed to promote national stability. Since Edsa People Power I in 1986, the nation has gone through many periods of political instability. Now may be an auspicious time to change the system, from presidential to parliamentary. A parliamentary system makes it possible to quickly change an administration once its leader loses the confidence of his or her parliamentary peers and the people. Then there would be no need for future Edsa People Power uprisings.
Reports the day after Ms Arroyo survived the most serious challenge to her presidency said that because of his support, former President Fidel V. Ramos would now have his way in his efforts to move the nation from the presidential to the parliamentary system. Under Ramos' timetable, Congress would convene as a constituent assembly to propose changes in the Constitution. Civil society and the opposition are expected to oppose the idea of convening a constituent assembly because Congress is another discredited institution.
It would be better to call a constitutional convention. It may be more expensive, but the election of delegates to the convention may see the emergence of young, new leaders who could bring new perspectives and new ideas to the task of crafting the fundamental law. The body politic also needs a shot of fresh blood to invigorate and renew itself.
In this expectedly long period of waiting, the President could serve the national interest if she would put the economic house in order, help bring about electoral reforms, beginning with a change in the Comelec, and start the ball rolling for a change from the presidential to the parliamentary system.