Sometimes a particular week comes along when everything seems to happen in a rush, within a telescoped period of time. It’s almost enough to make up for the lethargy that afflicts this country much of the rest of the year. And it’s always welcomed by lazy columnists like me who keep running out of things worth writing about twice a week.
This week was one such week, a fitting intro to the incoming -ber months when Christmas carols start being played at the malls. The rush of events impressed upon me just how quickly this administration is moving along, even without having to rule by revolutionary government.
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Last Wednesday my good friend lawyer Larry Gadon made some kind of history by formally filing his impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Sereno at the House of Representatives.
Contrary to predictions from the yellow crowd, Larry was able to garner 25 congressional endorsements for his complaint, including four deputy speakers of the House by my count. This was his reward for taking the time and trouble to meticulously document all 28 of the impeachment grounds he cited before filing them, instead of just relying on news stories, hearsay, and outright fabrications.
Unlike in the impeachment of the late CJ Corona, Larry knew he couldn’t rely on a vindictive President, backed by a legislature either cowed or bribed into compliance, and a braying horde of compromised media people, to topple an official as senior as a Supreme Court chief justice. He knew he’d have to lawyer the heck out of his impeachment complaint.
To her credit, Sereno has moved preemptively to win public support. In what she calls a judicial reform roadshow, she’s gone even to shopping malls to tout the reforms she’s introduced, e.g. template forms to expedite small claims processing, “continuous trial guidelines” to shorten trial periods, mandatory service for new lawyers, even newfangled innovations like mobile apps and “eCourts.”
Unfortunately for her, none of this has anything at all to do with the 28 impeachable actions she’s accused of, most of them on account of her alleged overspending, the most serious one being her failure to disclose on her SALN the substantial fees she earned from her Piatco case involvement.
Ordinarily, such a misdeclaration on her SALN could be corrected simply by filing a revised new one. But after what happened to Corona under PNoy, that sin of omission is now considered serious enough for someone, even a chief justice, to be kicked out of office. The honorable panjandrums of the Senate at that time so ruled, and so it ought to and shall be.
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Earlier in the week, my favorite congresswoman, former President Arroyo, introduced a bill to establish a national ID system. This takes off from an executive order she issued as President in 2005 to streamline all existing government ID systems. The usual gang of reds and yellows challenged her back then, but ended up being kicked out by the Supreme Court no less.
The new ID card will be nothing like the torn and faded cardboard IDs we may still carry around in our wallets. It will be made of tamper-proof material and carry your fingerprint, iris retinal scan, and similar biometric information in an embedded smart chip. Fingerprint-based biometric machines will thus have to be set up in all government offices.
There are at least three reasons we ought to welcome this new program:
It’s much more convenient to have just one ID card for all government services (except for your passport which still has to conform to international protocols). And it should make government services more efficient and responsive in turn.
It’s more secure and accurate to have your identity information stored in just one place. The entire system and database will be managed by the professional statisticians and IT experts in PSA and DICT, under the watchful eye of the National Privacy Commission.
It’s an additional layer of security for our citizens against criminals and terrorists.
There is nothing sinister about all of this. Over a hundred countries already have national ID systems, including democracies like Spain, France, Belgium, Greece, Germany and Portugal. We can count this latest bill from Mrs. Arroyo as another move towards bringing us closer to the global mainstream.
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Going now to the present occupant of the Palace, it’s interesting to see how much was accomplished in what was effectively just a three-day workweek:
At the behest of the Marcos family, Duterte is now in a position to arrange a final settlement of the festering issue of the Marcoses’ “hidden wealth.” He may set up a three-man team, headed by a former chief justice, to negotiate the return of some portion of that wealth. He wants to do a deal, regardless of whether or not the family’s explanation of their wealth is true. This is the mayor at his best, dispensing with ideology and simply doing what is most practical for the people.
Duterte has finalized the list of 25 men and women who will comprise his Constitutional Commission to oversee the drafting of a new charter, presumably by the congressmen and senators convened as a Constituent Assembly. We hear that the major reforms will involve the eventual creation of various states under a new federal republic; possibly a shift to parliamentary government where executive and legislative powers are fused, but under a strong presidency; and dispensing with restrictive economic provisions to make us a more competitive destination for foreign investment, credit, and trade.
In a survey conducted March-April, the public’s trust in government rated at 80 percent, or fully 30 points higher than the 50 percent registered two years ago. More recently, in its June survey, SWS polled Duterte’s net satisfaction rating at +64 percent, still “very good”. Even on the sticky issue of human rights protection, he polled net +55 percent, also “very good.”
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All in all, it was a good week for the administration and for the country. Let’s hope our fortunes hold up as the weather turns colder and another Christmas comes closer.
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