Why We Are Joining the August 20 Rally

Action for Economic Reforms, a nongovernmental policy advocacy group, will join the August 20 rally.

Some influential people-ironically, from those expected to support the rally-have expressed some reservation about joining the August 20 demonstration. Their complaint is that the rally lacks focus because it
raises several issues rather than only one major issue.

We beg to disagree. Although the August 20 movement raises several concerns, charter change, press freedom, and cronyism are undoubtedly the issues of the day. The August 20 rally attempts to highlight the public’s most sensitive concerns, without need to tie them up. It
brings to the fore the most serious issues that impact on Philippine society.

Some of these issues are more complex to analyze and appreciate. Take
charter change. The 1987 Constitution is far from perfect. However, we likewise believe that the proposed charter amendments in the name of
economic reforms are questionable. They have only distracted us from the more urgent goal of putting in place the reforms to eradicate poverty and translate the fragile economic recovery into sustained growth. We reiterate the point raised by others that economic reforms in response to globalization can be done through good legislation.

True, some media practitioners may have occasionally shown irresponsibility in their news reports or their editorial comments. But
the press must be left free to publish news and proclaim their views. Only in this way can we secure a free discussion of public matters, so vital in a democracy and in public service accountability.

If indeed any member of the press has published unprotected speech,
then let the President exercise his personal right to legal redress.
But the Estrada administration’s resort to tactics such as harassing
critical media entities through tax audits and banning reporters from
covering official functions is not a valid option. Such tactics are construed as forms of retaliation against the critical segment of the media.

It is on the issue of cronyism that the Estrada administration is most
vulnerable. President Estrada has said that the Constitution has to be
amended to reject protectionism. But actions speak louder than words.
Under his administration, there has been a slide to protectionism, with
old cronies being resurrected and new cronies emerging dominant. Vested
interests have gained protection through controversial executive and
administrative orders as well as through the president’s public statements.

Economic reforms require good governance. And a central element in good
governance is the rule of law, which entails the fair application of the law to everyone. The August 20 rally, notwithstanding the different specific issues raised, essentially addresses good governance and the rule of law.

Participants in the rally may have different motives for joining the
rally. For Action, we are participating in the rally to show our opposition to cronyism and our support for good governance and the rule of law. For us, the rally is not meant to undermine the Estrada administration. Rather, the broadest participation in the August 20 rally will strengthen the hand of the reformers within the Estrada administration. A show of numbers on August 20 will hopefully pave the way for state reformers hand in hand with civil society to undertake the substantial reforms to meet the challenges we face in the new millenium.

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