Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms, a policy advocacy NGO. This article was published in Business Mirror, February 2, 2006 edition, p. A11.

We can summarize what happened at the Council of State meeting by reading what the attendees had to say.

A victorious Fidel Ramos gloated and said: “I think almost all of us, say 99 percent, agreed to push ahead with the 2007 elections.”  It’s magnanimous of Ramos to say 99 percent because 99 and a half percent would mean no one sided with the half-pint sized Mrs. Gloria Arroyo.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye spinned his patron’s debacle in terms of ratios. He said,  “The ratio of those who talked is 4:1 more or less, four being in favor of just maintaining the system and holding of the elections.”  Bunye said 4:1 because he always perceives Mrs. Arroyo as larger by half.

Kampi honcho Ronaldo Puno revealed his Jesuitic training and “never say die” Ateneo spirit when he said, “There was a consensus that there will be elections in 2007 but there was no formal consensus.”

Consultative Commission Chairman Jose Abueva probably did not get a chance to speak, that’s why he told reporters, “There are many substantive issues that are not yet understood.” If Abueva had been allowed to speak he would have given all the right answers to the wrong questions.

Noli de Castro simply said the nation should unite behind Manny Pacquiao. He did not disappoint anyone by exceeding their expectations.

And Mrs. Arroyo wrapped it up and said, “We earn the respect of the world by such collective encounters of statesmanship, and I shall be guided by the consensus gathered in the meeting.”

And then she signed Executive Order No. 495 establishing and instructing an advocacy commission to “advocate the shift from presidential to a parliamentary form of government, from a unitary structure of government to autonomous territories/federal states, and liberalization of the economy” and gave Abueva P5 million and eight months to go around the country to preach the consensus she arrived at with herself.

But more seriously, it’s okay to talk and even advocate charter change because that’s the right of every Filipino who is unhappy with the present charter. The 1987 charter was written by a body appointed by a revolutionary government. However,  it was ratified by an overwhelming majority of the Filipino people so changing it now should involve the entire people not just in the ratification but also in the deliberations stage as well, right?

We are not in the same revolutionary situation anymore. There is no more reason for something so fundamental to be entrusted to a chosen few. The proper and decent thing to do is elect a constitutional convention if people want charter change (cha-cha). That way, everybody is involved in every stage of the cha-cha process. The deliberations may take years, and they should, because, after all, as one sage put it “a constitution should not be written on a table napkin.”

But the proponents of cha-cha have other ideas. They want the debate centered exclusively on their pre-packaged proposal. They don’t want to debate the virtues of a constitutional assembly versus a constitutional convention within the context of which is more in keeping with democracy. Instead they throw democracy out the window and reduce that debate to a question of money and time. In addition, they want to argue their case for a constitutional assembly in the Supreme Court rather than in Plaza Miranda.  Most important of all, they don’t want the debate on charter change to focus on personalities. But that is precisely where the debate should begin because Who, in many cases, is a prerequisite to What.

First, one must ask: “Who are the main proponents of charter change?”  Gloria Arroyo, Jose de Venecia, Fidel Ramos, Lakas, Kampi and their allies.

After having identified the proponents, the logical questions that will follow are:    “Would you issue a blank check to any of them? Would you give any of them a complete and irrevocable power of attorney over all your worldly possessions?  “Would you even consider buying a used-car from any of them?” The answers are obvious— that’s why the main proponents do not want those questions raised. They want the issue of trust taken off the table.

The Senate should not even dignify that cabal’s cha-cha proposal with a comment. They should simply say, “noted” and stop the cha-cha train in its tracks.

The Who derails the What because it all boils down to a question of trust. And who in his right mind would trust the “party of thieves” to do right by anyone except themselves?