Early this month, Quezon City Rep. and Palace ally Matias Defensor announced that he had been “rethinking” his support for charter change.
When asked by Mo Twister in last Tuesday's I.M.O. on ANC if Defensor was sincere in his promise to pull out his signature from the resolution aimed at convening congress into a constituent assembly, Defensor said yes.
“Nothing is worth national unity. If the con-ass will create disunity, I myself will withdraw my signature from HR 1109 and push for a constitutional convention.”
Twister notes that politicians usually pull out support from unpopular bills in the face of public pressure. “Isn't that just pandering to the public?”
“No, I don't want this country to be divided. And I always say unity is priceless, even if we have to spend more money to amend the constitution through a constitutional convention.”
“Aren’t we already divided? We've had a couple of rallies recently. How many more before you say, ‘this is enough?’”
“It's not the rallies. I can really feel the people. I've always been in touch with the people. I can feel their pulse and as their representative I'm going to be with them.”
“Do you think your constituents want charter change?”
“My constituents want charter change.”
“How do you validate that?”
“Because every time we talk, they ask me what provisions of the constitution would you like change, and I've told them several times, including some historical background.”
Twister asks about timing. “Definitely it's fishy when you guys are up at midnight in a country that has a ton of problems like poverty, education, the list goes on and on and you're doing it right before a big election. It just makes people wonder—what the heck is going on?”
Defensor admits that the doubt exists, but argued that the proposal to amend the constitution started in 1994.
“Every time, they say this is not the right time, because they feel that the incumbent official is up on something, that they want to extend his term. Since 1994 to 2009 you're talking of 15 years. So when is the right time? So I think every time we do something like this then something like this comes up.”
“Why not we just wait a while, after the elections in 2010, and start it all back up again?”
“That's what we're saying,” Defensor said. “Come up with HR 1109 and make it take effect after the 2010 elections.”
Twister asks, “If GMA had a flaw in her presidency what would it be?”
“She stayed too long in office.”
“Say we have elections next year which you say we will. We have a new president, we have a new vice president, GMA runs for congress, , you do an assembly, and she becomes Prime Minister because you changed the form of government. That's what people are saying is going to happen. Do you think it will turn out that way?”
“Too much speculation.”
“But it's legitimate speculation?”
“Speculation just the same. Theoretically yes, it can be true. But that's between her and the people of Pampanga.”
“Isn't all that legitimate speculation if we don't know what we're changing?”
Defensor does not answer.
“You get what I mean?” Twister asks.
“Yes, but we will announce what we are changing the moment we come up with a proposal on what part of the constitution we'll be changing.”
On the system
Twister begins with an apology.
“Sorry I might sound stupid here, but aren’t there bigger problems than constitutional change? We have scandal after scandal that deals with corruption; we have a huge poverty problem and an education-funding problem. It seems like we're wasting time.”
Defensor says he knows where Twister is coming from. “But basically the problem of the country is too much poverty. And I think that can be remedied by changing the constitution.”
He said opening the market by changing the constitution could solve the poverty problem.
Twister asked if Defensor preferred federalism over parliamentary. “Do you even know what you want? It seems like we just want to remove what we've got going on right now but we're not really defining what we prefer.”
“Well federalism has its own merits. My only objection about federalism is that it's too small a country to really be federated, and a small country, poor with a very weak military. I think that can be an issue on federalism.”
Earlier, Defensor had used Senator Aquilino Pimetel’s proposal for federalism as an example of how the Constitution must be changed.
“I think the Senator is making a lot of sense by proposing something like that. The reason we’re so crowded here is that we don’t federalize. The wealth of a state like Mindanao for instance goes to Manila. And you build overpasses, infrastructure that the people in Mindanao are not privy to.”
Twister asks, ”Are you for parliamentary then?
Defensor shrugs. “Parliamentary is okay.”
On GMA after 2010
“Why don't you want GMA in office after 2010?”
Defensor makes an inarticulate sound.
“Because earlier you said that she's been in office too long,” Twister says.
Defensor answers. “It's not that I don't want her to be in office. It's just that I think she—yes, of course, she's stayed there—but she has done so much for the country already.”
“Does that mean then you do not want to see her in Congress just in case she decides to run for Congress in Pampanga?”
“I've not made an opinion on that, because frankly Mo, I've not considered that kind of situation.”
Is she corrupt?
“Do you think you can look people straight in the face—our poor, your colleagues in government, students, young people—would you be able to look at all of us and tell us that the current administration has done nothing corrupt during its term?”
Defensor stammers. “I don't know about corrupt—corruption or whether it is attributable to the President—if there is. But one thing I am sure is that two-thirds of the world is under recession right now. The Philippines is not. Our economy is still sailing smoothly.”
Defensor’s voice changes pitch. He launches into a declamation.
“At a time when the rest of Asia and the rest of the world were enjoying prosperity, the Philippines was a basket case. In 2003 we were facing a financial crisis. It would have been one hundred pesos to a dollar, according to Lucio Tan. This administration bit the bullet, came up with sin taxes, with the creation of more tax appeals courts, the attrition law, the e-vat—all fiscal policies. We were able to reduce our budget deficit and even with the recession right now all over the world, we still expect to have a balanced budget.”
Twister cuts in.
“Okay, say she's a great economist, but can you say she wasn't corrupt though? Because in the end, I don't care how great of a president you are in reshaping our economy, if you steal from us, you steal from us, and that is a problem with everybody regardless of what you do. I mean, sure, you got the US and you get Bill Clinton who goes out and probably sleeps with an intern, they forgive that because the economy was great—and he didn't steal from the people. But here we have scandal after scandal after scandal of a president that looks like there’s stealing. Is that acceptable, just because we have a nice economy?”
“I'm a lawyer, Mo. And I look at hard evidence. It's not a case of looking like there's stealing. I am also the chairman of the committee on justice. And I presided over two impeachment cases against the president. And all those accusations against her, there was nothing strictly attributable to her.”
Defensor talks about former Speaker Jose de Venecia and the NBN-ZTE deal in China. “They played golf, they ate, and he said that there were pictures and pictures don't lie. Pictures don't lie, yes, but is there a crime in picture-taking? So there was no hard evidence that was really presented.”
He asks, “Why should I even think this is a corrupt president, or lie in judgment of her?”
“Fair enough.” Mo Twister grins. “But you didn't say you believed she was a hundred percent clean either though.”
“Ah, I don't think so. Nobody is anyway.”
(Catch Mo Twister on ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel, Tuesdays at 10.30 pm)