The joke called citizens' assemblies

OFF TANGKENT - Aven Piramide () - March 28, 2006 - 12:00am
History has its own peculiar way of repeating itself. In the recurrence of certain events, their consequences are also felt all over again. It is but normal that some, who have benefited from the happenstance of incidents, pray for their encore while those prejudiced thereby, want, at heavy cost, to avoid the repetition of history.

Political history, more particularly, when repeated, has the capacity to affect the lives of millions of people. When I say "political history", I refer to those events which power wielders of the past influenced into happening. In other words, they were dictated more by the frame of mind of those who conceptualized them than by the natural circumstance. Because they were predicated upon the decisions of leaders, they necessarily were canalized by the ideas of the men who conceived them into certain ends.

I have the gut feeling that a critical event of the past is about to repeat itself. There is, in my mind, ample evidence that the product of the inventive legal mind of then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos is about to happen again.

More than three decades ago, Marcos, who only few months earlier declared Martial Law, wrote into the statute books Presidential Decree 86. That law organized, in every barangay throughout the country, the citizens' assemblies, which were reputed to be the sounding board of the sentiments of the lowly citizens. Its design appealed to the emotions of the common mass. For a long time, they did not have a say in how government was to be run. PD 86 gave them some degree of importance. They were to be consulted! Direct participatory government, much ballyhooed in the works of great Greek philosophers, was supposed to be achieved when ordinary citizens of the communities would assemble and be given the rare chance to speak their mind or better still, listened to. That was why Marcos called them the Citizens' Assemblies.

Political history tells us of the very first time the citizens' assemblies were called to simultaneous meetings. Between January 10 through 17, 1973, they were to be convened in order that their pulse may be felt by the military rule of Marcos.. Hidden among the questions to be answered by the horde of assembled people was a central subject of most far-reaching consequence. Yes, those assemblies were supposed to tackle the question: "Do you approve of the new constitution?"

Indeed, the citizens assemblies were organized and naturally, the mass, feeling a degree of sovereign importance welcomed the event. Hardly, however, were they there to give their inputs on the issues asked. Packed like proverbial sardines in environmentally-unfriendly classrooms countrywide, they were, if a cynic's tale were to be believed, asked who among them were hungry. Of course, every one raised his hand and simultaneously cameras flashed to record the very event of their raising their hands. What the poor guys did not know was that to the leaders who organized the assemblies, the raising of the hands was in affirmative response to the peoples' approving the new constitution.

Yesterday, some assemblies were organized. My friends in Bohol warned me about it as early as last Monday. News reports last Thursday, confirmed their being set up in many sites throughout the country. They were not of the type created by PD 86, but there was little difference in the political direction. Cameras, like what happened in 1973, did not record the event anymore. Signatures had to be affixed allegedly for comparison and confirmation with valid documents in the Commission on Election.

In the end, this administration, pretending to be without participation in this kind of trickery, would announce that pursuant to a constitutional provision on initiative which, the Supreme Court, by the way, has ruled to have no implementing law as yet, would proclaim that we have a paradigm shift in political system from presidential to parliamentary and that Her Excellency, President Gloria Macalapal Arroyo, I suppose, would be, if not the prime minister, the head, any head, of the government.

Of course, the deluge of propaganda coming out from Malacañang says that our beloved president has nothing to do with it. That is understandable because she must know that Presidential Decree 86, the concept design upon which the latest event called initiative was patterned, was but a bad political joke.

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