Early in the election quickcount, Vice President Leni Robredo called on her supporters to “listen to the people’s voice” and be prepared to accept Bongbong Marcos as the nation’s 17th president. This gave the post-election drive for unity a much-needed push. But subsequently Robredo said the fight is not yet over, then some of her student supporters announced a “walkout” from their respective universities to protest BBM’s amazing numbers. This has taken the move for unity a step backward. Whether it will stall now is our common concern, not just that of BBM.

It is absurd for anyone to suggest that schools and universities should shut down just because one’s presidential candidate had lost. If this were so, why shouldn’t hospitals, churches, cinema houses, beauty shops and everything else close down as well? But this appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. The problem is much bigger and deeper. A university professor writes to tell me that although his university did not do what other universities and colleges did—which was to “explicitly and openly support specific candidates,” so many of its students got so deeply sucked into the campaign that they just could not reconnect to the real world.

My friend’s university had to offer guidance and counselling to help its students deal with their trauma. But even if all the schools and universities were doing the same thing, no one can say if the group sessions are working well. So many young people with various psychological needs could still be out there.

According to my professor-friend, the younger ones of these students have told their parents that they “no longer want to pray because their prayers for their candidates were not answered anyway;” “they no longer want to help the poor because they chose the wrong candidates anyway;” “they no longer want to support the government because it will soon be run by ‘dictators’ and ‘thieves’.”

They are apparently victims of brainwashing by persons in authority who tried to depict the last elections wrongly and woefully as “the ultimate combat between ‘good and evil’.” It was never that, and I myself have tried to point it out to my readers. In a previous column (BizNews Asia, May 2-9, 2022), I said it was wrong and dangerous to look at the election as a fight between “good and evil”; it was more realistic and helpful, I said, to look at it, in the words of Voltaire, as a contest “between the good and the best.”

But some self-righteous militants, using the Church and the schools as launching pad, were determined to pronounce one set of candidates, against all known facts, as “holy,” and another set as “evil,” even without sufficient basis. And they did not mind packing their rallies with pink-costumed toddlers and other non-voters, just to create the needed optics for the larger viewing public.

Then a few days before the election they announced that some 1,400 priests and religious (out of the 8,605 priests reportedly serving 70 million Filipino Catholics, as of 2012) had picked their own “moral choice” for president and vice president. When I heard it, I wondered how those churchmen and women, who are barred by Catholic Church teaching from meddling in partisan politics, would eventually govern the nation if their candidates won, and how they would recover their charism and credibility as shepherds if their candidates lost.

We are now faced with the latter situation, and we have not heard them explain why their “moral choice” had to face such a tsunami of negative votes. If “the voice of the people is the voice of God” (vox populi, vox Dei), as the CBCP proclaimed in 1986, can they now see God speaking through the poor and unlettered Catholic voters who simply followed their own individual consciences rather than be swayed by the militant outpouring of slander and hate?

As heralds of the Gospel, can they now see what Psalm 118:22 means when it says, “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”? As pious men and women who are also sinners, can they now see the gravity of their own sin and their need to confess it?

They must now see that their effort to demonize Marcos has damaged not so much their object as so many young and impressionable minds, and they must now try to undo the damage. Above all, they must do everything to keep those young people from falling into the arms of those waging violent struggle against the State.

According to police reports, so many young people have not gone back to their homes since they joined the campaign. Distressed parents have expressed fear that something dangerous and sinister is afoot and that their children could be involved in it. They fear the Left might try to replicate what they did to the old man Marcos after his 1969 unprecedented reelection with a 61.47-percent landslide.

This refers to the first CPP-led demonstration against Marcos at the doorway of Congress after his first State of the Nation Address as a reelected president on January 26, 1970. This was the first salvo of the First Quarter Storm. It would be followed by an attack on the grounds of Malacañang on January 30, 1970, then by the Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21, 1971, and ultimately the upsurge of lawless violence that prompted the proclamation of martial law on September 21, 1972.

So far there is no sign of anything like it. But forewarned is forearmed. If BBM’s political enemies have not given up, and if they have assessed him to be “conflict-averse”, they might be tempted to recreate the scenario against his dad. To negate any such challenge, BBM will now have to consolidate his forces. With a 60 percent majority, he should have no problem winning over the rest of the 100 percent, excluding Leni Robredo’s portion, if she remains adamant. In 1992, Fidel V. Ramos, after winning 23.58 percent of votes in a seven-man contest, was able to consolidate the support of all his opponents, except Miriam Defense Santiago, his closest rival with 19.72 percent of the votes, who insisted she was the real winner in that contest.

The more formidable challenge for BBM is to succeed in his priorities, without being distracted by anything, including the noble intentions of his political allies who may want to impose their own political agendas on his administration. Both the outgoing president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and the incoming Senate topnotcher, Robin Padilla, are already talking about changing the Constitution—Tatay Digong, to purge the party-list system, and Robin, to shift to the federal system of government.

Whatever its merits, any attempt to tinker with the Constitution at this point might distract the administration from its economic priorities, which require its full and undivided attention.
BBM cannot afford to be distracted. To begin with, contrary to so much misunderstanding in so many high places, the President does not have the power to propose any amendment to or revision of the Constitution.

This power is reserved unto Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members sitting as a constituent assembly; or to a constitutional convention called by Congress upon a vote of two-thirds of all its Members or at the call of the electorate, upon a majority vote of all the Members of Congress. Upon the petition of at least twelve percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district is represented by at least three percent of the registered voters therein, the people may also directly propose amendments. But this process may be availed of not oftener than once every five years from 1992.

I share President Duterte’s anxiety over the party-list system, although not necessarily for the same reason. The Constitution does not define exactly what party-list parties are. Paragraph 2 of Section 5 of Article VI simply provides: “The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty percentum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”

My basic objection is that it creates a class of citizens who are twice represented in Congress, first by their territorial representatives and second by their party-list members. This, I believe, is a constitutional aberration. The provision should therefore be revised without necessarily convening the two Houses of Congress as one; then, voting separately, the two Houses could approve the proposed constitutional amendment by three-fourths of all their Members.

As for Senator Robin’s proposed shift to the federal and parliamentary systems, the two should not be lumped together; they are two different organisms. In the parliamentary system, Parliament is the governing body, made up of elected members (MPs) who elect their own leader (Prime Minister) whom they can also dismiss anytime he or she loses their confidence.

The federal system “federates” (puts together) otherwise autonomous or independent geographical units into a whole, and distributes power between the central government and the component states, provinces or regions. It operates under two levels of government—the federal and the state. The opposite of the federal system is the unitary state, a single national unit governed under one set of laws. The US, Australia and Germany are examples of a federal government. The Philippines and Singapore are examples of a unitary state.

In order to make a federal government out of the Philippines, it may be necessary to “balkanize” it first—break it up into parts—then put the various parts, like Humpty Dumpty, back together again. Or, as I had once imagined, we could incorporate Sabah, with the consent of Malaysia, and Kalayaan or the Spratlys, with no objections from China, and launch our Federal Republic of the Philippines.

For all the reasons in the world, I would encourage Robin, whose late father was a very dear friend of mine, to focus on his proposed shift to parliamentary government. It is what we need as a growing nation. Not only is it easier to find good leaders in it than in a presidential system, it is also easier to get rid of them whenever they fail. More than that, in the parliamentary system, a government that falls today could bounce back tomorrow, depending on how Parliament votes, without causing student radicals to walk out of their classrooms.