(Article published in the Nov 10, 2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)
By the time
this column sees the light of print (10 November 2003), the 7-page draft
of a so-called “Covenant to Ensure Principled Adherence to
Constitutional Processes and To Strengthen the Democratic Institutions”
prepared by Malacañang will have been, either a landmark document, or a
mere scrap of paper. As I
crank this out of my computer, reports in the media seem to indicate the
greater likelihood of the latter rather than the former.
Hence, I read draft in the same vain as the tons of paper generated
in this time of year, those “papers” submitted by unconcerned students
to their equally nonchalant professors “in partial completion of the
requirements of” their undergraduate courses.
It is easy to
see why GMA’s draft would readily garner a grade of “5”, no lower
mark than which a professor could give.
appears pompously contrived and consequently too long.
“Covenant”, which used to be a revered term but was
irretrievably debased when used by the late Ferdinand Marcos to describe
how he was bound to the leadership of the nation, is, to begin with,
itself ambiguous, even in biblical literature. It could mean a contract or
it could mean an oath. And the draft is neither.
The proposed “agreement” is made “subject to approval, where
applicable” and thus does not propose to bind the signatories quid pro quo nor unilaterally.
Better to call it a “letter of intent”, a dubious instrument
brought into the country by foreign investment bankers and their lawyers,
designed to simply memorialize what they have done, to support
reimbursement for their travel and representation expenses, but really, as
some even expressly stipulate, a “non-binding agreement”, meaning,
nobody honestly believes that it will hold water in court should it be
necessary to invoke it.
that editors, when running out of print space, would cut a story from the
end, the title tries to slip in what the paper is supposed to do.
But a Freudian slip reveals too much of the wordsmith. “To ensure principled adherence to constitutional
processes” sends the signal that some people, presumably those who
signed the offensive impeachment complaint, are conceived as following
constitutional processes but are not principled.
And “strengthen the democratic institutions” betrays a naïve
belief a mere hand shake has the capacity to prop up human institutions
which are threatening to implode due to the tug and pull of internal
portion is a “Preamble”, an unabashed attempt to draw some solemnity
from the Constitution. But
whatever cosmetic virtue there is in the word is immediately wiped away by
the series of eight WHEREASes.
As every crafty
lawyer knows, (lawyers are called crafty because it is they who craft the
drafts), a WHEREAS, is not an essential part of a contract but is often
put in there to provide the context of the core agreement.
It is not a stipulation, but is an aid to interpreting a
stipulation should it be in the interest of one of the parties to bicker
about a term or two in the contract.
Hence, it is place to plant booby traps, designed to remain
unnoticed until the time, should it ever come, for it to explode.
Two land mines are immediately evident in the WHEREASes.
First, there is “the filing on 23 October, 2003 of another
impeachment complaint”. Ignore
the error of a comma after October. Most
likely an excusable confusion of the typist between the American and
international date formats. More
significant is “another”. Side
by side with the date, it presents as a fact the Judiciary Development
Fund impeachment complaint is of the same genus and is at the same stage
as the first impeachment complaint of Erap Estrada, which everyone
considers as having been “initiated”. Aha! Then, the one-year ban on
second impeachment complaints is in effect. But wasn’t that among the major issues the Supreme Court
was consulting its amici about
for two boring days?
The other is a one-liner, for emphasis no doubt, saying that our
great and fearless leader must show us the way, i.e. “President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo must lead forthwith in responding to the call”, not the
call of nature but “the urgent call of the hour” to prevent the
worsening of our present crisis. But
why GMA only to lead? Why not
the proposed signatories and endorsers?
That, to be honest, stumps me.
The Preamble is followed by two sections called successively
“General Provisions” and “Specific Provisions”, both totaling 3
pages. Only in this age of
word processors has reproducing texts ad
nauseam become in fashion. In
the age of the manual typewriter, all that verbiage would have been
disposed of by simply saying that “Sections So and So of Articles So and
So are hereby incorporated by reference and made a part hereof”.
Still verbose, but merciful to the clerk typist.
The abundance of the verbiage, however, could not obscure the
undertones which may not be completely acceptable. For instance, the
Constitution is raised up as “the source of all governmental powers.
Article I, Part I)” Does
not the Constitution itself say that all government authority emanates
from the people (Sec. 1, Art II)? If
the document is the source, then the interpreters of the document hold the
key to its meaning. Listen,
Another, Article 1, Part II. The
last sentence says that the House of Representative’s “oversight
function must be exercised within the paraments as established by
jurisprudence”. Now, boys,
it is possible you cannot spell “jurisprudence” or, if you did not
take up latin at the Ateneo, you do not know what is meant by “juris”.
Go ask your fathers, they know both.
In fact, allergic to them.
I give this unsolicited advice not because I am for you, boys.
What you did is as irresponsible as my driving drunk without a
license. But Part I and Part
II are not, in my parental mind, the proper ways to put you in line.
At any rate, to finish my grading of the covenant. The heart of the
draft is “Part III- Agreement”. There
is no need to examine this closely. Others
more interested and more learned than I am (assuming without proving that
I have a claim to any learning) have done that already.
But it stands out as the only portion in the draft that makes me
think that maybe it should get a more generous rating of “3”.