The apathy of the powerless

Once upon a time, or so the story went, the Filipino people had the strength to change, not only their leaders, but the system of government itself, and even the Constitution. And, having been once stripped of their powers, they wanted to make sure they would never be rendered powerless again.
So they – or at least the 50 people chosen to represent them – put into the Constitution the right of the people to change not only their government, or their leaders, but even the Constitution. The people’s initiative was meant to check Congress, if and when the people believe it had failed to respond to their needs. At the same time, however, those who were writing the Constitution chose to limit this power they were giving to the Filipino people. Only amendments – improvements and additions to the basic text – and not revisions – an overhaul of the text itself – were allowed to the people.
Then they added another hitch: it was a power the people could not exercise until Congress had passed a law that would detail how that power could be used.
So a law was filed – and eventually passed. But when someone tried to actually use this right, the law – RA 6735 – turned out to be “ineffective,” though the Supreme Court did not actually say it was unconstitutional. Twenty-one years since “we, the sovereign Filipino people” passed a Constitution that gave us the power not only to check the Legislature but to change and pass our own laws, that power remains unavailable to us.
When then Rep. Raul Roco sponsored the bill, he described the initiative provision as “an instrument which can be used should the legislature show itself indifferent to the needs of the people.”
In his sponsorship remarks, Rep. Salvador Escudero III said: “Through this bill we can hasten the politicization of the Filipino which in turn will aid government in forming an enlightened public opinion, and hopefully produce better and more responsive and acceptable legislations.”
That was in February 1989.
Now we lament the public apathy that has allowed – and accepted – not only corruption in government, but the corruption of our own values and way of life.
But can we blame the people whom we, ourselves, have rendered inutile and powerless?


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