"How do you solve a problem like Rodrigo?"
Last week I had the privilege—again—of testifying before the House committee on constitutional amendments, headed these days by the amiable Congressman Alfredo Garbin of Albay, ably assisted by deputy committee chair Lorenz Defensor from Iloilo.
Such testimony wasn’t the first time for me, in the long journey of constitutional reform following Duterte’s election in 2016--from the initial PDP-Laban version in 2017 to the Puno version in 2018, to the IATF upgrade of the Puno draft in 2019, to the ongoing campaign just for specific targeted amendments.
This time around, though, the instructions from Speaker Allan Velasco to the committee are clear: Focus only on relaxing the constitutional restrictions on foreign direct investment. My fellow reformers and I feel bad about having to set aside—for now—the other amendments we’re pushing. But after all this time, we’ve learned that it’s all about the art of the possible. Take what you can today, keep your powder dry for tomorrow.
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During our roadshows all over the country the last four years, I’ve consistently found that the reform most easily understood and accepted by our people on the ground is relaxing FDI restrictions. This may help explain the surprising consensus behind it that’s shaping up within the highest levels of government.
But the bigger explanation has got to be the unimpeachable fact that, without more investment, we will simply not be able to recover from the economic damage wrought by the pandemic and lockdown—let alone attain a sustainable long-term growth path that is driven by more investment (private as well as public) and not just consumption.
Some critics suspect that all this enthusiasm for FDI is simply a ruse to gin up a charter change process into which other reforms may be slipped in—such as extending the leadership’s term in office. This of course implies that Duterte is incapable of appreciating unimpeachable facts like the need for more investment after a pandemic.
This criticism only betrays existential angst over the guy’s 91 percent approval rating in the depths of the lockdown. To paraphrase Mother Superior in The Sound of Music, “how do you solve a problem like Rodrigo?” His critics would do better to heed his repeated body language about not wanting to overstay in office a day longer, and focus instead on heading off his anointed one in 2022—a challenge to which constitutional reform is totally irrelevant.
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As US President-elect Biden prepares to be sworn in tomorrow, now is a good time to review another unimpeachable fact: the long list of achievements by the outgoing Trump administration specifically on behalf of the pro-life and pro-family causes and religious freedom in his country.
It’s a long list drawn up by the Family Research Council (which has been banned from the newly censorious FaceBook), among which the following are just a very few:
2017: Reinstated the Mexico City Policy which blocks funding for international pro-abortion groups. Rescinded Obama’s guidance requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom they prefer. Executive order setting forth religious liberty as a policy priority. Exempted objecting organizations from having to purchase insurance covering contraceptives and abortifacients.
2018: Excluded from military service those with “gender dysphoria” or who had undergone gender transition. Proposed to exclude abortion services from the federal Title X family planning program. Set up a global Religious Freedom Fund and a Genocide Recovery Response initiative. DOJ filed various amici curiae in defense of religious holidays, scholarships, and public displays.
2019: Trump wrote House Speaker Pelosi promising to veto any legislation that weakens pro-life Federal policies and laws: a shot across the bow of the newly elected Democrat majority. Introduced a new Protecting Life in Global Health Policy and an International Religious Freedom Alliance. HHS Secretary Azar told the UN General Assembly there is no such thing as an “international right to abortion”.
2020: Education and Justice departments issued guidance on constitutionally-protected prayer and religious expression in public schools. Various Cabinet agencies eliminated two rules singling out faith-based organizations wishing to avail of federal grants or contracts. Trump became the first US president to ever publicly address the annual March for Life in Washington DC.
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None of this is intended to excuse Trump’s many secular flaws—his personal unlikeability especially among foreigners, his questionable business methods, his ham-handed foreign policy. One might even question—as one could with anybody else—whether, in his heart of hearts, Trump was truly religious.
But something like that is really between him and his Maker. When Trump is asked at his final accounting, “What did you actually DO (never mind whatever else you did, or said, or believed in your heart) for the cause of human life and family with all that power you had?” he can honestly hold his head high.
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