While the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya last Sunday could serve as a stern warning to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) - and perhaps an encouragement to the military - that tinkering with the Constitution to extend her tenancy in Malacañang is a risky move, it could on the contrary embolden GMA in pursuing her nefarious political agenda.
The parallels between the Philippines and Honduras are uncanny. As we all know very well GMA's allies in Congress have been assiduously pushing for charter change by resolving to convene a con-ass. Zelaya's ouster was precipitated by his insistence on having a constitutional convention (con-con). Both moves are seen as attempts to extend the president's term of office. GMA's allies want to proceed with a con-ass even without the Senate (clearly unconstitutional), while Zelaya wants a referendum on the convening of a con-con without congressional authorization as required by Honduras's constitution.
While GMA's supporters may argue that she has nothing to do with the cha-cha efforts in Congress, there is convincing evidence to the contrary. The prime movers of cha-cha in Congress belong to GMA's party and it is safe to say that as president GMA has a strong involvement on this issue. Also, the recent admission by former DOJ Secretary Raul Gonzalez, one of GMA's most trusted advisers, that GMA has every reason to remain in power either as president or prime minister to immunize herself from suits, is a very persuasive argument for GMA's involvement.
Going back to Honduras, it is disappointing to know that the international community - including the UN, Organization of American States, and the US - was quick to condemn the removal of Zelaya and announce its disapproval of the existing government, given the background of Zelaya and what prompted his removal. A review of what happened in Honduras shows that it was Zelaya who first committed constitutional shortcuts by disregarding the Honduran Congress in calling for a referendum to amend the constitution. The Honduran Supreme Court, backed by the attorney general, ruled that Zelaya's call for a referendum was unconstitutional. Zelaya defied the Supreme Court ruling by firing the army chief who refused to support Zelaya's self-initiated referendum. This prompted the military, in support of the Supreme Court's ruling, to arrest Zelaya. As a result of this the Honduran Congress installed Roberto Micheletti, the constitutional successor to the president.
Now there is much debate whether the removal of Zelaya could be considered as a coup. While there was a seeming disconnect at first between the US State Department and White House's characterization of the event, President Obama finally stopped equivocating by calling the removal as a coup and an illegal one at that. I am not sure what the Honduras Constitution says about the removal of the president (whether it could only be done through impeachment), but there is argument to the effect that Zelaya was arrested for flagrant violation of the constitution and it was not the military that took power but rather his constitutional successor, Micheletti, and the Honduran Congress approved this.
But coup or not, there is no debate that Zelaya violated the Honduran Constitution when he tried to pursue a referendum on cha-cha without congressional authorization. None of those who disapprove of Zelaya's ouster dispute this. Despite Zelaya's brazen disregard of Honduras's Constitution and defiance of the Supreme Court, however, the international community remained mum on this issue and instead chose to look only at his ouster by the military. The outrage against constitutional violation is one-sided. By the way there is strong public support among Hondurans for Zelaya's removal; like GMA he is not a popular president.
This lopsided view from the international community could embolden GMA in acting á la Zelaya. It tells us that no matter how brazenly the president may commit constitutional shortcuts it would now be at the risk of being internationally condemned and isolated to overthrow her; that a people power backed by the military may no longer be acceptable as EDSA I or EDSA II was. The administration might just capitalize on this development in discouraging the people and the military from resorting to another people power to unseat an extended GMA presidency or, perhaps, a GMA prime ministership.