Part 2 – Unitary presidential vs federal parliamentary
IN Part 1 of this series we took DU30’s “Federalism is dead!” with a grain of salt. The Centrist Democrats (Centrists) are unequivocal that PRRD is the linchpin of a constitutional shift from unitary-presidential to parliamentary-federal, his original advocacy. But he may have failed to comprehend that the federalization process may not be realized within his term of office. Also, he dropped the “parliamentary” adjunct after his much maligned “French model” didn’t wash. But he stuck to his overall nebulous idea of federalism; yet long on slogans but short on concepts.

This is understandable for an impatient and driven executive who has the misfortune of being surrounded by some senior political advisers whose appreciation of their jobs does not go beyond the level of sycophancy. This is partly the President’s fault as his stint as a superb local executive, an autodidact in the intricacies of national politics and international relations has confined his recruitment among a coterie of a prosaic circle of associates easily intimidated by a display of his alpha male attributes; thus, inhibiting good counsel.

Meanwhile, the Centrists which have been refining the idea of a shift to federal-parliamentary since the 2005 Consultative Commission (ConCom) of President GMA has produced the Centrist Proposals to revise the 1987 Constitution. This document has not been accorded due importance by the PRRD bureaucracy, preferring instead to divine the Deegong’s perorations and perceptions inaccurately, thus failing to inform, educate and precipitate debate among the masses. The presidential backtracking therefore is taken by the Centrists as a challenge to push through its original vision: a shift from unitary-presidential to parliamentary-federal systems.

For a short tutorial, what we have now is a unitary-presidential form of government where power and authority are concentrated in the national central government (the Center) making the same inordinately dominant. The regional and local government units (LGUs) are subordinate and exercise only such powers allowed to them by the Center, headed by the President. This subservience stifles local initiative and resourcefulness, perpetuates dependency and reinforces traditional political patronage relationships.

In theory, executive power is vested in the president who is the head of government and the state; legislative power is entrusted to a bicameral congress consisting of the senate and the house of representatives; and judicial power is conferred upon a supreme court and in the lower courts created by law. This is the classic separation of the three branches of government handed down to us by our American colonizers. But in practice, our present system is characterized by intermittent gridlock between the senate and the presidency, a clash of super-egos, a systemic anomaly.

One source of “ingrained corruption” is the very expensive nationwide elections where the president, vice president and senators are susceptible to the intrusion of the moneyed class and the oligarchy to finance elections. Such an environment enforces a malicious quid pro quo allowing office holders to recoup election expenses through rent-seeking activities or even outright regulatory capture.

Planning and programs for the communities are characterized by a top-to-bottom approach divorced from the realities on the ground; and impairing gravely the decision-making process. Critical revenues directed centrally and collected locally are invariably expensed from the top; detached from the actual needs below.

The Centrists want an alternative, a federal form of government, a system with clear separation of powers and authority between national government (federal) and the regional or local governments (states).

The federal government aims to establish a democratic system that recognizes the rights of each region to govern itself and pursue its own agenda of progress and development consistent with the national interest. It will run its own affairs and decide its own destiny without interference from the national government. Federalism emphasizes regional and local self-rule and self-reliance in governance, based on the principle of subsidiarity. This means decisions should be made at the lowest level where problems are best solved.

While regional or state governments are designed to be autonomous in state and local affairs, the federal government helps the various regions and states, especially the less developed ones — as in all federal systems in the world.

Federalism emphasizes respect for the socio-cultural diversity of the people and seeks solidarity and cooperation in governance, nation-building, modernization and development. The Constitution will define the powers that may either be exclusive to the federal government, to the states or shared. Universally accepted are federal powers on defense, foreign affairs, currency and coinage and customs and trade.

The Centrists also want to replace our presidential form with a parliamentary government where the legislative and executive powers are fused and vested on a unicameral (or bicameral) parliament; and the “head of government” is the prime minister with his cabinet recruited from among the members of parliament. The president is the “head of state” and is elected from among the members of parliament; and upon taking his oath he ceases to be a member of parliament and any political party.

A unicameral parliament is composed of elected members from the parliamentary districts, plus those chosen on the basis of “proportional representation” by the political party according to the votes each party obtained in the preceding elections. The members chosen by the political parties (party list) shall constitute 30 percent of the total number of members of parliament. The political parties shall ensure that in the 30 percent “party list,” the labor, peasant, urban poor, veterans, indigenous people communities, women, youth, differently abled, except the religious sector, are properly represented. The current “party list” system is a perversion of the German model from whom it was copied. As practiced now, there is no clear representation of the less privileged. This should be abolished.

A parliamentary government is also called “party government” because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance and public administration. Our political parties are personal factions and alliances of politicians, united mainly for elections and patronage; they have no mass memberships and no sustainable and exclusive serious platform of government that differentiate them from one another. They are not responsible and accountable for their performance in and out of office.

For these reasons, they don’t have loyalties to their parties and migrate to the political party of the winning president. This spectacle is known as “political butterfly.” As proposed, any elective official who leaves his political party before the end of the term shall forfeit his seat and will be replaced by his political party.

A mechanism to replace a prime minister is for parliament to withdraw its confidence and by electing a successor by a majority vote of all its members. This “vote of no confidence” is a much easier process of replacing a head of government in a parliamentary system than the current impeachment process of replacing a president.

All these need constitutional revisions and may not be accomplished within the remaining term of DU30. But there are critical reforms which need to be done prior to a shift away from unitary-presidential to federalism with a parliamentary form of government.

Next week: Part 3 – Preconditions to federal-parliamentary system
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.

A FAMOUS NFL player and Coach, Vince Lombardi, known as a stickler to basics and for his single-minded determination to win once said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else through hard work. That’s the price we have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” Successful people therefore, master the fundamentals then put on hard work to bring about results.

Mastery of the Fundamentals

Purpose-driven leaders are able to inspire and rally their people to achieve dreams which they view as beyond reach. Awareness of one’s capabilities and limitations heightens individuality as an unambiguous self-conviction that enhances transparency and inspires confidence. An indispensable quality is decisiveness, the imprint of exceptional leaders that disavows tentativeness over an undertaking. Everyone lays claim to integrity but only those who practice honesty and humility to accept and rectify one’s mistakes, ever make the grade. Essential to any career pursuit is good education. Getting a diploma is the customary goal that most everyone considers the be-all and end-all. Proficiency however, empowers one to be competitive and achieve the best results. These constitutive qualities and leadership traits would highlight the career of Lawyer and Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez. Before becoming a politician and even dreaming of a legislator as his life’s purpose, he built his fundamentals not just as a consistent intellectual achiever but with a string of Masters work in the fields of Economics and Law, subjects which in time, gave him an edge in Congress deliberations while serving his constituents as Cagayan de Oro District 2 Representative for 9 straight years. A wunderkind, he further honed his skills through lectures and discourses in various local and international forums and turned to writing in his spare time. A prolific author, his books became requisite academic references which greatly helped students at various levels. Beyond doubt, the pre-eminence of these overlying attributes are what ordain true public servants like him.

Hard Work

Political leaders perform an obligation in their social contract (Hobbes and Locke) with the people. Having reposed in them the authority to hold power, they are expected to deliver on their platforms of government or risk their chances for re-election. Evidently, the electorate in District 2 have expressed satisfaction through the successive terms of office granted to Cong. Rodriguez. He distinguished himself among the City’s past representatives as a man of action. While his peers are content with automatic appropriations and passive acquiescence to congressional proceedings, he introduced landmark bills and followed through until they are enacted as laws. In Congress, bills are thoughtfully deliberated, taking some time to reach even the third reading stage unless one doggedly pursues the agenda otherwise, they are left to the back burners. Hard work then means total immersion in back-breaking legislative work while sourcing out funds to address the most pressing needs of constituents. It’s not a walk in the park.

The Goal

Cagayan de Oro City (CDOC), a regional hub enviably located at the heart of Northern Mindanao and widely promoted and acclaimed as the Gateway to the Land of Promise deserves good leaders. As a first class, highly urbanized city, CDOC is consistently ranked among the top competitive and liveable cities until it dropped recently down the ranks. Still, with resolute leadership and a cooperative citizenry, we firmly believe the City will soon rival Davao and Cebu in terms of economic advancement. The immediate goal would be to earn that elusive Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) to boost investor confidence.

The humongous potentials of the City cannot be overstated. Economic prospects for tourism, infrastructure, industry, commerce and real estate and home-grown development initiatives offer a brilliant outlook. This would require however, a concerted synergy between the city’s executives and legislative council with the able support of CDO’s representatives in Congress including the party-list ABAMIN, which would likewise greatly contribute in providing much needed funds for social services, scholarships and livelihood initiatives. The long-term goals can be summarized under three major groupings: First, a world-class infrastructure program that would solve once and for all the city’s perennial problems in traffic, flood, waste management and efficient movement of goods from farm to the city; Second, total mining and log ban and effective reforestation programs to ensure the safety of the city’s residents and to promote tourism; and Third, Health, Education, Employment and Dwelling/Housing (HEED) initiatives that would address problems in peace and order, drug-dependency and criminality. Only a knowledgeable and seasoned legislator could make these aspirations a reality.

With strong fundamentals and experience as a hardworking public servant with clear specific goals, the City would be in good hands with Rufus B. Rodriguez once again as Cagayan de Oro’s representative. He is, undoubtedly, a congressman like no other.

(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute  [CDPI] with focus on political technocracy. He  holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines [CDP].)