Part 3 of a series
MY earlier columns presented a rationale for dismantling the century’s old dysfunctional American democratic political structures imposed on us by our colonizers. (Manila Times, August 1, 2018 “Parliamentary system and the reign of Gloria”; August 11,18 & 25, 2016, “How do we change from unitary to federal”).

We submit that the unitary-presidential system be replaced with a federal-parliamentary by revising the 1987 Constitution. The arguments we proffered simply are that the unitary-presidential system has evolved cultural behavioral practices inimical to the greater majority. It has not substantially eradicated poverty in the country, particularly in the periphery. Over the decades, stark impoverishment became the petri dish on which democratic deficits plaguing our country today are incubating; from the emergence of traditional political patronage practices, allowing the proliferation of political dynasties that preserve political power among and within families; to the culture of impunity, corruption and criminality; to the rise of an oligarchy that tends to control both political and economic power. And in a vicious cycle, these sordid conditions in turn induced a poverty trap that many of our people seldom escaped from. To break this, a new paradigm needs to be introduced; alter the form and system of government and the deeply embedded cultural deficits will begin to transform.

A federal system where the local governments in the regions are freed from the clutches of central authority and control and allowed to flourish on their own terms is a preferred alternative. And to complement the federal structure, we propose a parliamentary government, replacing our aberrant presidential government.

The assumption to power of the Deegong championing federalism has popularized the slogan without so much as understanding the concept. His original pronouncements on his first SONA in 2016 was his take on parliamentary-federal government modeled after France with a “strong” president, enamored perhaps by an iconic leader like Charles De Gaulle. But France is not even federal. It is a unitary state. Thus, his 2018 Con-Com proposed a hybrid presidential/parliamentary system.

However, the belief of his unknowing supporters that federalism is a “package-deal” and can be applied all at once in one fell swoop of the revisionist pen, is mistaken. We need to de-couple these two components to understand and internalize which is more critical that must come first.

The Citizen’s Movement for Federal Philippines (CMFP), the pedigree of CDP/CDPI (the Centrist groups) since the early 1990s have always maintained that a shift to parliamentary government be done first — before a full shift to a federal system. The logic here is simple. After 100 years of political malpractices and defects in governance, the political parties became the repositories of these perversions and thus are the primary perpetrators of this decadence on the body politic.

A case for immediate shift to parliamentary government is much easier once the various appropriate pending bills on political party reforms are enacted into law. These laws will effectively penalize and eliminate turncoatism (or the switching of political parties, “balimbing,” “political butterfly”); enforce transparent mechanisms providing and regulating campaign financing to eliminate graft, corruption, and patronag (corporate and individual contributions); and allow state subsidy to professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives.

The Centrists therefore presented four preconditions while the process of constitutional revisions is ongoing; and to ease the shift from unitary-presidential to federal-parliamentary

1) The passage of the Political Party Development and Financing Act (SB 3214 and HB 6551);

2) Passage of the Freedom of Information bill (FOI) to enforce transparency in all transactions in government;

3) Initiate electoral reforms that put in place a system that will prevent the travesty of the will of the populace (i.e. rampant vote buying); and

4) Enact a law banning political dynasties as mandated in Article II Section 26 of the Constitution. This last item may have to be enacted as a self-executory provision in the revised constitution, considering the shameless disregard for its passage by Congress for decades.

As I have written in past columns, if these preconditions are not put in place and we proceed with a transition to a federal government, then we may have a government much worse than we have now.

Political party reform, the most important among the four preconditions, is imperative for the three draft constitutions being debated today: Centrist federal-parliamentary, PDP Laban hybrid-parliamentary and Con-com presidential-federal. Ample time is needed for the political parties to reorganize and reorient their ideological perspectives based on the new paradigm which is really the core operating program of a well-functioning government.

To reiterate, the Centrist preference for a parliamentary government is really based on the model’s proclivity to prevent gridlock in a unicameral body. The government of the day is checked by the opposition with a unique “question hour” that requires cabinet members who are likewise members of parliament to defend on the floor any policy questions. This ensures accountability and transparency on the part of the majority on all government transactions. On the part of the minority, a “shadow cabinet” parallels the work of the majority mirroring the positions of each member of the cabinet allowing considerations of alternatives. More importantly, all these promote cohesive and disciplined political parties, allowing a broader base and inclusive politics through a multi-party system.

The parliament is a critical component in the installation of federal states or regions as in our Centrist proposals it will oversee the step by step formation of the federal republic through initially, the creation of autonomous territories. The birthing of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR) model through the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) bears witness to the intricacies and difficulties of the process and the many decades over which it was hammered into reality. The BAR could be the template upon which the national parliament will establish the future federal states of the country. But by then, the early kinks, failures and lessons of institutionalizing an autonomous region will have been learned and internalized.

In the Centrist roadmap (next week’s article in this series), this process will commence from the first proposed parliamentary elections in 2020, provided the constituent assembly AAcomposed of the two houses of Congress will take time out from their shameful bickering and will have their work finished in time for the 2019 plebiscite.

(Next week: The process of federalization, the roadmap/framework)
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.
In politics there’s no such thing as being too big to fail. Ruling coalitions become ruling parties, at which point being bloated often results in a party split, as factions lose out in the jockeying and sense an opportunity to strike out — and strike back — by forming rival coalitions to contest the next election. In regional terms, the Visayas (Cebu in particular, with Pusyon Bisaya) and Mindanao (with the Mindanao Alliance) have their own tradition of regional parties standing up to Marcos’ KBL: even PDP-Laban traces its origins to that era. Regional barons don’t take well to being bossed around, and if a boss gets too big for his britches, a revolt is inevitable. This is why everyone seems to be expecting Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to fall, the beneficiary of his toppling being Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but the cause being widely attributed to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s sharp-tongued confrontation with him.

The clash between the mayor of Davao and the representative from the first district of Davao del Norte has been framed as a battle royale between the Speaker’s machinery and everyone else, under the umbrella of the President’s daughter. The Speaker’s take-no-prisoners approach most famously took on the President’s former patron, Antonio Floirendo Jr., with the President weighing in on the Speaker’s side after Floirendo supposedly was too uppity in response to the President’s efforts to smooth things over. But if it was necessary to teach Floirendo a lesson, it seems the time has come to teach Alvarez one, too, not least because a Floirendo-led effort to defeat the Speaker in 2019 is widely expected to succeed. But it is bigger than that as the presence of Sen. JV Ejercito at the launching of Duterte-Carpio’s regional party demonstrated. The Estrada home turf of San Juan has been rocked by a confrontation between the Zamoras and Mayor Guia Gomez, yet PDP-Laban took in the Zamoras despite JV Ejercito’s support for the President. What sort of treatment is that? And so, for every ally denied the blessings of the ruling party, there now glitters the opportunity to be associated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

In the meantime, aside from publicly being humiliated by Duterte-Carpio, the Speaker came under attack within his own party from members unhappy with his recruitment methods and for supposedly giving the cold shoulder to party veterans. Creating the impression of a civil war within a party is a tried-and-tested method for taking down party bigwigs a peg or two, and what matters most here is the hands-off announcement from the Palace when it comes to party matters. Those with sensitive political antennae will take it as the absence of a ringing endorsement for the Speaker, at a time when he has been accused by no less than the President’s fiercely outspoken daughter for being disloyal and disruptive.

PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago trying to outdo each other in being more “Dutertista” than the other only increases the chances of keeping the overall ruling coalition intact, and tying all factions to the Palace’s apron strings. It’s also a pointed reminder to the Speaker, even if he survives, not to be too piggish in the company of piglets. It does not do well for a runt to act too convinced that he’s an undefeatable wild boar. While he leads a big chunk of last-term congressmen, he has been too pushy with his no-election-in-2019 agenda, leaving no room for those looking forward to replacing last-termers, and bruising the feelings of so many players — and the public, too, which otherwise might give the President’s Charter change scheme the benefit of the doubt if only it weren’t so obviously stacking the odds in favor of people like Alvarez. Now the Speaker’s scheme is running out of steam, just when the President’s collection of consultative commission mummies are showing signs of life.

Still, all the factions could reunite by the State of the Nation Address in July, where the President could make a pitch for a plebiscite on a new constitution by October — the deadline for filing candidacies for the 2019 midterms. It will be the
balancing act of a lifetime.