Unitary-presidential and alternatives

Unitary-presidential and alternatives Featured

Fourth of 5 parts

THE past three parts of this five-part series were discussions on the endemic defects of Philippine society overarching our constitution contributing toward misgovernance, regulatory capture of government institutions resulting in massive corruption, rent-seeking, impunity, and all sorts of social injustices.

These deficiencies permeate the unitary-presidential model imposed by our American colonialists although theirs is a federal-presidential system. We adopted all these in the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution.

This fourth part is a rationale for the revision of the 1987 Constitution adopting a parliamentary-federal model as an alternative to our decades-old anomaly.

Features of the presidential-unitary

(Excerpt from conference overview: "Pursuing federalism," Taguig City, June 10, 2016)

What we have now is a unitary-presidential system where our local government units (LGUs) are subordinate to the dominant national central government headed by the president. This subservience to the presidency and highly centralized authority perpetuates dependency and reinforces a traditional patronage relationship.

In theory, we have the classic separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, with the president the head of state and government; both houses of Congress, entrusted with powers to make laws; and the supreme and lower courts to interpret the laws.

But in practice, this power partitioning is characterized by gridlock between the Senate and the presidency, particularly when both come from opposing political parties. Also, since the senators are likewise elected nationwide, they are disposed to challenge the presidency at every turn claiming equal status by virtue of their election by similar constituencies.

Recurring elections

One great source of "ingrained corruption" is the very expensive nationwide elections where the president, vice president and senators are predisposed to recoup their expenses and accumulate for the next election. Anecdotal evidence suggests that over the decades, the priority of central authority with the presidency at its core was to serve the interests of those that put them in power, the local political dynasts and the oligarchy, putting in the backburner the country's most pressing problem: stark poverty and widening wealth gap between the "haves and the have-nots."

Central authority also dictates planning and programs for the communities are 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.

This is our dysfunctional unitary system of government. The president as the central authority is supreme and may or may not delegate or devolve powers to the LGUs where the majority of our people live and where problems originate; perforce, the solutions will not come from among them.

Parliamentary government

Under our proposed system, governance is improved with the fusion of the executive and legislative functions in a unicameral parliament. Here, the president assumes a separate role as head of state, symbolic and ceremonial with a fixed term of five years. The prime minister, elected from among the parties of parliament, becomes head of government with a parliamentary majority. This eliminates gridlock — thus hastening the passage of legislation and subsequent implementation of laws, enabling the government to effectively address the immediate and urgent needs of the citizenry.

It also provides a replacement for an incompetent and corrupt prime minister through a parliamentary "no-confidence vote" toppling the government triggering a general election. This is in lieu of the current highly partisan and divisive impeachment process.

With a majority government, it is possible for parliament to fulfill election promises without the stalemates that are the bane in a unitary system when political parties are unable to come to an agreement.

Both government and opposition political parties can advance their agenda by going through discourse, rigorous debates and deal-making — the main instruments for passing laws.

As government ministers are members of parliament (MPs) themselves enjoying a majority, they do not face much difficulty in getting their programs through parliament. Confrontation and instability are thus minimized.

While the Council of Ministers as a body is responsible to the prime minister, the individual ministers are also responsible to parliament for their respective acts of omission or commission. To survive, they must remain "clean." It is in the interest of the opposition, being the watchdog of the government, to expose corruption and inefficiencies; the reason for the "shadow government" — the opposition monitoring every move of government presenting their own alternative version of laws, policies and implementation processes.

There is a lot of flexibility in the parliamentary system to cope with changing situations and emergencies. It can easily adapt itself to any new reality. As Neville Chamberlain failed to lead Britain during the Second World War, he was replaced by Winston Churchill as British prime minister.

Political parties and party-lists

Parliamentary system is also known as "party government," as the political parties have ascendancy over personalities and because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance, and public administrations.

Unfortunately, almost all of the political parties in the Philippines are structured in a manner that hew close to the centuries-old patronage system where because of a paucity of ideological perspectives and politicians bereft of moral compass anchored on patent expediency, they jump from one party to another — a uniquely Filipino phenomenon known as "political butterfly."

A unicameral parliament is composed of elected members from the parliamentary districts, plus a party-list chosen on the basis of "proportional representation" by the political party and allocated to marginalized sectors — labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous people communities, differently-abled, etc. Constituting 20 percent to 30 percent of the total number of MPs, they are not fielded separately from the majority and opposition parties. Our current party-list system has been perverted to accommodate local family dynasties and the oligarchy.

We need political party system restructuring as collective vehicles to gain political power in parliament and where members adhere to a set of principles and strategies written in a platform unique to that party.

A federal system

Eventually after establishing a parliamentary system, we shift from unitary to federal government where the LGUs share powers with the central (federal) government as equals with powers defined and agreed to in a written constitution which can only be changed or altered by mutual consent of both.

We want to shift to a system with clear division of authority between the national government (federal) and the regional governments (states/Bangsa). Federalism 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.

In most federal republics, the federal government normally is responsible for national defense and security, foreign affairs, currency, money and coinage; and powers granted to it by the constitution. All other powers not belonging to the federal government are retained or given to the states.

It is worthwhile noting that Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, House chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, has conducted public hearings and with the overwhelming support of 301 congressmen authored a bill to revise the Constitution through a constitutional convention.

Next week, March 22: Compromises on the constitutional revisions

 

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