Federalism in its death throes? (Part 3) Esquire Philippines

Federalism in its death throes? (Part 3) Featured

Part 3 – Preconditions to federalism
IN last week’s column (“Part 2: Unitary presidential vs federal parliamentary”), I discussed the need for revising the 1987 Constitution possibly beyond DU30’s term. But the shift towards federalism will be realized only when certain preconditions are met prior to the constitutional revisions. And the speed with which these preconditions are put in place will depend much on the application by DU30 of his vaunted political will and the influence he wields with the two houses of Congress. The remaining three years of DU30’s term provide ample time provided Congress acts now.

The four preconditions are: 1) reform the political party system; 2) initiate electoral reforms; 3) pass a universal freedom of information law; and 4) enact a law banning political dynasties.

The first precondition is the total overhaul of our political party system. Whether the Philippines will remain a presidential-unitary government or shifts to a parliamentary-federal republic, political parties are indispensable. They are primarily formed not only to contest elections and hold power in government, but they must possess an ideological core, aggregating the needs and aspirations of a diverse segment of our society. A party must write and adhere to a unique platform or vision of governance with a set of principles and strategies. This vision defines the ideological identity of that party, and members are expected to go by these principles and strategies. Voters must be given a choice as to who must govern them based on what candidates and their political parties stand for. Unlike today, personalities are selected by the tradpols and financiers with the connivance of the oligarchy and lodged in all political parties and presented to the voters to elect from. Popularity, name recall and “winnability” have primacy over principles, ideals and even decency and personal integrity. Whoever wins therefore primarily serves the interest of these few.

Also, we have a political phenomenon that occurs every presidential election cycle — the lemming-like migration of political parties to the winning President’s brand. This “political butterfly” or the “balimbing” spectacle has been the norm in the modern Philippine political scene, stunting the growth of principled and ideologically anchored political parties. This prevents the development of clear party platforms that are the lifeblood of a vibrant democracy, giving the voters choices as to whom to gift the privilege of governance.

The badly needed political party reforms seek to institutionalize political parties based on the above criteria and norms and which will:

1. Penalize “turncoatism” (or the switching of political parties, “balimbing” or “political butterfly”);

2. Enforce transparent mechanisms providing and regulating campaign financing to eliminate graft, corruption and patronage (corporate and individual contributions); and through

3. State subsidy that will professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives.

We have currently pending bills from the last few congresses. The Political Party Development and Financing Act (SB 3214, and HB 6551, HB 49, 403 and 159) have been languishing and were archived by the PNoy administration. The current congress can refile these bills.

The second precondition is to initiate electoral reforms that will put in place a system to prevent the perversion of the will of the populace (i.e. rampant vote-buying, intimidating voters, etc.). One of the greatest evils in our democracy is the dominance of the traditional politicians allied to the oligarchy. They rear their heads every election cycle taking advantage of a legal though weak electoral process. The Comelec must be reformed to take on earnestly its sacrosanct role as the “premier guardian of the Philippine ballot,” actively filtering the qualifications and credentials of candidates for public office and the nation’s political leadership, and remove all quasi-judicial work from the Comelec and transfer electoral contests to the judiciary. Electoral reforms in tandem with political party reforms will substantially diminish the oligarchy’s influence in the election process.

The third precondition is the passage of a freedom of information law (FOI) to enforce transparency in all transactions in government (not only through an executive order). This law will allow public access to information (regardless of physical form or format) pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, government research data used as a basis for policy development; and compel transparency and accountability in public service by requiring financial information such as SALNs of public officials and civil servants to be posted in government offices or websites. And even the Bank Secrecy Law and the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) should be amended to allow legitimate agencies to compel public officials and civil servants to show their bank accounts in the Philippines and abroad.

The fourth precondition is to enact a law banning political dynasties as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. The immediate passage of an anti-dynasty law will level the playing field and provide equal opportunities to other emerging capable leaders to serve; practice transparent nomination among political parties with candidates willing to contest in the local elections; and most especially, ban the concentration of power to a few dynastic families in the barangay, local and national positions.

These four preconditions will not require the revision of the 1987 Constitution unless Congress, 80 percent of whose members are scions of political dynasties, will again shamelessly refuse to pass an enabling law. Then what should be written during the revision of the1987 Constitution must be self-executory.

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 what we have now. Consider the scenarios:

a. We will have allowed the same personalities and political parties controlled by dynasties into the federal states, each establishing their fiefdoms, possibly with their own private armies and untrammeled looting of the States’ resources.

b. Control by the local elite and oligarchy of the economy and the political structure will result in regulatory capture of government agencies. This will all be fortified by a patronage system flourishing within a much smaller State area and population.

Once these laws are enacted, we should then proceed to revise the 1987 Constitution toward federalism (with a presidential or parliamentary government). These issues have in fact been debated ad nauseam by Congress for more than a decade. The appearance of the Deegong in the political scene could be the game changer. Never was there a Philippine President who so displayed political impudence as to ram through his agenda down the throats, first of the oligarchy (witness the Ongpin and Prieto business shenanigans), then the inept opposition (Otso Diretso debacle), yet managed to maintain an 80-percent approval rating.

This maverick leader recognizes his political clout. Witness the recent fight for the House speakership where the three leading contenders were all over each other to win his imprimatur. And the public display of canine devotion, kowtowing to the President, with the anointed one bowing publicly to kiss his hand, presages an easy passage of these preconditions into law.

These laws are sine qua non before the shift to federalism (presidential or parliamentary).

Next week: Part 4 –
Laying the framework for federalism000
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