Centrist agenda for BBM: Revise 1987 Constitution

Centrist agenda for BBM: Revise 1987 Constitution Featured

Second of 3 parts

THIS is the second part on the Centrist Democrats (CD) agenda for the BBM government. Last week's column dwelt on the efforts of past administrations, from FVR to Duterte, to initiate changes in the 1987 Cory Constitution, save for PNoy — who vehemently opposed any amendments to his mother's constitution. Central to all these is the role of the Senate in blocking these changes. One of his more notorious subalterns, gatekeeper for the status quo, was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, who averted at every turn considerations for serious changes in the Constitution. This contributed to the erosion of PNoy's legacy despite his economic gains. This intransigence left the once venerable party of Diosdado Macapagal and Jovito Salonga, now led by Kiko, in shambles. This obstinacy spilled over to Vice President Leni Robredo's psyche guaranteeing her political demise.

Senate — bastion of conservatism

The Senate is the main hindrance to why systemic changes cannot be put on stream. The past four administrations (FVR, Estrada, GMA and Duterte) were stymied in initiating changes in the Constitution. The three modes of constitutional change, prescribed in the Constitution — people's initiative (PI), constitutional convention (ConCom) and constituent assembly (ConAss) — need Congress' imprimatur. Even with the acquiescence of the lower house to the initiatives of the administration for constitutional and political reforms, the Senate more often than not, proves to be the stumbling block.

It is thus a breath of political fresh air that a much-vilified actor/politician topped the Senate slate riding on the issue of constitutional revisions. I followed Sen. Robin Padilla's pronouncements in the campaign connected with the masses on his ideas of systemic changes through a shift to parliamentary form of government, federalism and opening up of the economy to foreign direct investments (FDI). Using his formidable star power — which the elite tend to denigrate — his simple recounting of his experiences and his observation while living briefly in a federal-parliamentary government, like Australia, resonated with the ordinary voters. He came across as a sincere individual who saw the advantages of a parliamentary-federal system as an antithesis to the presidential-unitary one that has spawned many of the ills of Philippine society, from corruption to injustices, to the perversion of political power through the proliferation of political dynasties, party-lists and a host of abnormalities. Senator Padilla possesses the language of the ordinary mamayan and understands their plight.

At the same time, the outgoing president who failed in pursuing constitutional and political reforms has recently become vocal about the need for the abolition of the party-list system — which has become an appendage to corrupt party politics. And he calls for constitutional revisions as a parting advice to his successor.

Incoming president Bongbong Marcos may be receptive to his predecessor's suggestions as the original Cory 1987 Constitution was born out of a blind reaction to Makoy's martial law regime. Thus were entrenched a set of anti-martial law protocols and provisions — which in 1987 were generally acceptable as the remnants of the old regime still permeated the local governments and the entire bureaucracy then. Today the anti-Marcos constitution is obsolete and has run its usefulness. Who better to initiate the needed constitutional changes than the young Marcos — now in full control of the levers of political power. The parliamentary government which Ferdinand Makoy saw as a better system can once again be adopted, but this time a real president and prime minister be installed, unlike under the 1972 Marcos constitution where Ferdinand Makoy was both the head of state and government, installing Prime Minister Cesar Virata as simply tawo-tawo sa humayan, a figurehead. And the idea of a real unicameral legislature "Batasang Pambansa" should replace the current Senate and House of Representatives.

Presidential vs...

To understand a parliamentary government better, it is necessary to contrast it with the presidential system. Excerpted from my column (The Manila Times, March 8, 2018): "For almost 100 years the system flourished feeding upon the least desired facet of Filipino culture, the desire for and dependence on a benefactor from the datu and sultan, heading a clan, to the Spanish patron looking over the indios, to the American 'big brother'; morphing into the Philippine president, the 'father' of a people..."

"And in our presidential system, where the president is elected at large, he is expected to provide the wherewithal for an expensive election campaign. This opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite to influence the outcome. And we can only speculate at the quid pro quo.

"With the constitutional mandated term limits of elective officials, this deviant model of 'public service as a private business' becomes a strong impetus toward the perpetuation of this power base — thus the birth of powerful political dynasties and party lists. But the most glaring defect of the presidential system of government is that this is the embryo upon which patronage politics is nurtured (TMT, May 18, 2022, 'Political dynasties and party-lists')."

...Parliamentary government

On the other hand, "...parliamentary government is also called a 'party government' because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance and public administrations.

"In a parliamentary government, the legislative and the executive powers are fused and vested in 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 republican concept imposed on us by America on the fictional independence of the three branches of the executive, legislative and judiciary is drastically modified in the parliamentary system.

"The president is the head of state, elected from among the members of parliament; and upon taking his oath, he ceases to be a member of parliament and any political party. He serves a term of five years. The head of state is meant to be the unifying symbol of the Filipino nation and his powers are largely ceremonial."

In our Centrist version, "...the two houses of Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives are replaced by a unicameral parliament. It is composed of elected members from the parliamentary districts, plus those chosen on the basis of 'proportional representation' (party list) by the political party according to the votes each party obtained in the preceding elections.

"The party list chosen within the political parties shall constitute 30 percent of the total number of members of parliament and the seats reserved solely for the 'less privileged' — farmers, fisherfolk, workers, etc. Party lists, as we have today under our anomalous 1987 Constitution, are not meant to run separately and outside of a nationally accredited party.

"A mechanism to replace a prime minister is for parliament to withdraw its confidence and choose 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."

But a critical precondition to a parliamentary government is the institutionalization of real ideologically based political parties.

Part 3 on June 15, 2022000
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