Power to the People

November 4, 2004 at 8:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

There has been very little discourse going on in national affairs over the inherent weaknesses of a presidential form of government. Unfortunately in years past debate about what structural changes needed to be implemented to do away with the personalism of the current form of government has been effectively reduced into questions of power grabbing, term extensions, and basic human greed.

Which is why when one talks about shifting to a parliamentary form of government, he or she risks the danger of being branded a supporter of charter change, which in itself is not entirely bad. Hardly anyone would say that the Constitution should be left alone for the next hundred years or so, even as it has provisions that need to be strengthened. But in the present milieu, to advocate for charter change means one is playing into the hands of entrenched elites and trapos with their own agenda.

So the first step needed to drum up support for a parliamentary government is to take the limelight away from vested interests and pursue discussions along the lines of what we have to gain from doing away with the current form of government.

First and foremost, let us revisit the current set-up. We have a chief executive directly elected every six years, and a bicameral legislature with the lower house dominated by representatives voted along territorial boundaries defined by population as well as an upper house voted at large. Through the party-list system, there are also members of the Lower House with a national constituency, but they remain in the minority (no more than 50 at any given time, and only around a dozen or less at present).

How does this set-up work? Hardly, as legislation is oftentimes held hostage to the narrow agenda which incumbents hold. The legislative process is tedious and often anchored on exigency and cues from Malacañang. Governance is highly concentrated in the national government, as the national legislature holds control over most of the legislative work. This has grave implications for the local governments since despite the passing of the Local Government Code, not much authority has been practically devolved to the regional, provincial and municipal levels.

A change in the form of government will allow regions like the Cordillera and Mindanao to define their development agenda for themselves, without relying too much on a central government that is often insensitive to their plight.

The details of institutional design in the aftermath of a shift to the federal/parliamentary system need to be threshed out through careful study. Initially it would probably involve a unicameral legislature, a prime minister, shift to proportional representation, institutionalization of parties, bureaucratic insulation from political whims, among others.

But let us get one thing straight. Among genuine reformers, the shift to a parliamentary system is not in the realm of immediate demands. There are prerequisites to this shift. First and foremost, there must be wide-ranging political and economic reforms. The modernization of the electoral system, an anti-dynasty law, asset reforms that will eventually weaken patronage politics by bridging poverty gaps, the presence of programmatic parties whose unities are anchored on platforms and not on personalities, a fiscalizing opposition (which must not only be the minority borne of an election at any given time), among others.

That sounds like a lot of work, but to say that the system will fail regardless of its form is an arrogant and simplistic argument. If one is truly interested in reform, one must dare swim the murky waters of institutional analysis and realize that indeed, there has got to be a better system than the one we have now.

(originally appeared in BNEXT during the period Sept. 9-15, 2002)

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