From Presidential Government to a Parliamentary Government

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva
The Bohol Chronicle
August 17, 2014

Suddenly President Aquino III says he wants a second term. But all along he has been against amending our 1987 Constitution—also called the Cory Constitution of 1987. Apparently he realizes how extremely difficult it is to govern our Presidential Government that allows the President to govern for only six years without any reelection. And to be subject to the countervailing power of the Supreme Court that has judged the PDAP and the DAP to be  unconstitutional.

When in fact the President and the legislators have enjoyed these discretionary practices so much in governing our country. And many legislators have enriched themselves by their misuse of their pork barrel, thus the Supreme Court’s judgment. And the needed prosecution of legislators and many others for their corruption.

But what is really wrong with our Presidential Government and why should we amend our Constitution to change it to a Parliamentary Government?

  1. Separation of the executive power of the President and the legislative power of Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives) causes intense rivalry and competition for power and advantage among them. Especially because, like the President, the 24 senators are elected nationwide. Constant conflict and gridlock among the President and the House and the Senate, and congressional investigations into the workings of the Executive Department delay and obstruct legislation, administration, and reforms.
  1. Because of the power of the media and cinema, candidates forPresident and the Senate are increasingly being selected mainly for their personal popularity or “win-ability” and wealth, rather than political leadership.
  1. The President has a fixed term of six years and may be removed from office only by impeachment which is very contentious and divisive, and nearly impossible to carry out.
  1. Our Presidential Government is unstable because of “people power” and military intervention in politics as shown in the failed impeachment of an incumbent President: Joseph Estrada in 2001. During her term President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo suffered from several threats of removal by “people power” and some military leaders. President Corazon C. Aquino contended with nine coup attempts.
  1. Our Presidential Government is also unstable because the President may want to extend his one term of six years by seeking to amend the Constitution. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972 that enabled him to rule for 20 years (13 years plus beyond his two four-year terms).
  1. Rising cost of elections, especially national elections of the President and senators, corrupt the system. With the high stakes involved in politics and widespread poverty, vote-buying is rampant, and cheating is common. Various areas are prone to violence related to elections.
  1. Because our political parties are organizations of politicians, undemocratic, unstable, and not program-oriented, our leaders and political parties cannot be held responsible and accountable to the people. With power diffused and the leadership fragmented it is difficult to know who is responsible and accountable for the success or failure of governance.
So what Parliamentary Government is proposed? By definition Parliament is vested with both legislative and executive powers. And a unicameral Parliament  is recommended. Our Senate should therefore be abolished.
  1. In a Parliamentary Government, also known as “Party Government,” most Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected as registered members of their respective political parties. They shall be committed by law and practice to their party’s ideals and program of government. Voters shall vote for an individual candidate for MP in their parliamentary district and also for the political party those candidates represent.  Some seats in Parliament are reserved for the various political parties in proportion to their share of the total votes cast these parties bet in the parliamentary election
  2. “Checks and balance” within the Parliament is exercised in the relations between the majority party and the opposition parties; and in the regular “question hour” when the Government responds to the questions and challenges of the opposition MPs. Interacting with the Government and Parliament are other centers of countervailing powers: business, interest groups, the media, civil society organizations, as well as multi-national and foreign interests.
  3. Parliament shall have as many members as may be provided by law. To begin with, Parliament shall have as many elected members as the present district representatives of the House of Representatives.
  4. Other than the MPs who are elected in the parliamentary districts, Parliament shall also have MPs chosen by the political parties on the basis of “Proportional Representation” (PR), or according to their respective share of the total votes cast nationwide in the parliamentary election. For this purpose 30 percent of the total seats in Parliament shall be reserved for the political parties on the basis of PR. In our Global Filipino Nation, Filipino citizens overseas shall be entitled to representation in Parliament.
  5. Members of Parliament shall be elected, or chosen by the political parties, for a term of five years, with no term limits. Candidates for MP must have a college degree as proposed in our regional consultations on Charter change in 2005.
  6. The Prime Minister shall exercise the executive power as the Head of Government. He is elected by a majority of all the MPs. He is normally the leader of the majority party in Parliament. As the Head of the Government, the Prime Minister is assisted by his Cabinet of Ministers, at least three-fourths of whom shall be elected MPs.
  7. From among its MPs, the Parliament elects the President who is the Head of State. Upon election the President shall cease to be an MP and a member of any political party. He has a term of five years.

What are the expected advantages of the proposed Parliamentary Government over our old and present Presidential Government?

  1. Exercising both legislative power and executive power, the Parliament will ensure the coordinated, efficient and effective exercise of both powers—the making of laws and policies and their enforcement and implementation. Especially because of the unicameral Parliament proposed.
  2. The Prime Minister and the Government (the Cabinet of Ministers of the governing party headed by the Prime Minister) assume collective responsibility and accountability to Parliament and to the people for governance. The people will know the political party and leaders to reward for good governance and administration, or to punish for failure and corruption, unlike in our Presidential Government and our fragmented and unaccountable political party system.
  3. Parliamentary government is more likely to ensure the election of the Head of Government—the Prime Minister—for his leadership and experience in the political party and in the public service, as known to the party members and the people.
  4. It will help prevent the election of the Head of Government, as in our Presidential Government, on the basis largely of personal popularity, wealth, or “win-ability,” not on proven competence and experience as a political and party leader.
  5. It will be easier to change the Head of Government and the ruling party whenever it becomes necessary, by a vote of no confidence in Parliament. No need for impeachment, people power revolts, and military intervention that cause political instability, disrupt the economy, discourage foreign investors, and hurt the people, especially the poor.
  6. Unlike in our Presidential Government where the President is both Head of Government and Head of State, the function of Head of State is assigned to a ceremonial President elected by Parliament. This will reduce the burdens on the Prime Minister who can concentrate on governance. At the same time the President, who symbolizes the people’s sovereignty and national unity, can be a rallying point as a leader who is above partisan politics.
  7. Parliamentary Government and electoral reform will empower the people to choose not only the candidates for Parliament but also the political party they want to govern the country and the regional and local governments and to hold accountable for their success or failure in governance.
  8. In the long term this will develop political parties that are democratic, disciplined, united, and effective in making and carrying out a program of government that can secure popular support. It will also develop a two-party system, especially if the State provides a campaign subsidy to the two leading political parties and penalizes MPs who are disloyal to their political party in Parliament.
  9. The fragmented party-list system shall be abolished. By consolidating the political parties. The two major parties will compete for a majority of the seats in Parliament that will entitle one of them to form the Government.
  10. The people will elect the members of Parliament among candidates in the parliamentary districts. And indirectly the people will also choose additional MPs by “Proportional Representation” of the rival political parties in the parliamentary election.  It will therefore be easier and faster and less costly to administer elections and proclaim the winning candidates. Representation of overseas Filipino citizens qualified to vote will also enhance democracy in our Global Filipino nation.
  11. It will also reduce the high cost of electing the Head of Government in a national election by choosing the leader of the majority party (or coalition) in Parliament as Prime  Minister.
  12. The selection of additional members of Parliament through “Proportional Representation” of the political parties will enable the leading political party to select competent leaders (among professionals, business leaders, scholars) to serve in Parliament and the Cabinet. These are leaders who are usually not willing to run for public office.
  13. Parliamentary government can lead to more continuity in policy and administration if the Government formed by the majority party or coalition governs well and the people are satisfied. Unlike in our Presidential Government where the incumbent President governs for a maximum of six years and cannot seek reelection.  because the people will learn to reward or punish the ruling party for its success or failure in governance. The people will know that the ruling party, not just individual leaders, is responsible and accountable for the Government’s performance.
  14. As shown above, the shift to a Parliamentary Government will also result in major reforms in the electoral system and the political party system.

Functioning and effective democracy.In sum, Parliamentary Government, along with the devolution of powers, authority and resources to regional and local governments as the Bangsamoro is designed to be— will help us achieve good governance: ang mabuti at mabisang pamamalakad ng ating gobyerno at bayan.

 Parliamentary Government, along with regional and local autonomy in transition to a Federal Republic, will enable us, Filipinos, to respond more efficiently and effectively to our problems, meet our challenges, achieve our goals as a nation, and compete in the global economy.  It will progressively empower us as a nation to achieve the peace, prosperity, justice and security we all want for ourselves and our children.

By removing the constitutional restrictions on foreign investments and participation in the economy and leaving it to Parliament to lay down policies, the Government will be better able to attract those investments. With more capital and funds we will create more jobs, raise incomes, provide better education, health, welfare, and security to our people. We can build and maintain more schools, hospitals, waterworks, roads, bridges, seaports and airports. We can employ more of our professionals and skilled workers at home instead of losing them to work overseas.

We shall be building a nation worthy of our heroes, a country fit for our children—of which all Filipinos can be proud.

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