The Debate: Presidential vs Parliamentary
Part I – The Historical Background
The issue is back on the front-burner of political issues. But it been percolating since 1993, when the House of Representatives, under Speaker Joe de Venecia, adopted a resolution endorsing the shift to a parliamentary government.
Under Fidel Ramos
The President at the time, Fidel Ramos, was also an advocate, and during his term, there were many pro-parliamentary activities, but they petered out when there was a move to extend his term (the so-called “Pirma”), at which time the suspicion arose that the parliamentary issue was merely an excuse to get around the 1987 Constitution’s term limits – no reelection for the President and Vice -President, 12 years the Senators, 9 years for Congressmen.
Under Joseph Estrada
The issue was revived following the failed impeachment of President Joseph Estrada, which led to “EDSA Dos” —during which there were demonstrations for his removal, and during which, the military withdrew its support for the embattled President, and Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over with the imprimatur of the Supreme Court. The argument of the pro-parliamentarists was that if we were under a parliamentary system, It would have been much easier to remove Joseph Estrada — a simple no-confidence vote would have sufficed.
Under Gloria Arroyo
During Gloria Arroyo’s ten-year term, there was another attempt to change the constitution – shifting from a unitary-presidential to a federal-parliamentary—by a people’s initiative (this time called “Sigaw ng Bayan”). This was viewed as yet another attempt by a sitting President to extend her (already lengthy) term . The Supreme Court pulled this up short, just as it did the Ramos attempt.
Under Ninoy Aquino, Jr.
When PNoy came to power, there was a six-year hiatus in the pursuit of a parliamentary form of government, probably because PNoy, like his mother, was not interested in extending his term (thus confirming the suspicions of many about the motives of Ramos and Arroyo for advocating constitutional change).
Under Rodrigo Duterte
With Rodrigo Duterte’s accession to the Presidency, he at first had no desire to extend his term – all he wanted was what he thought would bring down “Imperial Manila” – a federal government. But he soon realized, with the Senate hearings and other fora, that a federal system would create more problems than it was solving: enormous additional budgetary outlays, an additional layer of government (regional governments between national and local), firmer entrenchment of political dynasties, etc. etc. So he gave up the idea, much to the chagrin of the constitutional committee he had constituted.
What he really wanted was a revolutionary government (in other words, he was going to mount a coup against himself), not a parliamentary one. He wasn’t too enamored with the legislature. But the military opined that a revolutionary government was outside the four corners of the Constitution, so he gave that up too.
And then he realized that was vulnerable to attack after he left the Presidency, and when his daughter refused to run as Bong Go’s vice president, he decided that he would run for vice-President himself. But public opinion was against that (it also was not constitutional), and he gave up on that idea too.
In short, he was not for a parliamentary government. Good for him.
Under President Bong Bong Marcos
So now we have PBBM. And pro-parliamentarians, good at brown-nosing, who try to make the point that Marcos Senior created a parliamentary government. Completely ignoring the fact that the parliamentary government his father had in mind was one where the President, not the Prime Minister, was the power.
Will PBBM want to extend his term? If so, the easiest way would be to ask for a constitutional change and then make sure the transitory provisions extend for at least ten years, with the sitting President in charge during that period. And he will have, as supporters, the likes of Senators Robin (Hood) Padilla, head of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments.
As I see it, the advocates for a parliamentary-federal over our present presidential-unitary form of government are going to get their way by hook or by crook. By crook: use the “restrictive” economic provisions of the Constitution as an excuse for calling for a Constituent Assembly to remove the restrictions. Why is this considered by crook? Because once a Constituent Assembly is called (that’s our legislators), there is nothing that can stop them from discussing and changing the entire constitution. The result: disaster for the Philippines
By hook: calling for a constitutional convention with representatives from each electoral district, probably with the condition that these representatives are not sitting politicians but are “independent” minded. Unfortunately, this will not stop the political dynasties from choosing either from their families or their friends or dummies to run for this convention. The result: disaster for the Philippines.
COMING: PART II: THE PROS AND CONS OF PARLIAMENTARISM – EVIDENCE-BASED