The Konstitusyon Draft envisions a parliamentary form of government instead of the present presidential form of government the Philippines currently has. Some may ask why. How can such a system make for a better government for the country?
In order to understand the necessity that the country should go parliamentary, we must first identify the problems we are facing in our current political and governance system:
- Personality-based politics – Voters tend to vote for popular or prominent people rather than the platforms they are running on, not to mention the candidates rely on celebrity support, if not being celebrities themselves at times.
- Weak political parties and too many turncoats – Political parties in our country do not have a set of beliefs or ideologies and serve merely as political vehicles of politicians with their own interests in mind.
- Incumbent government officials are not being made accountable enough – Thus, it is very rare for such officials to resign or be ousted from their posts.
- Opposition either too weak or resorting to media stunts in order to get attention but do not often succeed
- Dysfunctional legislative process – Many laws either take too long to get passed, get stalled in one chamber even after passing in the other chamber, or gets watered down in bicameral reconciliations.
- Too much power given to a president – The president is being given too many responsibilities that may either lead to a president collapsing under these responsibilities or take advantage of them and work their way to become a dictator.
- Executive and legislative relations issues – Because of the supposed “separation” between executive and legislature, in the event the legislature and the chief executive (in our case, the president) comes from different political parties, it would be hard for a president to have their proposed measures get passed in the legislature. Thus, the president would have to resort to things like pork barrel funds and the like to curry favor from legislators. But if legislators play hardball, this could lead to a shutdown in government. Both ugly scenarios.
Image courtesy of the Jakarta Post
These are problems we have tried to address in the present system for the past 30+ years. Despite of the efforts over the years, until now, we have failed to do so and they instead have gotten worse. Some may contend that it is the people in power who are at fault for they have benefitted from these flaws in the system. But the fact that those flaws remain even if we had changed, in some cases ousted, people in power, they should realize, if they are smart enough, that the problem lies deep within the system itself.
With all these things taken into account, the question now is: how can a change to a parliamentary system help address these issues? For that, it is important to know the important features of the parliamentary system which will provide key to these answers.
- Party-based politics – The parliamentary system is all about strong parties with clear-cut, established beliefs and ideologies that people can relate to. As such, it is expected that the people belonging to a particular party share those beliefs and ideologies as well; otherwise, they are kicked out and are deprived of the privilege of being part of the party. They couldn’t easily join another party as that party has its own philosophies that they need to adhere to and considering where they came from, that other party may either not accept them or have them undergo some sort of probation. This alone makes the party front and center of the political discussions and not the politician who’s part of it.
- Ingrained pursuit of accountability – The parliamentary system has managed to make accountability part and parcel of its structure with having a regular question time in which the different members of the cabinet, including the prime minister as the head of government and cabinet, are subjected to regular questioning about their programs and policies. This puts government officials always on their toes and more mindful of their duties, forcing them to do better or be humiliated in parliament because of their failures.
- Empowered opposition – With a strong party-based structure and an ingrained pursuit of accountability in the parliamentary system, opposition parties are empowered to be bolder in scrutinizing government and do better in that job instead of the usual publicity stunts. Oh, and did I forget to mention that they also officially get to have their own government, AKA shadow government, whose purpose is to look into the way their counterparts are running their respective offices? Those are greater responsibilities right there that they couldn’t enjoy in the present system.
- More streamlined legislative process – Whether we have a unicameral or a bicameral parliament (personally, I’m biased towards unicameral), the system itself espouses swift passage of laws because only one house gets the most say, if not all of it in some cases, as to which laws will be passed and will have direct relations with and scrutiny of the executive branch.
- Clear-cut and more equal separation of duties of heading the country AND heading the government – This will be a separate topic to be discussed soon but not many people realize that the president in our current system is taking on two separate roles that are actually in conflict with one another. As head of the country (head of state), your role is to unite the people but as head of the government, your role as policymaker and executor of laws, will make you a divisive figure. That alone should be a red flag.
The parliamentary system corrects this by ensuring these roles are separate which helps eases the burden of such leaders, make them (especially the head of government) more accountable, and prevent potential dictators to grab power easily, with a head of state/government and parliament (not to mention an empowered opposition there) to contend with.
- Executive and legislature relations are more nuanced – While the parliamentary system still follows the 3 branches of government model, it also sets up closer relations between executive and legislature as the head of government and at least one member of cabinet comes from the legislature. This is actually a smart strategy for two reasons: one, members of legislature and the head of state and government in presidential systems come from a common set of political parties in the first place; and two, executive and legislature are the branches that closely coordinate with one another more often. With such a relationship formalized, it makes it easier for executive to pass proposed measures in legislature. While this can be a cause of concern for possible railroaded measures, remember that we have an empowered opposition now who will counter that.
Another effect of such closer relationship is that it is easier for parliament to scrutinize policies of government and officials, including the head of government. Remember that the head of government is also a member of parliament, so their peers will not hesitate to question the head of government, or even seek to oust them from power if warranted, at least to save their ruling party from the wrath of the public.
That is not to say that the parliamentary system is a perfect form of government. Far from it, as there are examples of failures of the parliamentary system across the globe. That being said, even in its shortcomings, the parliamentary system is at the very least a marked improvement from a presidential system. As a country that has long been let down by its leaders thanks to a flawed and broken system established by a deficient constitution, an improved constitution that will bring about a better system of politics and governance in the country is all the more welcome.