The case for charter change....

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIt's time to start the great debate on charter change.

The words echoed in my mind when I heard Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's State of the Nation Address last week (read full text of GMA's SONA here). And while I certainly disagree with a lot of Pres. Arroyo's actions and policies, this is one course of action that for me is long overdue. To amend the Constitution. To change our system of government.

As a political science student, and later on in my law studies, I must have participated in countless discussions and debates regarding this topic. It goes deep down into the very core of the Philippines as a state and as a sovereign nation. What IS the best way of governing ourselves?

What significance does our system of government have on the nation as a whole? It is of vital importance that we choose a system of government which best suits our values, our beliefs, our character as a people, our way of life. The right system of government can handily speed up our rate of progress and perhaps even elevate us to the ever elusive status of being an industrialized and developed country. With so much at stake, this is a decision that we cannot take lightly. While I sincerely believe that we desperately need a change in our system of government, we should not go forth running blindly.

The functions of governance

Any form of government has three distinct functions which are indispensable if it is going to govern in any way. These functions are legislative, executive, and judicial. Going even further, the legislative function entails the creation of laws, the executive the execution of laws, and the judicial the interpretation of laws. It is the distribution of these functions, and as such the organization of the branches of government charged with them, which is the crux of the matter when it comes to any discussion of charter change.

Where we are now

Our form of government today is the Presidential form of government. This form was espoused under the 1935 Constitution, and later reinstituted in the Freedom Constitution of 1986. In this form, as far as our Constitution is concerned, the Head of State is a President, elected at large by the people. There is also a Vice-President, also elected at large, who serves in the Cabinet and takes charge in case the President is unable to perform his or her functions in any way. The President is the head of the executive branch of government.

Congress, on the other hand, constitutes the legislative branch. It is divided into two houses, the Upper House (Senate) and the Lower House (House of Representatives). Members of the Senate are elected at large, while members of the House of Representatives are elected by legislative districts or party-lists. The Constitution allows for up to 24 Senators, and more than 200 members of the House of Representatives. The Senate is headed by the Senate President, elected by and from its members. The House of Representatives is headed by the Speaker of the House, also elected by and from its members.

Judicial powers are vested in the Supreme Court.

Where do we want to go?

It would seem that Pres. Arroyo is espousing a Parliamentary-Federal form of government, somewhat similar that instituted in our 1981 Constitution and perhaps identical to what Germany is now using. What are the distinctive features of a Parliamentary-Federal form of government? Though there are several variations in the details, here is what we can expect:

- There will be a blending of executive and legislative powers.

Instead of having separate executive and legislative branches of government, there will be a single entity charged with both functions. There will be an assembly of representives in all probability elected primarily by legislative districts. The elected representatives shall elect among themselves one to serve as Head of State (possibly with the title of Prime Minister though it can be called other names as well). Former cabinet positions shall be held by individual members of the assembly (Ministers?) as well, appointed by the Head of State. In other words, the executive and legislative branches shall be merged into one. And the Head of State is no longer elected at large by the people, but through the assembly members.

- The Head of State only serves at the pleasure of the assembly. He can be replaced at any time as long as there is the appropriate motion and the appropriate number of votes.

This will no doubt put an end to People Power as we know it. In the absence of a fixed term, and with people no longer having the capability to directly elect the Head of State, this will significantly reduce the probability of a candidate winning solely because of popularity. If the Head of State has become undesirable for any reason, he or she can be made to step down via a vote of the assembly. This makes the process of impeachment obsolete and unnecessary as far as this system of government is concerned.

Despite the blending of powers of the executive and legislative branches of government, the judiciary still stands alone with the responsibility of interpreting the laws.

- There will be a reduction of checks and balances.

This can be viewed as either a good thing or a bad thing. While it may mean that legislative measures may be enacted into law with less scrutiny than that within a Presidential form of government, it could also mean that reforms could be passed faster than before. In effect, it makes the legislature a more responsive entity, more dynamic with changing conditions, at the cost of being less circumspect.

- Federalism would mean a marked increase in autonomy for local organizational units.

It is still not known how Federalism would specifically be implemented in this country, in particular how the country is to be politically subdivided. In the United States, each political subdivision, each State has its own legislative, executive and judical branches. Among the main functions left to the national government are those involving foreign affairs, and national defense. However, there are still agencies within the United States with nationwide jurisdiction, such as the federal courts, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It may not be farfetched to see a similar setup here. This would lead to more rapid development, particularly to those in the countryside. Political subdivisions in these areas can get to the business of developing themselves, without waiting for legislation or funding from the national government.

This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Changing our Constitution can usher in many significant reforms in our government, that is, assuming we don't abuse this opportunity. Suffice it to say that I am all for it. Of course, this does not change in any way the issues Pres. Arroyo has been plagued with, such as her impending impeachment case.

Charter change could be just the ticket we're waiting for, if this country is ever going to forge ahead. However, let us not forget it is not a panacea, a cure all. True change comes from within us all, and not necessarily from our Constitution. Let us try to change for the better and hope for the best.

Agree? Disagree? Any errors? Feel free to comment or to participate in my poll on the sidebar.


evi said…
The form of government in Canada is parliamentary. Head of State is the Queen. So, I have no idea who can hold such position in the Philippines. A parliamentary government has three levels: Federal, Provincial and Municipal. Citizens elect the members of parliament to sit in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party with the most elected members of parliament. The senators are chosen by the prime minister.

Will this system actually make a difference? I doubt it since most of our political figures are untrustworthy unless we get a head of state such as the Queen.
Ronald Allan said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ronald Allan said…
While Canada has a parliamentary form of representative government, it is often more accurately referred to as a Constitutional Monarchy. While the Queen is indeed the Head of State, it is the Prime Minister who actually governs the country.

Somehow I don't think a Constitutional Monarchy would suit the Philippines, though there are some who would like to brings us back to the monarchial systems (datus and rajahs) before the Spaniards came along.

You are correct in saying that the problem with Philippine politics is that our political figures are untrustworthy. That being said, a parliamentary form of government would probably be ideal because it would make weeding out these bad leaders a lot easier, instead of today, where we have a protracted impeachment process that could take months. In the meantime, the economy is going down the drain.

This would also stop all the rallies and popular uprisings which have already brought down leaders twice. Once or twice is good, but any more than that and the Philippines will soon be a laughingstock for dismissing its leaders without following its own laws.

Truth be told, the Philippines is a politically immature nation, were voters elect leaders on the basis of popularity, with hardly any regard to their integrity or skill. Under a parliamentary form, this will come to an end.

Of course, at the end of the day, its not only the form of government which is important. Its also the people which define the course of a country.

Thanks for the comments Evi. :-)

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