The head of the executive department under the proposed federal republic is the president. Both the executives under the 1987 Constitution and the prosed new charter have substantially similar qualifications including citizenship (natural-born), minimum age (40 years old) and a registered-voter status.
However, there are also distinct differences. In the 1987 Constitution the president must be able to read and write and a reside in the country for at least 10 years while under the proposed charter, he must be a college degree holder or its equivalent on the day of the election and domiciled in the Philippines for at least ten (10) years immediately preceding the election.
As proposed in the federal constitution, the term of office of the president is four (4) years with one term reelection. This is in contrast to the president in the 1987 Constitution which has a six (6) year term but without reelection. The president and the vice president shall be voted as a team which is not the case in the present set-up where both officials may come from different political parties.
Both constitutions adopt an identical mechanism for succession in the event the president or the vice president fails to qualify or dies, becomes permanently disabled, is removed or resigns. As provided, if the president fails to qualify or dies, or is removed from office or resigns, he will be succeeded by the vice president or if the latter falls under any of the circumstance so mentioned, then the president of the Senate and thereafter the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall take his place.
Section 11 of both constitutions provide for an identical mechanism in the event the president fails to discharge his powers and duties during his incumbency. Section 12 of both constitutions, which requires the government to inform the public of the president’s state of health in case he falls seriously ill, are substantially similar. The only difference is that aside from the members of the cabinet for foreign relations and national security as well as the AFP chief, the proposed federal constitution also specifies the personal physician of the president as one of those who shall not be denied access.
Also present in both are the prohibitions on certain officials including the president against holding any other office or employment during their tenure, or practicing a profession or engaging in business or to avoid conflict of interest. The president remains prohibited from appointing relatives by consanguinity or affinity up to the fourth civil degree into certain offices.
As to the president’s appointees than must go through the Commission on Appointments, both constitutions provide for similar classes of officers except that the proposed constitution now requires for a Major General or Rear Admiral to go through the CA instead of a colonel or a naval captain as provided in the present charter.
Under both, the president is vested with the power of control and general supervision over the government. He remains the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. However, the proposed constitution now adds lawless violence in addition to invasion or rebellion as ground to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.
He/She shall continue to be vested with the power to grant pardon, commutation and reprieve or remit fines and forfeitures. However, the proposed constitution specifies that amnesty will be with the concurrence of majority of all members of Congress, voting jointly.
He/She remains granted with the authority to enter into treaties and international agreements with the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senate. He/She is also required to submit the proposed budget as basis for the general appropriation bill within 30 days from the opening of every regular session by Congress. At the opening of each regular session, the president is required to address Congress. He/She may also appear before Congress at any time.
Having summarized the features of the Presidency in the Puno proposal, I must say that this is the main flaw of the proposed new constitution of the Philippines—its retention of the presidential system. In fact, my reading of the Puno proposal is that it strengthens and expands presidential power, certainly in declaring martial law (“lawless violence” is foolishly restored as a ground) and in dealing with secession and transition issues. This decision to keep an all-powerful presidency guarantees the continuation of Manila imperialism and contradicts the decentralization objective of federalism as well as the expansion of the Bill of Rights.
Retired Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, who with Fr. Joaquin Bernas is the most brilliant living Filipino constitutionalist, wrote in an early article, “The Origin and Development of the Philippine Constitutional System,” how the Philippine constitutional system diverged from the United States tradition of separation of powers early in our colonial history. Our presidency is not patterned after the US president who is constrained by Congress and the Supreme Court. Instead, our presidency is patterned after the office of the Spanish and American governor generals, who had total authority to suppress the local people to allow the plunder of resources for the colonial masters. Independence did not change that and the imperial presidency was established and institutionalized. That is what we now have and the proposed new constitution does not change that. And with an imperial presidency, it is safe to bet that Imperial Manila will continue to dominate and federalism will only be in name.
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