Constitutional change has become imperative

"The presidential system has failed us."

The Philippines will remain a third world or underdeveloped country for as long as it is under the existing presidential system of government.

It has long been clearly evident, yet ignored, that the basic defects, weaknesses and shortcomings of the presidential system have been the cause of our country’s backwardness and retrogression. The most serious problems of the country will continue to deteriorate unless the present constitution is changed.

The 1987 Constitution drafted by the Constitutional Commission under the Cory Aquino administration is basically the same as the 1935 constitution for the Commonwealth government and the 1973 constitution during the martial law regime.

The present fundamental charter invests the presidency with enormous powers and latitude to run the country much like a dictator or a king.

The provision establishing the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary as co-equal branches of the government is a grave structural defect and a misallocation of powers.

The president lords it over the two other branches since it can ignore, control and even abolish them. President Marcos did this when he issued Proclamation 1081 placing the country under martial law. Congress can impeach a sitting president with the justices of the Supreme Court as judges, but cannot summarily remove a president. President Marcos was ousted in a peaceful revolution while President Estrada left Malacanang in fear and in shame.

All the presidents of our country, from Emilio Aguinaldo, Manuel L. Quezon, Jose P. Laurel, Sergio Osmena, Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, to Rodrigo Duterte cannot claim to have made outstanding accomplishments in promoting our country’s progress and development during their terms. Some may have played significant roles in preserving our democratic institutions but hardly has anyone shown sincere love and concern for the welfare and interest of the Filipino people.

All previous administrations have failed due to the inherent defects of the presidential system. The awesome and almost absolute powers given to the president undermine rather than enhance the importance of the highest office in government.

Most of our former chief executives became corrupt or failed to stop corruption. Some enriched themselves, their relatives, political associates and business cronies.

The presidential system promoted the rise of political dynasties.

Many public officials converted their positions into private preserves or family heirlooms for their relatives to inherit.

This system makes some presidents instant celebrities. They become icons and are accorded so much deference which they do not deserve.

Most of our former presidents have made a mockery of the highest position in government.

The presidency has become the wellspring of patronage politics. With hardly any exception, our politicians have chosen politics as their profession and made the position their main source of livelihood and their ticket to fame, power, and opulence.

The principle of accountability or responsibility for sins committed in office has been ignored and conveniently set aside under the presidential system. Most of the cases filed by the Ombudsman and brought to the Sandiganbayan have been dismissed.

The widening disparity in income between the wealthiest families and the impoverished masses has been made possible and accelerated under the presidential system. The elitist and wealthy class dictates whom it wants elected president to protect its interests and to remain in control of government.

The regions and provinces will remain underdeveloped and lacking because of the dominance and arrogance of the central government. Imperial Manila allocates the resources of the government, leaving many regions backward and unattended.

The principle of accountability will be inherently observed in local governments under a federal system like that of the 50 states of the American Republic. The States are independent political subdivisions which elect their own local officials and decide for whom their electoral college would vote for president.

Clearly, the need to change, not just amend, the constitution has become imperative.

The federal system proposed by President Duterte should now be drafted and submitted to a plebiscite during the 2020 national elections.

President Duterte himself, on a number of occasions, admitted that he had failed to solve the illegal drug and corruption problems.

Federalism is more adaptable to our regional or ethnic identities, our family values and our character.

Most previous administrations failed because they operated under a complete political vacuum. They have lost touch with the people. This was the main reason why even the powerful martial law regime lost its relevance to the masses. This was the reason why President Marcos called for elections of assemblymen to the Batasang Pambansa. For four years, he ruled the country under a political vacuum by not convening the Interim Batasang Pambansa as called for under the martial law proclamation.

Officials of regional states and the local governments will be in close touch with their constituents under the federal system and will be under obligation to account for their performance by the people.

Basic services will be devolved to local government units, including law enforcement. The local government executives will appoint and supervise their own policemen.

The regional states can now chart their own growth and developments, raise or secure loans for their infrastructure projects, and harness their manpower and natural resources to pursue their development plans for the next four to five decades. “Futuristic” is now an accepted discipline for long-range and strategic polar development approach in planning.

Hawaii was the first state which did this. The editor of a major newspaper called on the leaders of all the various sectors of Hawaiian society to participate in such a summit in 1967 to draw a development plan for Hawaii up to the year 2,000, 33 years ahead of time.

The most important reason why a constitutional change has become badly needed is to disabuse our people’s distorted and wrong concept of what government is.

Most of the people equate the government with the people who serve in public office. They think that the government is the president, the congressman, the governor, the mayor or the barangay captain. They look up to them as the source of all their needs and the solver of their problems.

Under the federal system, the local government units will operate under a collegial arrangement: The regional states with the central government; the provinces with the regional state; the municipalities with the provinces; the barangays with the townships; and the families with the barangays.

Federalism will make the government truly democratic, operating with the peoples’ direct consent.

The presidential system has turned our people’s dreams into nightmares, our principles into mere shibboleths, and our hopes for a better life wafted into thin air.

The presidential system has failed us. It is time for it to be scrapped and replaced.


Ernesto G. Banawis is a student of government and history. 

Topics: Constitutional change , 1987 Constitution
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