The 1987 Constitution of Doom

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The subject of federalism and charter change has once again been brought up by the proponents of the Arroyo Administration. I have tackled the issue of federalism in my past article Federalism: The Good and the Bad, and I pointed out my opinion in the subject matter.

It seems that the present administration is keen on pursuing to change the system of government into parliamentary and adopting federalism. I, like before, think that federalism can be good provided that it satisfies the prerequisites for it to work properly, but with the parliamentary system, I have my doubts and for now would like to vehemently disagree with the idea of adopting it. The parliamentary system of government, if the Philippines would adopt it, would give corruption a boost, much like a vulcanized tire. The powerful will become more powerful, and with this kind of power comes greed. Looking at the present situation, the allies of this administration would fill the vacancies of what will be the supposed checks in this kind of government. The voice of the people will become mute and a silent ascent of a tyrant into power comes into play.

I think that in this kind of government public trust is tantamount and this country and its present government obviously lacks in it and it will stay this way until a change is made, but what kind of change am I talking about here?

While deliberating my thoughts about charter change and federalism, I remembered reading the article of Alex Magno entitled Democracy 102 in his column First Person in the Philippine Star. Alex Magno is a renowned political scientist and academician in the Philippines and he is an Editorial Columnist in such national dailies as the Manila Standard, Abante, and The Philippine Star. In it he somewhat divined what would happen in the future. Here is an excerpt of his article.

"In 2010, we will likely witness a peaceful, legal and uneventful transfer of power...two years from now, given the present trajectory of things, we will have an embattled candidate emerging from a bitter, unprincipled and costly multiparty race. That victor will be a minority president whose narrow margin of victory will be questioned by all the losers. There will be no clear mandate to do anything in particular - except survive in office under constant enemy fire. The winner of that dirty contest, conducted under the most primitive electoral process known to mankind, will have to wheel and deal with the various political blocs and business interests. Some sort of shaky "rainbow coalition" will have to be reassembled - a euphemism for a leader without much political capital and indebted to the amorphous assembly of interests that invested in his or her victory for entirely self-serving reasons. The new leader will be confronted by a hostile media that sees its role principally as a consensus-wrecker. He or she will be collared by the religious blocs with their doctrinal and commercial issues to nurse. Every opinion poll taken will register a progressive decline in trust and approval ratings, diminishing the new leader's political capital. Like a sequel to the movie Groundhog Day, we will see a replay of the political conditions of the past few years and as we repeat the same wild charges, the scandal-mongering, the same fat lawyers with ugly wigs hysterically crying "wolf!" at every turn, the nation just slides slowly, deeper into its role as a non-performer in a world of nimble economies and far sighted leaders."

Notice the almost strikingly perfect resemblance of Alex Magno's allegory and prediction to the present situation we are all in. The costly multiparty race, the questioning of the narrow victory of the somewhat minority president, the constant enemy fire and the will survive in office, the dealing with political blocs namely those of the opposition and business interests like some business club, the rise of a shaky "rainbow coalition" made up of people in the opposition, student activists, party list representatives and religious people and the appointment of a leader without much political background, one we will call "Pang-masa", the somewhat puppeteering role of religious blocs to solve doctrinal, commercial and even political issues and the decline in trust and approval ratings of the new president. These have all happened in the past, these are what we are all experiencing today, and these will likely happen again in the near future. A vicious cycle that oppresses the poor and empowers the rich. A problem that the Filipino people have been tackling ever since. So what then is the answer to this seemingly elusive question?

Alex Magno presented this idea and he said. "The constitutional structure within which we operate is designed to doom the presidency. The single term provision makes the incumbent a lame duck at day one. The multiparty electoral system condemns every winning candidate to the top post to the status of minority president, vulnerable to being held hostage by every political bloc that could muster votes in the congress for an impeachment or mount sustained campaign to diminish the president's popularity and political capital. Governing under these circumstances is like being forced to walk in a minefield blindfolded. One small lapse could call up the ghosts of people power and bring to center stage the tired old personalities who treat people power as private property. This is not a constitutional formula that enhances the possibility of decisive leadership to transform the nation. Nor, arguably, is it a formula that improves our chances for the sort of governance that will enable our country to be competitive in a globalized world. Interpreting the principle of checks and balances in a rigid way as an extreme reaction to the experience with dictatorship, the 1987 Constitution provides a formula for political paralysis. This is why nearly every political question eventually ends up as a constitutional issue to be settled by the High Court. This is not a constitutional structure that that enables the exercise of leadership, build national consensus to pull us out of path dependence, nor muster the political force that could break the inertia of a low-growth, oligarchy-infested and constantly squabbling country. With a party system that is incapable of developing the leadership cadre the country needs, an electoral system that is driven by patronage rather than visions and flawed institutions that are vulnerable to partisan politicking, we seem doomed to mediocre governance. Under such conditions, no one is allowed to be inspiring. Every achiever will be cut down by the constant drone of political sniping. We have a flawed constitutional design that will not allow a Lee Kuan Yew to emerge or even an Obama to challenge the political aristocracy. It is a constitutional design that does not allow us to go very far from where we now stand."

This is a strong idea presented by Alex Magno, stating that the sluggish and backward pace of our economy and our government are all brought about by our flawed constitution. The very same constitution that supposedly would protect us from a second Ferdinand Marcos to rise. Could this be true? Perhaps yes, and I believe in him.

I used to believe in the past that charter change is a bad idea, until I stumbled upon the premise that he presented. There is somehow truth in his words. I also used to believe that politics is dirty and I would much like to distance myself to topics concerning it, but now I thought if I will stay apathetic to issues that concern our country, I remain impassive even though hungry for change, a struggling visionary paralyzed and left to emaciate and die. Certainly I would not let that happen. I am no lawyer and I don't have any political background, but i can inform myself about it, and voice out my right to an informed choice because after all, I have a say in this government, like all of us have. We as a country are lagging behind as we have always done in the past. Though most of us view this as unacceptable. We want the president to solve poverty, bring down inflation and bring economic growth overnight, without allowing the political tools to make it even possible. What is wrong in our scenario then?

At the end of his article, Magno concluded that the constitutional order that we have incapacitates us all. It is only convenient for the oligarchy, the self appointed guardians of elite democracy and conservative clergymen. It is self-serving and has to be challenged from outside its operative rules. If this is the case then, somehow the constitution should have a general overhaul, not just slightly amended but entirely revised not only by those constitutional experts, but also by the people, because this concerns everyone, and by pundits outside our country. Those that can competently give us help on how to safely procure changes like adopting federalism, etc, and give a step-by-step "how-to-change-the-constitution" guideline. Those that are neither biased to any political or religious faction in the country and is adamant to the lure of power and sway of greed.

Indeed, we are all hungry for change, but we must also know that change is only possible if we challenge the political norm in this country. We must know that if a fruit's peel is rotting the inside might be rotting as well. The core of our government which is our constitution is our bane, our doom, a prison cell we made for ourselves. This constitution does not anymore represent the collective ideals of the people of this country where it should supersede. This same constitution appeals only to evil and its perpetuation and certainly has to be changed.


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