Thursday, July 21, 2005

Form and Function

I love playing sports, though I’d never consider myself truly athletic. I have friends who just need to watch a particular move being done once to be able to do it themselves. This could be a volleyball spike, a tennis serve, or a basketball baseline drop-step pivot and lay-in. I myself take a while before I can consistently get the result I want.

This terribly frustrating waste of time, also known as the Philippine political crisis of the moment, is certainly one reason to escape to sports. What did get my attention is what is now proposed as the acceptable solution, changing our country’s constitution to allow for a parliamentary form of government.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with the form of government. What I do find wrong is in how it is paraded about as the true solution to our nation’s ills, so much so that our country’s sitting president wishes to leave it as a legacy.

The first of the parliamentary government’s much touted advantages is the selection process of the chief executive.

This process involves only the members of parliament, which ensures that the chief, the prime minister, as well as those participating, are all capable representatives of nation. Popularity with the dumb and ignorant masses will no longer be the foremost criteria.

Corollary to this is the speed and efficiency at which chief executives can be placed and replaced. There is no need to wait for six years to replace an ineffectual one.

It’s not like our previous performance in selecting a president was all that bad.

We, the people, have only been playing at the independent republic game since 1945. From then until 1986, all the presidents have been professional politicians. Some were better than others, until one emerged who stood out from all the rest, Ferdinand Marcos. His academic and political achievements were truly stellar, and arguably surpassed any previous president.

In Marcos’ two decades as the leader of our nation, however, the image of the politician was so blackened and tainted that the next two presidents were a housewife and a professional soldier.

The next one was Joseph Estrada, who possessed both overwhelming popularity as an actor as well as two decades of experience in government. His term was cut short with charges of directly accepting bribes and pocketing government revenues, supported by various witnesses and documents. These charges, and the evidence supporting them, are unmatched for any Philippine president.

The next election pitted another massively popular actor, though with no experience at all in government service, against the incumbent president, a career politician. Unproved allegations of massive electoral fraud aside, the nation selected the politician, Gloria Arroyo.

I believe that we, as a nation, have managed to apply critical thinking in selecting our chief executive. When we, selfish elites and ignorant masses included, did have to choose between popularity and experience, we went with experience.

Other advantages will be from a unicameral legislature elected locally.

This means that instead of bills getting tossed between a Senate and a Congress, proposed legislation will be discussed and passed into law by a single body, a parliament.

Each member of the parliament will be elected by the registered voters of a particular congressional district. Even with a manual vote count, elections would now be concluded in days, the present time it takes to declare winners of congressional elections.

I see this as so inappropriate, as such an about-face for us, on so many levels.

My first objection is fairly straightforward. Even with the ever-present investigations in aid of legislation, our elected representatives can deliberate and pass legislation within a year from it being filed. A more recent, if controversial, example is the Expanded Value Added Tax. While this has proven to be more of an exception, that it can be done shows that there really isn’t any critical delay caused by the system of legislation itself.

My succeeding objections are more subtle, but involve issues that deeply affect our long-term performance as a nation.

The present requirement for a national election for the president and members of the senate guarantees that, every three years, would-be leaders of our country actually have to show awareness of all parts of the country.

Prospective national leaders would be disinclined to think of the country simply because it would not be necessary to win the hearts and minds of all far-flung regions. It would not be necessary to visit them or even know their names. Once the parliamentary elections are done, only the elected representatives need any convincing. And it can all be done in the urban comfort of the capital, the imperial Manila.

The national elections are also the time that we all come together and participate in something that directly affects the entire nation. In parliamentary elections, representatives are elected by region or district. Voters would be less inclined to have an idea of the nation as a whole, since our actions would affect only our individual locality, not the entire country.

When a Manila magazine condescendingly refers to people from Cebu as new to the big city, I don’t believe that this is the time to give people one less reason to think beyond their immediate vicinity.

My final objection is that switching away from this would take away our personal right to directly elect and participate in selecting the chief executive and the senior legislators. This is a right we have always had since our country’s independence.

For our impoverished countrymen, this clearly means the loss of one right.

For our elite, their access to the wealth and resources required for winning elections would allow some influence on selecting the chief executive. What they would lose is one true sense of the environment in which we live. This is the sense that all votes are equal, even if the environment, the distribution of wealth and resources, is inequitable. Insulation from the realities of our landscape results in less-informed decisions. Continually successful and lasting organizations, as those controlled by the elite, demand the opposite.

In short, I see this move for a parliamentary system as a solution to a problem we don’t have and a source for even worse issues going forward. One doesn’t improve performance by changing the rules of the game. So I’d rather we just continue playing the game we’re already in, and just improve the normal way, with practice and experience.


banzai cat said...

That reminds me of something I learned in my Pol Sci classes, that sometimes the solution offered is as far away to the problem as possible. You want to deal with the problem, you get the right solution.

So why offer the wrong solution in the first place? Ahhhh, now that's another thing entirely.

Rhochie said...

Well, like some columnists said, decentralize the government. Go Federal, but for heaven's sake, say no to the Parliamentary system.

In my opinion, there should be equal representation for all the regions in the Senate, not just in Congress. I would think 2 senators for every region; Metro Manila, being counted as just one region (NCR), gets to have two senators as well.

Do away with the Party List, too. Bob knows why.

And speaking of parties, will someone please cut down the number of the political parties? The way things are now, it's pretty hard to tell one party from another. A two party system should be enough.

Anonymous said...