Prospects of a real political reform under the Duterte Administration

Talks about changing the constitution are again up in the air. If House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is to be believed that it is not the priority of the Lower House, then most likely we will see the charter change (ChaCha) revving up in the next few months despite the Coronavirus diseases-19 pandemic. Remember how he lambasted the Marcoses in 2016 elections then eventually changing his tune? Remember also how he switches and twitches with his speeches and policy stands the latest of which is the ABS-CBN franchise?

The likes of Speaker Cayetano is the main reason why we need a ChaCha — not for anything else. The economy? Efff that. Filipinos lived and are living in dire poverty and only few politicians dared lifting a finger. If we need ChaCha, that should be to reform first our political system. But do you know that we can reform the political system even without ChaCha?

The President has the numbers. All he needs to do is inform his allies that it is his priority just like the Anti-Terrorism Act, and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. The more pressing question is: Will he do it?

If we read the writings on the wall, he wants political reform packaged as part of the ChaCha package. The reform he is offering, however, is just structural change that seeks to alter the balance of power between the national and local governments. Couched in the idea of shift to Federalism, the reform package will not touch the “root of all evils” — that is, the personality-based politics. And we say “root” because “personality politics oftentimes dilutes issues within a country and creates political divisions in that society“. Personal and public interest usually gets tangled, if not mixed up, and confusion sets in on who really owns the public purse — the one who puts the money in or the one who spends it. Even the big man from Malacanang fall prey to this most of the time the latest of which is the pronouncement that he will sell government assets just to procure a vaccine. (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno, however, dismissed this as another joke.)

In simple terms, the proposed package is just a palliative to soothe a sector of “reformists” assuming that it is being offered with sincere intent. Otherwise, it can be viewed as a means to further consolidate clan politics. Just like the “I dismantle the Philippine oligarchy” line where a weaker presumed oligarchy was ganged up by the stronger and real ones.

If there is really sincerity to institute political reform, we reform the dogs not the collar. And to do that, the following laws have been pushed if not approved by now:

1. A law that institutes real political party system. Be this bi-party or multi-party, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the parties draw the lines where they stand on issues, and that political butterflies are castrated, if not guillotined at least figuratively. In simple terms, those who change political parties may exercise their right to do so but will not be allowed to hold public office whether elective or appointive for at least three years. If we require residency for voting in elections, why not require also political party residency in applying for elective or appointive posts? Note that 67.2% of the politicians in the post-Marcos period to 2010 elections has changed parties at least thrice. I haven’t updated my study but with the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, I am confident we’ll just get sadder with the result. But the point of this legislative proposal is: If these political butterflies can’t even warm their respective seats in their political parties, why allow them to occupy a public post?

If an honest-to-goodness political party system will be instituted, we’ll not only limit personality-based politics but also put an end to clan-based politics. If families or their members wanted to compete with each other, let them fight within the party and not in the public.

2. Accompanying the law on political party system should be a party-list system with proportional representation. The current party-list system is bastardized because the loopholes in the law allow the cart to be placed before the horse. We need to eradicate personality-based politics? Then let us elect political parties — the real ones that represent issues if not ideologies and offer platforms.

3. We haven’t had a majority president at least in the post-Marcos period. As a result, the majority of the voters can always disassociate from, oppose, or disrespect the winning President who got to his seat by only a plurality. For that reason, the sitting President had to focus on defending his seat at all cost and this had been the case since the time of President Fidel Ramos. And, in defending that seat, he/she would use his position to consolidate his power and protect his allies and at the same time quash his enemies. The time, resources and energy are therefore divided between this political interest and the real function of the President — that is, addressing public interest and providing the necessary social services.

Second, every time the President is elected by only a plurality, the majority of the voters can always disassociate and claim, “I did not vote for him and thus he is not my President”. This always result to divisiveness and fuels the situation mentioned above.

Both of these can be addressed by instituting run-off elections — that is, the system of voting where the electorate casts the ballots the second time if ever the winning candidate in the first round fails to secure a majority vote. At least 45 countries around the world are using employing the run-off elections or the two-round voting system.

We have a number of learned people surrounding President Duterte some of them Political Scientists. Hence, why did these ideas not float in the last four years? Simple: Rocking the political system will definitely affect the people surrounding the President and hence, not his priority. But if the President is really sincere in dismantling the Philippine oligarchies, these three legislations are a sure way to do just that.

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