“In a presidential system any damn fool can be President.
In a parliamentary system no fool can be Prime Minister.”
— Late Vice President Salvador “Doy”Laurel and Homobono A. Adaza
In my continuing discussion with the late Vice President Salvador Laurel on the need for systemic change in our country to solve our many perennial serious problems, I told my friend “Doy” that the key to solving our problems is to change our system from unitary presidential to federal parliamentary. To emphasize my point, I said: “You know Doy, the best argument for the parliamentary system is that, in a presidential system, any fool can be President. In a parliamentary system no fool can be Prime Minister because the elected Prime Minister is the first among equals – primus inter pares.” Doy answered, “Yes that is true. What is worse is any DAMN fool can be President in a presidential system.” I agreed to his amendment. It is in this spirit it’s worthwhile to discuss the mechanics of change.
From the ludicrous to the uninformed
The country is involved in a debate over whether we should change our political institutions. On both sides, the arguments range from the ridiculous and uninformed. Those favoring system change do not agree with each other – from the gray haired self-anointed experts to young kids from the academe. It is understandable. They are all confronted with new ideas and they are desperately in search of models from other countries.
Coming from Mindanao and the University of the Philippines, I have always toyed with the idea of changing systems in this country – from unitary presidential to federal parliamentary vis-à-vis my long-held dream for Mindanao independence. Since my Diliman days at UP, I have never abandoned my belief that the key to national survival of this country is to convert to a federal parliamentary system. The reasons are quite clear and intelligently indisputable.
First, the Philippines is an archipelago with 7,107 islands, about 170 languages or dialects with about 50 tribes living on these islands.
Second, it is expensive to go to Manila, irrespective of the distance, if you bring your complaints to the top leaders of the country.
Third, everyone depends upon the Manila government for a share of funds.
Fourth, the national government has different priorities in development from the local government units.
Fifth, the national government is too partisan in the granting of aid or projects to local government units.
Sixth, local government units cannot formulate government projects without the intervention of the national government.
Seventh, appointments of judges and prosecutors come from Manila and always based on partisan considerations, that is why there are many unfilled positions resulting in backlog of cases and a very slow justice system.
Eighth, it is easier to check graft and corruption and solve local problems because it is not difficult to put effective pressure on local government units.
Ninth, it is a cheaper government to maintain; it is conducive to better management; it is easier to get results.
Tenth, it encourages fruitful state competition on all levels – education, health, social and cultural as well as economic development.
Eleventh, it promotes love of the community in which you live, which can translate to love of country on a macro level.
Twelfth, it is easier to protect the environment and the natural resources of the state or regions.
Thirteenth, it is easier to nip in the bud and control insurgency and criminality.
Fourteenth, it can enter into contracts and agreements with foreign institutions, public or private, without the intervention of the central government
These are the more visible and pronounced benefits of a federal system as against the current unitary government where the central government has most of the powers and local governments are paying homage, all the time, to the national leaders in Manila.
This will end what Frantz Fanon calls the despicable institution of internal colonization of the oligarchs and politicians who control the levers of power of the country.
The specifics of a federal parliamentary system
Up to this point, the proponents of a federal system have not come up with the specifics of their proposal. Except for meaningless generalities they have not shown to the people the configuration of the federal system they have in mind. They are still searching for models to adopt in the Philippines. It is too late in the day for that. Anyone who has enough sense of proposing a federal system in the Philippines should have been ready with specific proposals for the people to examine, study, analyze and approve.
Having thought about this since I was a kid in UP, these are my specific proposals for a federal system in the Philippines:
On the number of states:
1. Create 13 regions or states in the country – five in Mindanao, six in Luzon and three in the Visayas.
2. Five states in Mindanao shall be composed of the following: a) state comprising the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Sabah and the cities within them; b) state comprising the provinces of Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, South Cotabato and the cities within them; c) state comprising the provinces of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte and the cities within them; d) a state composed of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Sibuguey Misamis Occidental and the cities within them; and e) state comprising the provinces of Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Camiguin, Agusan Sur and Agusan Norte, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur and the cities within them.
3. Three states in the Visayas shall be composed of the following: a) state composed of Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, Guimaras, Antique, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, Romblon and cities within them; b) state composed of Cebu, Bohol and cities within them; c) state comprising Leyte, Southern Leyte, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Samar, Biliran and cities within them.
4. Six states in Luzon comprising – a) one state composed of the provinces of Cagayan Valley, Ifugao, Kaliinga, Apayao, Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Isabela, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Batanes and cities within them; b) one state comprising La Union, Zambales, Aurora, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan and cities within them; c) one state composed of Rizal, Batangas, Quezon, Cavite, and the cities within them; d) state comprising Marinduque, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Palawan and the cities within them; e) state composed of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay, Catanduanes, Masbate, Sorsogon and the cities within them; and f) The national capital state composed of all the present cities and towns of Metro Manila.
On state configuration:
5. All the provinces should be demolished and their towns merged into cities. The cities if self-contained shall remain as such, while the towns – from five to six – merged into new cities. Towns become districts of the cities and the districts composed of their old barangay or villages.
6. The states shall have a governor for top official with the cities having two representatives each in the state assembly which shall legislate on matters primarily involving the state. The governor has the power to appoint people as part of his cabinet from the state legislature, which shall compose half of his cabinet, and the other half shall be taken from outside the legislature
7. The term of the governors and mayors shall be six years with no reelection
8. Dynasty shall be prohibited up to the tenth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity. Dynasty means having a relative within the prohibited civil degree of consanguinity or affinity running in any election for the same or another office in the state or federal government.
On the presidency and other relevant matters:
9. There shall be a President who shall only have ceremonial functions and rotated ever year. The state assembly shall elect the President to assume the position with a one year term when it is its turn to assume the presidency.
10. The state with lesser natural resources should receive a grant from the national government, which should be included in the federal budget.
11. The powers of the federal government and the state government must be well defined.
12. With respect to the federal government, it shall have exclusive jurisdiction on matters involving national defense and security; currency and foreign affairs, federal protected environmental areas; development and preservation of certain natural resources like uranium, platinum, titanium, deuterium, oil and natural gas; fishing in territorial waters and economic zones; citizenship and suffrage; civil laws; criminal offenses with penalties exceeding one month imprisonment, one month community service or a fine exceeding P1,000.
13. The state can enact laws with respect to matters involving residents peculiar to that state.
On the judiciary:
14. There shall be state judiciary and federal judiciary with the state courts having exclusive jurisdiction on violation of state laws and the federal courts having a jurisdiction on all violations of federal laws.
15. There shall be a federal Supreme Court with five members and which has exclusive jurisdiction on the constitutionality of laws and acts, death penalty and validity of treaties. A court of appeals of two branches in each region presided over by a single justice.
16. The Court of Appeals shall decide appealed cases from the federal courts except those involving constitutionality, death penalty and validity of treaties, which are within the jurisdiction of the federal Supreme Court.
17. There shall be non-adversarial federal courts on the second level of courts presided over by a judge where no lawyers are needed in cases involving divorce, legal separation, separation of property, custody of children, confinement by reason of insanity, slander by deed, slight physical injuries, light coercion, light threats, violence against women and children, forcible entry and unlawful detainer.
18. All cases shall be decided, final and executory, within six months from filing. There shall be no need for court hearings and complaints and answers and all pleadings shall be in writing.
19. Police investigation shall not exceed seven working days and shall submit its report to the federal prosecutor’s office within the same period. The state prosecutor shall file a case in court within two days from the submission of the report. For cases directly filed with the Prosecutor’s office, he shall give the respondents seven days from receipt of the respondent/s to file answers and for complainant to file a reply within three days from receipt and the respondents a rejoinder two days from receipt of the reply. Notices shall be personally served and received within 24 hours from issue. The prosecutor shall resolve the matter in 10 days from the submission of the last pleading. Within the period, the information shall be filed or dismissed. There shall be no reconsideration in any case. The prosecutor’s resolution shall be final.
20. In adversarial courts, the defendant/respondent shall have 10 days to file his answer with no extension, the plaintiff/petitioner shall have five days to file a reply and the defendant/respondent shall have three days to file a rejoinder, after which the court has 15 days to render a decision. If appealable, the appellant has 10 days to file his appeal petition, the respondent 10 days upon receipt of the petition to file his answer or comment, after which the court has 15 days to render his decision.
21. Decisions shall be served within two days from its rendition. All service of pleadings and notices shall be by personal service unless defendant is a resident of a separate state or in a foreign country, in which case service shall be served through established delivery services like LBC, DHL, FED-EX.
22. Except appealed decisions, all decisions shall be immediately executory and executed within three days from the issuance of the decision.
Rational behind getting rid of court trials and defining periods of extension:
In my experience as a litigator for more than four decades, trials and time extensions are the primary reasons why cases languish in courts for years without decisions in sight. Lawyers are the most despicable masters of delay. Many lawyers are geniuses for influence peddling and playing the money game in the practice of law. When I say lawyers, this includes judges, justices and prosecutors, because they, too, are lawyers.
Starting point for systemic change
Unless the current administration does its homework, I am afraid that we are back to the same old game – all talk and no action on the basic systemic change issues. Killing people is easy. All you need is a gun and some fools who think that killing is the best way to solve problems – national or personal. If it is the right kind of killing and the right method – most probably yes! But if you do the wrong kind of killing and use the wrong method, there is the devil to pay for it whether his name is Stalin or Hitler, Idi Amin or Duterte, Pol Pot or Ampatuan. The name does not make any difference. It’s the hideous deed that counts.
The PDU30 balls should be put to good use. It is a waste if those balls are not used properly to seize the golden opportunity which is here for revolutionary change. The late Speaker Pepito and I had arrived at a common agreement – that to achieve meaningful changes, the leader must have balls in his brains and brains in his balls. Mr. President, temper your balls with your brains so our people can reach the Promised Land.
I just finished watching the well-applauded and highly praised speech of Donald Trump in North Carolina. It was highly praised for well restrained language producing the same results and viewed as a possible game changer. I also chanced on the CNN interview of PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa. He made great sense when he was asked whether at the rate the crusade against illegal drugs was going in the Philippines it would become a drug-free country. His answer was a resounding NO! Why? Bato is a tried and tested law enforcer. He knows the limits of this kind of crusade and the enormity of the problem.
Again I resort to an unsolicited advice. Maybe the President should ask his boys to get a copy of the North Carolina Trump speech and take time listening to it; listen more to Bato de la Rosa when he is interviewed without his presence; and ask one of his boys to get a copy of my book entitled Ideas, Principles and Lost Opportunities. Like you, Mr. President, I dream dreams and I could have verily scaled the heights were it not for my pig-headed attachment to my principles. There is time for pride and there is time for humility. This I have learned the hard way. It is not too late for you, Mr. President, to learn for the sake of your dreams and the country.