How do we change from unitary to federal?

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Part 2 of 3
The first part of this three-column series discussed the four preconditions to a less painful, sustainable and successful shift to federalism. As I have previously said, revising the 1987 Constitution needs a FRAMEWORK, a step-by step process, a roadmap, so we won’t be lost even after the end of President Digong’s term.

Among the four preconditions, the most important to a shift from unitary to a federal system is the creation of real political parties free from the clutches of political dynasties.

In our current unitary system, we have a political phenomenon that occurs every presidential cycle – the lemming-like migration of political parties to the winning President’s political party.

As a case in point, PDP Laban has three incoming members of the House and a lone second-termer senator. In less than a week after the candidate Digong became the presumptive President Duterte, and even before he was sworn in, he declared that he wanted Congressman Alvarez as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.


Days prior to the President’s assumption of office, the LP and some members of the other political parties have jumped ship to the PDP Laban “super-majority.” Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that from the point of view of Philippine politicians and their brand of traditional politics – because, really, our dysfunctional system calls for it – but it is stretching credulity to a shameful level when one particular (LP-LAKAS-KBL) politician paraphrased President Quezon and proclaimed: “My loyalty to my part ends when my loyalty to my country begins…” or something dramatic to that effect.

He would have salvaged a shred of self-respect if he simply declared, “I want to be with the winning brand for my self-interest and maybe the interest of my constituency.”

This “political butterfly” or the “balimbing” spectacle, however, has been the norm in the modern Philippine political scene.

In 1986, when Cory won, the dominant Marcos KBL was decimated, though Cory did not believe in a political party – which was tragic – they gravitated to her in droves. In 1992, Fidel Ramos, whose LAKAS-TAO party reportedly “could all fit into one taxicab,” built a rainbow coalition of NUCD-CMD-LAKAS and remained in power up to GMA’s KAMPI administration. That party was dominant until PNoy took power in 2010 – decimating the NUCD-CMD-LAKAS- KAMPI, giving rise to the new Liberal Party. Today, we have a “not so new kid in the block;” PDP Laban – with more than 100 LP swearing allegiance to the principles and ideology of this “left-of-center” party.

I bring these episodes not to disparage individual politicians but to emphasize that corrective measures were seriously proposed in the last two congresses – The Political Party Reform and Financing Act (principally authored by our CDP President). This law was intended to assure the emergence of real political parties – ones that would aggregate the hopes, interest and aspirations of the citizenry and bring these into open transparent competition for legitimate political power. Alas, this bill was aborted by the ruling LP of the outgoing administration.

The new Federal constitution that will be written under this administration must include these deleted measures. If we have the same kind of political parties existing today when we have become federalized, then we allow the Federal States to be run by the very people whose vested interests are those against the common good.

If and when political party reform and the three other preconditions are achieved immediately, then we can proceed to activate the next step of the federalization process – THE IMMEDIATE TRANSITION TO A PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT.

(I am lifting the following features verbatim from our 2005 Consultative Commission Draft Constitution on the features of the Parliamentary system).

a) Briefly, a parliamentary system is known, too, as “Party Government” as the political parties have ascendancy over personalities and because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance and public administrations.

b) In our proposal, the legislative and the executive powers are fused in a unicameral parliament; and the “Head of the Government:” is the Prime Minister with his Cabinet recruited from among the members of parliament.

c) The President is the “Head of State” and is elected from among the members of parliament; and upon taking his oath he ceases to be a member of parliament and any political party. He serves a term of five years and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. (Here, PRRD wants a universally elected President).

d) A unicameral parliament is composed of elected members from the parliamentary districts, plus those chosen on the basis of “proportional representation” by the political party, according to the votes each party obtained in the preceding elections.

e) The members chosen by the political parties (party list) shall constitute 30 percent of the total number of Members of Parliament.

f) The political parties shall ensure that in the 30 percent “party list,” the labor, peasant, urban poor, veterans indigenous people communities, women, youth, differently-abled, except the religious sector, are properly represented.

g) Our current political parties are personal factions and alliances of politicians, united mainly for elections and patronage; they have no mass memberships and no sustainable and exclusive serious platform of government that differentiate them from one another. They are not responsible and accountable for their performance in and out of office.

h) For these reasons, they don’t have loyalties to their parties and migrate to the political party of the winning President. This spectacle is known as “turncoatism” or “political butterfly.”

i) As proposed, any elective official who leaves his political party before the end of the term shall forfeit his seat and will be replaced by his political party.

j) A mechanism to replace a Prime Minister is for Parliament to withdraw its confidence and by electing a successor by a majority vote of all its members.

k) This “vote of no confidence” is a much easier process of replacing a head of government in a parliamentary system than the current impeachment process of replacing a President.

It is still being debated whether or not the country should adopt a federal-presidential form or a federal-parliamentary form. However, PARLIAMENTARY is a far superior system to that of a PRESIDENTIAL one in overall government performance.

A parliamentary government can: (1) prevent gridlock and promote consensus in governance, (2) ensure the stability and continuity in governance, (3) strengthen accountability in governance, (4) promote cohesive and disciplined political parties, (5) and promote broader based and inclusive politics through a multi-party system.

(The third part of this three-column series will appear next Thursday)

Lito Monico C. Lorenzana Served under four Philippine Presidentsin various capacities as a member of theCabinet and several Commissions, a Harvard educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines (CMFP); one of the founders of the CentristDemocratic Party of the Philippines (CDP); Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya; andthe Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI)

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