Thursday, August 22, 2019

Tell it SunStar: President’s role in federal Philippines

ARTICLE VII of the Constitution provides for a presidential form of government where the executive power is vested in the President. In the Professor Jose Abueva-initiated CMFP draft constitution, Article X provides that the President is the Head of State, a largely symbolic and ceremonial president.

Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, in a resolution also signed by 16 senators in 2008, claims that based on their historical background Filipinos prefer a strong president at the helm of the state. His son “Koko” pushes for a “uniquely Filipino semi-presidential executive-legislative set-up.”

The PDP-Laban Federal Institute states: There is a President and a Prime Minister, but no Vice-President. Santo Tomas University political science professor Edmund Pagao says: Under this “dual executive” structure, the president will be in charge of foreign policy and national security while the prime minister will run the government with his Cabinet.

President Duterte likes the French system. The president is elected by the majority. Only then would he appoint the prime minister. Two months later, in legislative and communal elections, the electorate gives him the National Assembly and administrative apparatus of his party mates or sympathizers so that his policy is executed all over the nation down to the villages.

Which version is best for the Philippines?

As a German, I have been in favor of Professor Abueva’s model, which he took over from the German Basic Law. But I changed my mind after President Duterte took impressing landmark decisions among others: wage war against foreign invaders, break up the peace negotiations, invite former rebels to Malacañang, replace public servants suspected of corruption, do a pivot to the Swiss system of bidding, destroy illegally imported luxury cars, etc.

All these decisions were made instantaneously when urgency or reason demanded. In my opinion they all make sense. The majority of Filipinos support a president who acts swiftly even if the legality of his actions is to be scrutinized later.

In the case of Marawi, the opposition denied the presence of the Islamic State (IS) in that city although for 3 years the jihadists were storing war material in the underground tunnels in the city. Nobody noted or recognized except the president.

If a parliament had to take the decision to deploy the army or not, discussions would have taken weeks with uncertain result. In the meantime the sultan would have taken over the government in the city and expanded his jihadist rule all over Lanao del Sur with the prospect of subjugating the entire Mindanao.

It is the interior rather than the foreign affairs that needs a strong hand to establish order in what had been indulged by all presidents beginning with Marcos. President Duterte excels at interior policy, but will his successors be able to fill his shoes?

Although I also see the danger of infraction to the principle of separation of the three powers of government by a president present or future, I have to admit that for a longer transition period a strong president is best for the Philippines.--Erich Wannemacher, Lapu-Lapu City
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