The need to change our current form of government

ariel-nepmucenoOUR presidential form of government is outmoded and dysfunctional. We cannot expect sustained progress for the majority of our citizens unless we realize that, indeed, for decades, our political system has not fully delivered the needed fundamental improvements in our society.

In the decades to come, we shall continue to watch our countless exemplary and brilliant leaders fail like their predecessors. But such a failure is neither intended nor willfully designed by them. Our political system has consistently marginalized and wasted the patriotism and dedication demonstrated even by our best leaders.

The history of our country has recorded the periodic rise and fall of our national and local leaders. We have a wide array of talents and abilities, as well as extreme nationalism. The sacrifices made by our popular heroes and ordinary citizens are legendary. Our leaders are definitely comparable to other leaders of the world. We can fairly claim that our race is a proud race of achievers and leaders who are even willing to give their lives for the welfare of our nation.

However, our system of selecting, replacing and removing political leaders is essentially weak and flawed.


Limits of a presidential system

WE elect our national leaders directly. That’s the best and worst feature of our democracy. As such, the most popular among the candidates have the advantage of defeating even the more competent and qualified candidates who are not well-known. Popularity does not guarantee a good performance, but is simply a vehicle to win an elective position.

Along with the problem of voters’ bias toward popularity is the extremely high cost of conducting a national campaign. Since the entire electorate must be convinced to vote, the magnitude of the huge political arena requires spending large funds. To sustain a credible national campaign, one needs billions of pesos for his or her war chest.

If one is elected president, for example, he or she is granted the right to lead the country for six years. But, as they say, a six-year term is too short for a good president, and too long for a bad one. President Aquino, objectively speaking, belongs in the first category. His term is too short for the unfinished reforms that he has successfully initiated. And, for sure, by 2016, much of his work will be either cut short or reversed. Therefore, the country would be deprived of the rewards reaped by a good presidency because of the term limit imposed by the 1987 Constitution.

On the other hand, the country must endure the burden of incompetence and mismanagement if we erroneously elected a popular, but inept leader. Legally removing him or her from office is tedious and politically difficult. Resorting to extralegal methods becomes a viable option, but it could destabilize the country and inflict on the economy a wound that will not heal quickly.


The strength of a parliamentary and federal system

SELECTING from among elected local or regional leaders offers a better chance of crowning the best among equals. In a parliamentary form of government, the prime minister may not be popular in the nation’s eyes, but he or she can be regarded as the most revered and respected among the members of parliament, as well as the best one to lead the entire government. As such, one must put a premium on competence, qualifications, integrity and leadership in choosing a prime minister. In this mode of selection, national prominence becomes an eventual reward for good governance, not a prerequisite for victory.

Since the members of parliament shall only be elected at the local level, the cost of joining this exclusive club of legislators becomes significantly lower. Perhaps, millions of pesos will still be necessary to win, but definitely not billions. Hence, the pressure to betray the people’s trust is diminished. Corruption is lessened.

Paired with a parliamentary form of government is a federal system of power-sharing and governance. The regional characteristics of our diversified society must be constitutionally acknowledged and strengthened. Our distinct regional differences and divided loyalties must become an advantage, instead of a disadvantage. Regional or local governments are in the best position to micromanage the needs, aspirations and programs of their communities. The dynamics of separate local economies that are tied with the fundamental macro controls of the national government has made many countries, like our neighbor Malaysia, prosperous and progressive.

Our distinct local cultures can be harnessed to produce a vibrant regional tourism sector. In this new form of government, the current autonomy enjoyed by our Muslim brothers and sisters in Mindanao becomes a legal and integral component of our political organization. In our current presidential system of government, granting even limited autonomy is being viciously challenged in our courts because of some constitutional issues.

More important, replacing a weak and abusive prime minister and his or her Cabinet is easier. Choosing a new leader is possible without the chaos that is inevitably part of our current political system. Parliament can be dissolved and replaced with a better set of leaders.


The quest for political transformation

CHANGING our government into a parliamentary and federal system may not happen soon, given our desire to protect the Constitution.

Unfamiliarity with this particular system can intimidate our decision-makers and the electorate. However, as a nation, we must begin the discourse on whether our current political system serves us well or perpetually obstructs our best interests and welfare. Our national leaders must bravely explore beyond our political horizon and lead the country into adopting a more efficient and effective system of governance. The economic well-being of our people must be of paramount importance in this effort.


Ariel Nepomuceno is the deputy commissioner for the Enforcement Group of the Bureau of Customs.


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