PH should learn from US government shutdown

Published January 23, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Restituto Cayubit

By Getsy Tiglao

Getsy Tiglao
Getsy Tiglao

The recent US government shutdown should remind Filipinos of the inherent flaws and cumbersome nature of the unitary-presidential-bicameral system imposed on us by the American colonizers. It is time for our country to move forward and adopt a more efficient federal-parliamentary-unicameral form of government.

Bicameralism brings with it factionalism and partisanship. We see it in the US as the Democratic and Republican parties are always at loggerheads, with neither side willing to give in for the good of the nation. Their House and Senate are continually at a deadlock. While they are battling each other, they are at odds with the executive especially if the president belongs to a different political party.

It seems unimaginable that a superpower such as the US – battling as it does so many foreign enemies – would allow its military to be at risk due to political infighting within the US Congress, particularly in its Senate. A temporary solution was reached as of press time with a short-term spending bill signed by US President Donald Trump to reopen their government and give it funding until February 8.

But what about after February 8? Will the US senators just resume their wrangling over the issues of immigration, the border wall, and health care? Will they remain entrenched in their positions?

It’s very likely. The culture of divisiveness is so strong today in America and we Filipinos would do well not to follow this and instead aim for political unity, self-sacrifice, and a common vision for national progress.

“Checks and balances” is such an overrated concept. We grew up on this US idea, brainwashed into our heads by our social studies or civics class, that each branch of government has to “check” the other, that this was the best democratic system. But really, what we’ve seen through the years is not “checking” but constant fighting to gain political power.

To his credit, we never dared thought before President Rodrigo Duterte came along that there were other, much better, political systems operating around the world, such as the more stable and organized unicameral parliamentary system.

Philippine senators, just like their US counterparts, are seen as “presidential material” and are thus given bigger media coverage than their colleagues in the Lower House. Despite passing fewer bills than their fellow legislators in the House of Representatives, the senators are given an inordinate amount of attention with their positions seen as more “prestigious” and the faster way to become the next president.

At least in the US the senators represent their particular states since America has adopted a federal system, with two senators for each of their 50 states. In contrast, Philippine senators are elected nationally, or at large, and do not represent any particular state or region.

Is this a big deal? Yes, because it just one of the many flaws in our political system, which is just a poor copy of the American one. We don’t have enough safeguards in our current system, unlike the US whose constitution has gone through several amendments through the decades.

Since our senators do not represent any region many of them act and talk as if they are “presidents in waiting”. Instead of helping the sitting president by giving sound advice or passing smart laws, they politicize every issue and milk it for all the media mileage they can get.

This bicameral system has failed us. It truly is time for a unicameral legislature where the parliamentarians or legislators will be on equal footing.

At it stands now, the country’s senators are hindering the country’s transition into a dynamic and modern society. A federal-parliamentary system is best for an archipelagic country such as ours with our diverse ethnic groups, languages and dialects, religion, and other differing beliefs and practices.

The Moros in Mindanao have long fought government due to what they perceive as inequities in the political system, resulting in their constant underdevelopment. With a federal system of government, the new and more powerful “states” in Mindanao can now control their destiny, and finance programs that will directly benefit their people, without waiting for the “blessing” of some bureaucrat in the central government in Manila.

Having a more peaceful Mindanao is just one of the many positive outcomes of a change into a new form of government. It is thus with disappointment that we see our senators throwing a monkey wrench into the plan to convene the Philippine Congress into a Constituent Assembly. Forming a “con-ass” is the fastest, most efficient way of changing our outdated 1987 Constitution.

If Congress fails to change our system of government, ten or 20 years from now we will still be talking about the same problems – the lack of inclusive growth, the entrenched oligarchy, the inability to develop strategic industries such as power and communications, and the still large number of citizens living in poverty.

Senators who failed to answer the changes demanded by the people will then be judged, as they are being judged now, as having been on the wrong side of history.