By J. Art D. Brion (RET.)
“The Day After Tomorrow” is a 2004 science fiction film about the extreme possibilities that could result from climate change. I borrowed the title, not to dwell on science fiction nor to comment on climate change, but to share my thoughts about other possibilities – those that may bedevil the nation as it transitions into the administration-sponsored federal-parliamentary system of government.
Today represents the current situation when the country, hopefully, is already debating possible constitutional reforms at all levels of our society. Tomorrow represents the ratification that would signal the nation’s acceptance of the amended Constitution. Day after tomorrow would be the future under the amended Constitution, whether or not under the current administration. The day after tomorrow scenario consists of the fears that I hope shall never come to pass.
- Separation of Powers. Our current political system, as designed, is characterized by the strong delineation and separation of powers among the three major branches of government – the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Current history shows that under the immediately past administration, this strong systemic safeguard failed to provide the protective check and balance we had hoped for.
Despite the best constitutional intentions, the nation’s DAP and PDAF debacles transpired, resulting in a massive fraud on the populace. This happened when the executive and legislature simply disregarded the clear constitutional lines separating their budgetary roles. But this failure should be characterized for what it was – a failure largely arising from human greed and selfish motives, not a failure wholly chargeable to the system.
In actual operation under the present administration, President Duterte, as the executive, dominates the political landscape with his party enjoying a clear majority in the House of Representatives and a comfortable lead in the Senate. Thus, through a common political mindset, he can secure the conformity of Congress to the programs and policies he wants to implement.
This dominance is legitimately based on the dynamics of politics and is not the prohibited encroachment by the executive into essentially legislative functions. Most importantly, the dominance does not appear so far to have resulted in any fraud on the populace, in the way that the past DAP and PDAF did.
Under the federal-parliamentary system that the Duterte administration proposes, separation of powers shall necessarily be different. In a pure parliamentary system where the executive and the legislative functions are fused in the Parliament, separation of powers would only exist between the Parliament and the Judiciary. Within the Parliament, check and balance would be through the interaction between or among the political parties, assuming the existence of a healthy and viable opposition.
After tomorrow, largely due to the ascendancy and dominance of our sitting President, the constitutional amendment may see a mixed parliamentary system with a strong President along the lines of the French model. How this system will finally be configured in the Philippine setting remains to be seen. But there will be a President who plays a significant executive role, and a Prime Minister who heads the Parliament and who must secure the continuing support of this body. The design – though different from that of the present Constitution – shall again be for a strong separation of powers.
How the President will govern under the constitutional amendments that his own administration sponsored, is not easy to predict. In the near term – whether before or after the constitutional amendments – if the President’s personal ascendancy and record of governance continue to prevail, there might hardly be any occasion to put the separation of powers principle to a test; no need arises to cross constitutional boundaries into prohibited territory where the President and Congress/Parliament are in full agreements on plans and issues because they belong to the same party.
On the other hand, if the attainment of his announced objectives would be at risk during his remaining term in office, it would not be surprising – based on his expressed unguarded thoughts and his passion for a legacy – for the President to prioritize his objectives and sacrifice legal principles for this purpose, if necessary. Of course, these would be self-defeating moves that would forever taint the President’s record and even bring his newly amended Constitution to the same level of disrepute that the 1973 Constitution suffered from.
(To be continued)
For lack of space, I shall continue with my “day after tomorrow” thoughts in my next article. Readers can contact the author at [email protected]