Why We Should Pursue Charter Change

This year, the 1987 Constitution turns 27 years old. Influenced by our colonial past and crafted during the aftermath of the Marcos dictatorship, the present charter has never been amended. There is a popular opinion that an enduring Constitution provides political stability. Not necessarily!

As the basic law of the land, the Constitution must be able to provide a flexible institutional framework that allows the government to develop the capacity to respond to the needs of its people. It is only when the government is able to respond to its people’s needs and concerns that there can be political stability.

I am in favor of changing the Constitution. But I do not agree with the agenda of those in Congress pushing for Charter Change to lift the restrictions to ownership of land and natural resources. In the age of globalization, land and natural resources are our most reliable assets. It should be in the hands of our fellow Filipinos.

We should change our Constitution to correct the flaws and weaknesses in our political system. For so long, power in the country has been concentrated in the hands of a few. While the Constitution provides everyone the right to vote and be elected, only a few would stand a chance in the elections and the voters are left to choose among limited, often unpalatable options, coming from the powerful few.

Below are critical political reforms that can strengthen our electoral system that can pave the way to a truly democratic distribution of power in the country.

1. Split the conflicting dual mandates of the Commission on Elections.

The Comelec, as mandated by our Constitution, manages the elections, as well as adjudicates electoral disputes. That is the power of the executive and the judiciary in one institution, which makes the structure of the country’s election manager problematic.

Why is it that in mature democracies, the executive and judicial powers are not lodged in one body? Because these two powers are often conflicting.

The executive, as a manager, relates with all people and tries to build consensus in order to get things done and move things forward. The interpreter of the law,on the other hand, supposedly makes decisions that are free from any interference from interested parties. The judicial function, hence, is supposed to be objective, impartial and detached, as much as possible.

Philippine Comelec has to be both and do both. Managing the elections is a tough job in itself. Reconciling your judicial functions with that of your management role is insane.

2. Revise our flawed electoral-party systems combination: first-past-the-post or plurality electoral system in a multi-party system.

In political engineering, if you are designing for a democratic polity, you do not do this. You end up producing minority electoral victors, which is a recipe for instability.

Democracy is rule of the majority. Majority, in simplest definition, is 50%+1. Our electoral victors hardly get 50%+1 of the total votes. That is because there are so many candidates vying for one position!

Often, the defeated candidates, with their votes combined, get the majority votes, while the victor gets a small fraction, but is a plurality victor, with the highest number of votes. Only that fraction has given him the mandate. Yet, s/he has all the power. As for the rest, they get nothing, unless they ally with the victor right after elections. And what do we get in turn? Political butterflies—politicians with no paninindigan. Candidates even kill each other during elections because of our winner-take-all formula.

3. Rationalize our elections.

We elect at least 30 public officials at any given national elections. For every post, there are at least three candidates. That means we need to acquaint ourselves with at least 90 candidates for us to vote intelligently. At least! Candidates for the presidency alone could go as high as 10!

At the local level, we have elections every three years. Every three years!

For the first year, the elected official (if she is a newbie and is relatively truthful to her mandate) will study the functions of her office. The bureaucracy is a tough subject in paper, more so in practice. On her second year, she will start designing programs and crafting policies. But since elections will just be a little over a year away, she will start to think about how to stay in her position to implement her programs and pursue her policies.This will definitely affect her judgment. She is still on her second year, yet she is already thinking of elections. On her third year, she is now on full campaign mode.

How much time is devoted for governance out of her three years in office? Barely.

Let us extend the term limit of local officials to 5-6 years. We have enough checks to prevent any abuse. Even with short terms, they can be abusive anyway, if they want to.

We can allow re-election to another 5/6-year term, but the ban after a full two 5/6-year term should be applied not only to individual politicians, but even to his immediate family at least. Term limits are, after all, there to promote political competition; and in Philippine politics, the basic unit is not the individual, it is the family.

To further cut the number of seats we elect per elections, let us elect our senators per region, not at-large. Every region will have a senator that they will elect as one region.

4. Further the logic of decentralization.

We are a very diverse country and we must harness our diverse resources, energies and talents by furthering the logic of decentralization to allow federalism.

Regions that are ready to become an autonomous state must have a legal basis to pursue their autonomy. Federalism is a framework for such. But instead of forced federalism obliging all regions to form their own autonomous states, let us be flexible in our institutional framework so as to allow those who would like to pursue this and are ready to give it a shot.

There is power in self-reliance and self-determination that is demanded and won. Let our institutional framework provide an opening for such.

5. Harness the cooperation between the executive and the legislature by shifting to a parliamentary form of government.

Before anyone reacts that this could be abusive because we are removing the checks-and-balance mechanism, let me state that that is incorrect.

The parliamentary system has its own ways of ensuring accountability in the exercise of power. When it comes to abuse, the choice on the system of government is not much of a factor if you survey academic studies.

Why shift to parliamentary? We already know the basic strengths and weaknesses of parliamentary over presidential and vice versa. If you don't know this, Google it! That's a common topic when you type those terms.

I argue for parliamentary shift in light of my second point. I do not see us going back to a two-party system. Believe it or not, I can pin down at least three distinct political persuasions coming from different historical traditions that are hardly recognizable not necessarily in terms of analysis and vision, but because of the baggage of past political dynamics.

Within the Left alone, a single Left party is not happening (at least not in thisgeneration), though they are all coming from the tradition of social movements.You have the right-wing forces coming from the tradition of military involvement in our politics. They are not necessarily undemocratic, but they have a very limited notion of democratic rights. And you have the smorgasbord of liberal-conservative to social-liberal forces, belonging to mainstream parties, which are often dominated by traditional elite families.

We can get at least three distinct platforms from these forces. That's a good enough menu of programmatic options that we can hold to account.

If we are staying multi-party, we can either do run-off elections or shift to a parliamentary system. The former defeats my suggestion of rationalizing elections. It is too tedious.

Besides—and this is the more fundamental reason I think we should shift to parliamentary—if we want power that is more distributed, then proportional representation is attuned to parliamentary is premised on distribution and sharing of power. The presidential system, in fact, particularly our form, does not balance power. It consolidates it.

We should pursue changing our Constitution. It’s about time.

President Noynoy Aquino seems totally closed with the idea. But if he intends to make meaningful and sustainable changes in the country's politics and governance, political reform is a must and those measures are the critical measures in order to achieve political reform in the country.

These changes correct the flaws and major weakness in our political system, which keep us stuck in a perpetual cycle of boom-and-bust in prospects for genuine reforms that make a difference in the lives of common tao. – Rappler.com

This article was first published in http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/51286-why-we-should-pursue-charter-change.