Charter Change: Debating the Future of a Nation
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate:
I rise today not on a matter of personal privilege, but rather on a matter of
the highest and most urgent national interest.
THE MESSAGE AND THE MESSENGER
In her State of the Nation Address last July 25th, President Gloria Macapagal
Arroyo made a strong and urgent call for charter change. She zeroed in on the
shift to a federal parliamentary form of government as her own prescription
for the nation, and on a constituent assembly as her suggestion to Congress
on the manner of crafting a new constitution.
For one such as this humble representation who has, over the years, actively
advocated a serious revision of the 1987 Constitution, the urgency of the President’s
call would have been unquestionably a welcome development. It is, however, unfortunate
that the call was made at a time of deep political turmoil and division in the
land and in the midst of a controversy involving no less than President Arroyo
herself. The tragic consequence is that predictably, the essential merits of
any proposal for charter change quickly got lost in the thick political air.
OPPOSITION TO CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE
Mr. President, there are those in our national community -- no doubt well-meaning
-- who keep telling our people that we ought not to distract ourselves with
charter change because we have more urgent national problems that must be attended
to first. They point to our distressed economy, our increasing national debt,
and our huge fiscal deficit, abject poverty, corruption in government, deteriorating
peace- and-order situation in the country, and the serious crisis besetting
By their own admission, most of the opponents of charter change are not against
constitutional revision or reform per se. While declaring their belief that
there is certainly a need for it, they hasten to add, “but not now”,
for various reasons -- the timing is questionable; the motive is suspicious;
it is a diversionary tactic; it is designed to provide a “graceful exit”
for the incumbent; or there is a hidden agenda not only for the President but
for other politicians as well. To sum it all up, the proposal for immediate
charter change has been dismissed as an insidious ploy and a political gambit.
Today, if someone so much as whispers an idea to shift to another form of government,
a cacophony of voices expressing impassioned, sometimes irrational, dissent
will suddenly explode from the elite groups and their cohorts -- politicians,
religious leaders, academicians, professionals, businessmen, and even ordinary
citizens -- and just as suddenly, burst into and fill broadcast and print media
as well as religious pulpits, corporate boardrooms, classrooms, college campuses,
public thoroughfares and city squares, barber shops, sari-sari stores, and even
the halls of Congress with animated opinions.
The proponents of change are right away branded, lampooned, and berated in placards
or in some newspaper cartoons, columns, editorials and text messages with all
sorts of derisive names, and imputed with sinister motives; accused as agents
or tools of some political or economic vested interests.
The poor public with no means to verify the truth or untruth of the noisy but
less-than-disinterested maneuver is being swayed to support the cause of the
elite and its cohorts, without realizing that in doing so it is actually going
against its own social class interest.
THE GREAT DEBATE
Mr. President, perhaps the actual convening of a constituent assembly or a constitutional
convention to frame a new charter, depending on the collective sense of Congress,
must be done only after the resolution of the impeachment case against President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. I say this because in my belief, this is the only way
by which the awesome and monumental task of charting a new path for the nation
can be undertaken without being weighed down by a political milieu clouded with
dissent, distrust, suspicion, and even skepticism.
Having said that, Mr. President, I dare say that I agree with President Arroyo’s
view that we must now begin the great debate on charter change. The process
of reflecting on our alternatives in the face of present-day political, social
and economic realities, and our collective experience as a nation and as a people
should, in fact, be a continuing one. While it is true that political events
tend to dictate our attention and priorities, these should not prevent us, especially
our leaders, from looking beyond the resolution of our present crisis. Whether
or not President Arroyo is impeached or is removed from office, constitutional
reform remains an imperative.
At this point, let me ask this question, Mr. President: Where, how, and when
do we really start to address the manifold and current ills of our society?
I posit this question because we can no longer afford to brush aside the immense
problems weighing heavily upon our country. Neither can we hide her distressed
condition no matter how much we try. As legislators of this nation, it is our
bounden duty to face these problems resolutely, and find adequate responses
to them in a manner that will relieve the dismal state of our society.
OUR NATIONAL CONDITION
Mr. President, so that my discussion this afternoon may be better appreciated,
let me first briefly describe the present condition of the country as I see
Our population has grown tremendously over the years, and it continues to grow
at the rate of 2.6% annually. It is expected to reach nearly one hundred million
at the end of 2010.
On the other hand, our economic growth has not really outdistanced that much
our population growth such that our per-capita income has lagged behind and
has almost remained static in proportion to our increasing population. Our neighbors
in Southeast and Northeast Asia are running well ahead of us. Even Vietnam and
Bangladesh are about to overtake and surpass us.
Our national debt has reached P5.2 trillion. It is expected to continue to grow
even larger. Our fiscal deficit has risen beyond tolerable limits. Contrary
to our expectations, our tax revenues have not expanded to a desired level in
spite of our earnest effort to reform our tax system and to improve the efficiency
of our tax administration.
The number of jobless people in the country, including those with no adequate
income to support themselves and their families, continues to rise. Many of
our professionals and skilled workers have gone abroad, and many more are leaving
to seek employment elsewhere. This Diaspora of Filipinos -- doctors, nurses,
medical technologists, dentists, engineers, architects, lawyers, accountants,
management executives, teachers, artists, artisans, seamen, caregivers, technicians,
and others -- poses a serious drain of skilled manpower from our society.
Our public-school system has retrogressed over the years. Our human- resource
development has become truly backward compared to those of our neighbors. Only
the children of well-to-do families can now afford a fairly good education.
The quality of our new professionals leaves much to be desired. Increasingly,
we are losing our competitiveness in the markets of the world.
The political stability of the country has deteriorated over the last several
years. The cohesion of our people has been badly shattered. A deep fissure of
division in our society threatens to break our country apart because of the
on-going political instability. Criminal, restive, and anarchic behaviors are
evident in many parts of the nation.
Dishonesty and corruption in the public service as well as in the private sector
have become prevalent, causing embarrassment to our country and shame to our
people all over the world.
Our social environment is in a state of disarray, and many of our physical infrastructures
have decayed and are in disrepair.
The quality of our public services has steadily declined and weakened over the
years. Yet, the costs of these services to our people have become increasingly
higher and burdensome.
OUR CURRENT RESPONSES
Our responses to these grave national ills so far have been largely palliatives,
or at best, piecemeal and mild evolutionary reforms. Personal ambitions and
vested interests have succeeded in blocking and continue to block structural
changes and reforms that are proposed and expected to effectively arrest our
growing decadence. Our national effort to introduce substantial adjustments
in our political, economic, and social policies and structures is being thwarted
by the selfishness, narrow-mindedness, and, oftentimes, groundless and knee-jerk
dissent of some leaders of the country who ought to know better.
OMENS OF DANGER
Mr. President, in a span of almost twenty years since February 1986, this nation
suffered three dangerous political convulsions that broke the unity of our people.
These social convulsions did not happen overnight. They were the culminations
and concrete expressions of lingering and pent-up frustrations and resentments
of the people. They are omens of a potentially bloody social catharsis that
may engulf us -- omens which we cannot take lightly anymore. Only the blind
and the deaf among us, and those with selfish ambitions or vested interests
to protect, cannot or refuse to see or hear the coming danger.
THE PEOPLE WILL ACT
Unless our leaders harness their collective will and show their determination
to act decisively, it is not farfetched to imagine that the common people’s
abject degradation will push them to the brink, and compel them to take the
law by their own hands to liberate themselves from poverty, and to redress what
they regard as the criminal neglect of the government to mitigate their distressed
and squalid condition.
BEGIN WITH THE CONSTITUTION
And so, I go back to my original question, Mr. President: Where, how, and when
do we begin the quest for meaningful and effective solutions to our dismal national
I submit, Mr. President, that we must begin no less, and as soon as possible,
with the Constitution of the Republic. Let us revisit it, and excise from it
and replace those provisions and institutions that hinder our progress or are
inimical to our modernization.
Unless we reform our constitution, we will remain a laggard, weak, and poor.
We will not achieve a higher economic growth, a better standard of living for
our people, and a more stable society. We will be like a gardener who constantly
trims the weeds in his garden to fulfill his desire for a better garden, instead
of destroying the roots that make the weeds grow constantly; or like a cancer
patient who takes vitamins to cure himself, instead of undergoing surgery or
chemotherapy to eradicate the malignant cells.
THE CONSTITUTION NOT GOD’S WORK
Mr. President, our present constitution is not an immutable document. It did
not come from God. It was the brainchild of human beings -- of men and women
who, undoubtedly in their time, had their own personal motives, biases, and
The people did not elect the framers of the present constitution. President
Corazon C. Aquino selected them. I grant their patriotism and their loyalty
and dedication to the people. I also recognize their noble intentions and their
intellectual competence and experience to draw up the constitution. But they
were fallible human beings like us.
POLITICAL PREJUDICE AND THE CONSTITUTION
From what we already know from the experience we have gathered for almost two
decades in running the affairs of this nation under the present constitution,
it is fair to conclude that those who framed it failed to foresee the pitfalls
of their creation. I suspect that when they drafted the constitution, they were
greatly influenced by what they regarded as the excesses of the Marcos regime
which, at that time, had just been repudiated by the people and consigned to
the graveyard of history.
Today, with accumulated lessons to guide us, we can confidently reform and improve
our constitution. In my humble view, it will be a gross act of political irresponsibility
to ignore the obvious and latent weaknesses of our constitutional system and
perpetuate those that brought us to our penury, backwardness, and chaotic condition.
AREAS FOR REVIEW
There are many areas that ought to be revisited in the Constitution. However,
this afternoon, I will limit myself only to the imperative and salient ones
-- the parts that have to do with the principles of political authority and
distributive justice. Let me outline them briefly.
First is our form of government. Should we continue with the presidential system,
or should we discard it in favor of a parliamentary form of government? If we
decide to adopt a parliamentary form of government, what type of parliamentary
system should we construct?
Second is the bicameral character of the legislature. Should we maintain our
present bicameral Congress? If we do, should we continue to elect senators nationally,
or should we elect them regionally?
Third is the term limit on local elective public officials. Should we continue
the current limitations, or should we leave the prerogative to the voters to
decide how long they want their elective public officials to remain in office?
Fourth is the present multi-party system. Should we continue with it, or should
we return to the two-party system under the 1935 Constitution?
Fifth is whether to maintain the present nationalized police service or to revert
to the old system. We must assess this carefully in the light of the present
condition of law and order in the country.
Sixth is the authority and jurisdiction of the Commission on Appointments. Should
we follow the current system, or should we go back to the system under the 1935
Seventh is the Commission on Elections. This institution has been severely damaged.
Its performance and integrity have been tarnished and compromised beyond repair.
Should we maintain it, or should we discard it, and construct a new system to
administer our elections?
Eighth is the Civil Service Commission. Should we dismantle the current civil
service, and establish a new one in order to minimize corruption in the bureaucracy?
Today, when one enters the civil service, he acquires a permanent tenure in
the government agency to which he is first appointed, and he remains in that
agency until he retires, unless, in the meantime, he agrees to be reassigned
to another government agency.
Ninth is the judicial system. How can we make it more responsive to the demands
of speedy, fair, inexpensive, and just resolution of civil and criminal cases?
Tenth are the economic provisions of the Constitution. Should we continue with
the current economic nationalism of the constitution, or should we now define
the areas of the economy that must be reserved and preserved for our citizens
and, at the same time, identify the areas where we will welcome greater foreign
involvement and participation?
DISCUSSION LIMITED TO FORM OF GOVERNMENT
Mr. President, I shall not attempt to dwell on all these broad issues because
to do so will require more time than what is available this afternoon. I shall,
therefore, limit myself to what I consider to be the most urgent one that demands
attention, which is the system of government most likely better suited for us,
given our historical experience.
A CENTURY UNDER THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM
Mr. President, we have been under the presidential system for more than a hundred
years now. We began from the provisional government of Biak-na-Bato, to the
Malolos Congress, to the Philippine Bill of 1902, to the 1935 Constitution,
to the Japanese-sponsored Constitution of President Jose P. Laurel, to the restored
1935 Constitution after we had been liberated from the Japanese military forces
in 1945, to the 1973 Constitution, to the Revolutionary Constitution of 1986
after Edsa Uno, all the way to the 1987 Constitution.
EXPERIMENT WITH PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM
We attempted to replace the presidential system with a parliamentary form when
we adopted the 1973 Constitution. But our effort was not successful. The president
then, having declared martial law in 1972, and having assumed both executive
and legislative powers as a consequence, decided to suspend the implementation
of the 1973 Constitution. He continued to act as President and Congress of the
country, and as her Prime Minister. This lasted up to 1978.
When the Parliament was elected and constituted in 1978, it was only a parliament
in name and form. Although President Marcos was no longer the Prime Minister,
he nevertheless exercised executive powers in his capacity as president of the
country and, at the same time, continued his legislative powers under Amendment
No. 6. Hence, the Parliament was rendered inutile.
The charade ended in 1981, when the 1973 Constitution was finally amended, and
the presidential system was again restored formally in the country.
REVERENCE FOR PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM
Mr. President, it would seem that since the end of the 19th century, we developed
wittingly or unwittingly a strong and deep emotional attachment to the presidential
system without realizing its pitfalls. Many of our countrymen are steadfast
in their belief that it is the only form of government best suited for us. This
attitude prevails even among the well informed in our society.
PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM RETARDS PROGRESS
And yet, if we study our past, Mr. President, a strong case can be made to support
a conclusion that the presidential system has not worked well for us. This is
more evident if we compare our national circumstance with those of our progressive
neighbors in Southeast and Northeast Asia, all of which are, by and large, under
the parliamentary system of government.
In terms of economic development, our country has not advanced as much and as
fast as the southeastern and northeastern Asian countries did in a far shorter
period of time. Their progress and modernity under a parliamentary system were
way beyond what we had accomplished in more than a century under the presidential
Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the People's Republic
of China are good examples. Shedding their colonial status after World War II,
and choosing the parliamentary system for their political structure, those countries
moved forward steadily at a faster pace. In our case, we plodded sluggishly
during the last century, while our neighbors overtook us rapidly and left us
far behind. What was the reason? Their structure of government was evidently
more efficient, flexible, resilient, and innovative compared to ours.
CLARO M. RECTO’S CRITICISM
Claro M. Recto, a brilliant former member of this Senate and president of the
constitutional convention that drafted the 1935 Constitution, was first to voice
his disappointment with the presidential system. He called it "a government
of the incompetent by the irresponsible."
His remark may seem somewhat severe and harsh. Yet, it betrayed his realistic
assessment and judgment against the utility and merit of the presidential system.
For Claro M. Recto, the presidential system "can make fools of all the
people all the time and make fools of themselves for four years." This
disdain was very likely the result of his experience as a former legislator,
jurist, and member of the executive branch. By the way, his reference to “four
years” had to do with the term of the president under the 1935 Constitution.
POWER WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY
Mr. President, I agree with Claro M. Recto. Like him, I find it bizarre and
incongruous that members of the Cabinet -- who are mere appointees of the Chief
Executive and with no direct mandate from the electorate -- wield more powers
than the members of Congress, who are elected by, and are direct representatives
of the people.
Mr. President, under our presidential system, the members of the Cabinet exercise
absolute control and supervision over the government. They spend billions of
the people’s money, they enforce all the laws, and they implement all
policies that Congress approves, without any say-so from the members of Congress,
and without any responsibility to the people. The ones answerable to the people
for the public funds being spent and for the laws and policies being implemented
are the members of Congress, not the members of the Cabinet whose accountability
is only to the president who appointed them.
THE CHOOSING PROCESS
Mr. President, there are other defects of the presidential system that must
be examined and brought to light. For instance, there is what is called, the
choosing process. This has to do with the fitness of the president to be elected.
Today in our country, Mr. President, more often than not, a demagogue has a
better chance of getting elected president than a democrat. The obvious explanation
for this anomaly lies in the present method of electing the president. Under
our presidential system, the entire national electorate elects the president.
Because of this, a vast number of the voters in the country may not really know
the personal characters, abilities, and backgrounds of the men and women seeking
the office, let alone the needed skills for the presidency.
Therefore, the mediocre or meretricious becomes more acceptable to the electorate
than the meritorious. Popularity, rather than ability and character, is the
hallmark for choosing and electing a candidate for president of this country.
Given this state of affairs, it is not farfetched to say that in our country,
a more popular but incompetent candidate will most likely succeed a popular
but equally incompetent president.
Mr. President, this is the emerging reality. We are no longer sure that only
the truly qualified will be chosen president of the country. The rising number
of voters who tend to develop a fetish for popular candidates whose best qualities
qualify them for everything else except public office, has spawned this problem.
Even the improvement in the education of our voters has not raised their political
maturity and reliability to choose and elect the best and most qualified candidate
Another drawback of our presidential system, Mr. President, has to do with the
number of votes needed to confer legitimacy on the elected president so that
he can confidently govern the nation.
Unless the present system is changed, we shall never again see a president of
this country elected by a majority of the national electorate. The last time
we had a president elected by a majority of the national votes cast was in the
snap presidential election of 1986. After Edsa Uno, the winners in all the presidential
elections thereafter were determined and decided on the basis of mere plurality
of the national votes rendered.
NO RUN-OFF ELECTION
In democratic countries like us, a majority of the national voters is required
to elect the president. However, in our case, the framers of the present constitution
made the mistake of adopting a multi-party system along with a presidential
form of government. This peculiarity of our political structure engendered a
multiplicity of presidential candidates during presidential elections.
Because there is no run-off election in our electoral system, necessarily, the
winner in a presidential electoral contest has to be reckoned and decided in
just one balloting. This made a majority vote hardly possible in electing the
president of the country.
Consequently, all our elected presidents since the presidential election of
1992 were “minority presidents”. They did not represent the will
of the voting majority. Thus, they did not have the will of the people to legitimately
govern the nation. This feature of our present constitution, Mr. President,
has gravely undermined our democratic society, the stability of the presidency,
and the legitimacy of all administrations since the presidential election of
COST OF PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
Mr. President, running for president in this country is a very expensive undertaking.
In 1998, the estimated cost for a viable presidential campaign was at least
P2 billion. This was to get a job that would pay the candidate, if he were successful,
P693,000.00 per annum or P4,158,000.00 for the full term of six years. P2 billion
is, by all means, a huge sum of money. It is the salary of the office for 2,886
In 2004, it is very likely that the cost to mount a viable presidential campaign
might have more than doubled.
We must reform the present system if we really want to give an equal opportunity
to financially incapable but highly deserving persons to seek the presidency
of the country. If we do not, and we persist with the present system, chances
are rife that only the very rich and affluent -- and, perhaps, those sponsored
and supported by big business and crime syndicates or crime lords, or both --
can successfully run for president, to the detriment of the nation.
Perhaps, the expensive presidential elections we have, Mr. President, is one
of the reasons, if not the main reason, for the mounting public perception about
the high incidence of corruption in the political totem pole of the land. For
no one will be so out of his mind to spend P2 billion for the presidency without
getting it back somehow or without feeling obliged to pay his political debts.
PROTECTION OF VOTES
This is the offshoot of our present system where a candidate for president must
get a mandate from a national constituency. Because of this requirement, a presidential
candidate must provide the wherewithal to protect his votes across the land.
The Commission on Elections cannot be relied upon for that purpose. Although
in theory the Commission on Elections is supposed to be a non-partisan and impartial
administrator and enforcer of our electoral laws and activities, it is unfortunately
a human institution, and its best intentions are not always translated into
actual honest decisions and actions during elections.
Under our system before the 1987 Constitution, that was not a serious problem.
The two major political parties then were represented in the precinct, municipal,
and provincial electoral boards, at the expense of the national government.
When the 1987 Constitution was adopted, the system was changed. The 1987 Constitution
banned all political parties and their candidates from having official representations
in all electoral boards. The political parties and their candidates were therefore
left to fend for themselves.
As a consequence, they had to hire, at their own expense, watchers and lawyers
to represent them and to protect their votes in every election board throughout
the country. And this entailed a huge amount of money.
Mr. President, another thing that I wish to stress this afternoon, refers to
the accountability of the president while in office. How is the president going
to account to the people for his conduct in office during his term? After he
takes his oath of office, never will he again go to the people for judgment
in an election. We all know that he has a fixed six-year term, and under the
1987 Constitution, he "shall not be eligible for any reelection."
His accountability to the people while serving his term is of paramount importance
because of his vast and awesome powers. He is the head of state, the head of
government, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the top law enforcer
of the land, the politico numero uno of the realm, and the Chief Executive Officer
of "The Philippines, Inc."
With that arsenal of presidential powers and prerogatives, plus the enormous
financial resources at his disposal, he can, without exaggeration, manipulate
events and control the character and flow of information that reaches the public,
especially when he is bent on attaining his desired personal goal at all costs,
regardless of its benefit or detriment to the national interest.
He can lie through his teeth to the nation. He can use, misuse, or abuse his
powers to mislead the people, to intimidate them, especially his adversaries,
or to rob them blind. He can pay no heed to the most egregious or undesirable
criticisms against him, or he can ignore unwelcome scrutiny of his conduct in
office from an irate opposition, or from prying and hostile media, or from an
enraged public. He can also play deaf, blind, and dumb to the most outrageous
excesses of his relatives, friends, favorites, and subordinates, or worse, he
can commit the excesses himself.
With his fixed term of six years, he cannot be divested of his office except
if he dies, or if he resigns voluntarily, or if he becomes permanently disabled
to discharge his duties and functions, or if he is successfully impeached, or
if he is forcibly expelled from the presidency.
In a country like ours where no one resigns voluntarily even for the most despicable
and inexcusable transgressions, the people are doomed to suffer for six years
when they err in voting for a president who turns out to be incompetent, faithless,
deceitful, heartless, corrupt, and morally and legally unfit to occupy the presidency.
IMPEACHMENT OR PEOPLE POWER
What then would be the legal remedy of the people to repair their error if,
indeed, they committed one? None, Mr. President! Come to think of it, the president
of the Republic is an elected king for six years. He is not really accountable
to the people once he has assumed office. The only available legal remedy, Mr.
President, will be his removal from office through the impeachment process,
which is a duty and function of Congress.
If impeachment is not available for any reason, or if it fails, then the people
may directly use force or violence -- the ultimo ratio -- to oust the unwanted
president. This was the case of Edsa Uno and Edsa Dos.
If the people will not act or fail to act, the armed forces might be tempted
by ambition or impelled by necessity to intervene and remove from office a publicly
disgraced and unwanted president under their constitutional role as "the
protector of the people and the state."
Mr. President, this provision is, to me, the gravest, the most dangerous, and
extremely destructive feature of the 1987 Constitution and our presidential
GRIDLOCK AND INEFFICIENCY
Mr. President, there is one more flaw in the presidential system that has hindered
our rapid growth and development.
As we all know, our presidential system has three branches that are intended
to be coequal and coordinate. Although each branch is invested with separate
and distinct powers in order to achieve a system of checks and balances, all
three branches are supposed to be integral parts of one government, and work
harmoniously together for the common good.
But oftentimes, the three branches work at cross-purposes. They are concerned
more for their coequal status rather than for their coordinate role to achieve
national goals. This is especially true of the executive and the legislative
branches. Between these two branches, there exists a nearly permanent state
of political tension that unduly shackles and undermines the attainment of unified
action on vital and urgent national problems. This gridlock renders our system
extremely inefficient and unproductive.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, that brilliant and perceptive former Prime Minister of Singapore,
during his visit to Manila in November 1992, spoke before a group of local businessmen
and said, "The Philippines has chosen the most difficult political system
to operate, with its checks and balances and gridlock between the executive
and the legislature. If this were the system chosen by South Korea, Hongkong,
Taiwan, or we ourselves, we would not have attained the status that we have
Someone in the audience reminded him that the presidential system was a success
in the United States. He answered: "Do not compare the Philippines and
the United States. The latter has a limitless expanse of territory, a vast wealth
and natural resources, and an incomparable industrial power."
FAILED PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM
Mr. President, more than one hundred years of presidential system is, I believe,
a long enough time to make us realize that it is not a good and effective system.
It has failed us. And I am afraid it will continue to fail us, and retard our
economic growth, social progress, and political stability unless we have the
heart, the nerve, the courage, the wisdom, and the foresight to change it, and
adopt a more flexible and efficient structure of government. If we insist on
being under our present system, we will continue to deprive ourselves of a desirable
and dependable tool to solve our mounting national difficulties.
In my humble view, Mr. President, we should know by now that our presidential
system is fraught with inherent and irremediable defects. And we should also
realize that time is running out; that the sooner we do away with the weaknesses
of our present system, the better it will be for our country and people.
ADOPT A PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM
Mr. President, I repeat what I said earlier. Let us summon our hearts, our nerves,
our sagacity, our courage, our foresight, and our political will to give our
people a new beginning. Let us provide them a better means to survive in this
dangerous and uncertain world. Let us not waste time anymore. Let us cast off
the presidential system with its pitfalls and weaknesses once and for all, and
adopt a parliamentary form of government. Let us construct a new form of government
that shall allow us to recruit and enlist the services of the best and the brightest
men and women in our national community to render public service to the people.
Mr. President, a parliamentary system is superior and more reliable in providing
our country with good, able, and dependable leadership than a presidential system.
Walter Bagehot, an English constitutionalist, in his famous book, The English
Constitution, pointed out years ago that sometimes a presidential system produces
a great president. But that is like winning in a lottery, according to him;
and winning a lottery, he says, is no argument in favor of a lottery.
Mr. President, it is about time we stop taking chances in a political lottery
with no less than our national well-being at stake.
THE ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES
More often than not, Mr. President, elections in a presidential system exhaust
the resources and energies of the nation to produce good, able, and dependable
leaders. However, in a parliamentary system, elections will only exhaust the
resources and energies of the competing political parties.
The political parties will do the search for, and the recruitment and enlistment
of qualified, capable, and reliable men and women into the public service to
manage our national affairs. Political parties will be compelled to do that,
if they wish to remain active and relevant competitors for political power in
A political party, to win the favor of the electorate and to gain political
power, must present to the electorate men and women of proven political competence,
executive ability, and leadership acumen that are necessary in the formulation,
articulation, and implementation of essential programs and policies, and in
providing good government management for the country. Unless it does that, it
will never amount to anything as a political competitor for power.
ELECTION TO PARLIAMENT
Mr. President, the members of Parliament, from whom a Prime Minister will be
drawn, will be elected in small legislative districts with very far less number
of voters than the country-wide votes that elect a president, a vice president,
and senators of the land under our current system. Therefore, the election expense
of a Member of Parliament to get elected will be very much less than the election
expenses of a presidential, vice presidential, or senatorial candidate under
our present system. The election process will be easier to handle. Election
frauds will be easily controlled. No one will spend such a ridiculous sum as
Two Billion Pesos to land a P693,000-a-year job, assuming the salary of the
Prime Minister will be the same as that of the president now. The level of violence
will be minimized, and the stability of the country will not be laid on the
THE PRIME MINISTER
The majority in Parliament chooses the Prime Minister; it also removes him from
power -- not from Parliament -- through a simple no-confidence vote, should
there be any compelling reason to do so. His longevity in office as Prime Minister,
not as a member of parliament, is not fixed. His longevity as Prime Minister
will depend on his competence, skills, wisdom, and trustworthiness.
To sustain his primacy, he must equip himself with a well-trained mind and a
large reservoir of leadership skills to govern the country. Above all, he must
possess a broad knowledge and experience not only about the country and her
people but also about the world and the dynamics of its politics so that he
can formulate and implement wise policies and programs for the country in the
domestic and international arena. The Prime Minister must be one with the gift
and art of articulation to communicate his programs and policies to our people
and to the world.
Mr. President, a dimwit, a dullard, a comedian, a clown, or an expert reader
of an idiot-board who is popular and rich, or who has moneyed supporters and
sponsors, can easily be president of this country; but surely he can never be
a Prime Minister.
TRANSPARENT AND EFFICIENT GOVERNANCE
Under a parliamentary form of government, governance will be transparent and
more responsive to the people’s needs. The leadership of the country cannot
evade responsibility for failed policies and for inefficient performance of
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet are accountable directly and immediately
to the Parliament and to the people. Passing the buck will not excuse them,
especially the Prime Minister, from blame.
FUSION OF EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE POWERS
Furthermore, a parliamentary system is a more efficient and expeditious tool
for dealing with grave national problems. There is a fusion and close coordination
between executive and legislative powers. The members of the Cabinet are generally
drawn from and shall remain members of Parliament. As such members of Parliament,
they actively participate in formulating and enacting desirable laws, which
they themselves implement with the participation and cooperation of Parliament.
EASE IN REMOVING GOVERNMENT
Mr. President, in a parliamentary system, the government can easily be removed
when it becomes morally and materially corrupt or when it turns out to be incompetent.
The nation will not be held hostage to any specific term of office for the political
leadership. The political leadership may be changed any time when the cause
and need for it arise.
A parliamentary system will spare the country from the recurrent necessity and
danger of mounting a disruptive people-power revolt to remove a morally depraved
and an utterly worthless leader of the country just to restore decency and rectitude
RETENTION OF REPLACED CABINET
Equally important, the rich and valuable experience of the replaced members
of the Cabinet will not be wasted. The replaced Prime Minister and his Cabinet
will remain in Parliament as members, despite their removal from the role of
GRIDLOCKS AND RED TAPES AVOIDED
Under that kind of a system, the time and energy of government are not wasted.
Senseless and dilatory debates will be minimized. Gridlocks and red tapes in
the formulation and adoption of needed policies and programs will be lessened.
Paralysis in governance, and disputes over turfs will be eliminated.
QUESTION HOUR AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet will always be on their toes and open to
scrutiny by an alert political opposition. The political opposition can direct
sensitive questions at any time to the political leadership during the Question
Hour, and the political leadership is bound to answer the questions right then
and there in Parliament, and directly before the general public. This is transparency
and accountability at its best.
NO SACRED COWS
In a parliamentary system, no one is sacred -- not the Prime Minister, and much
less the members of his Cabinet. In a presidential system, the President, like
a real monarch, is immune from direct questioning by members of Congress. This
kind of political interaction between the president and the members of Congress,
I believe, is rooted in the “L’ etat c’est moi!” of
Louis XVI on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789.
POLITICAL PARTIES AND THE CIVIL SERVICE
Those who prefer the status quo argue that we are not yet ready because we do
not have well-organized political parties and a well-trained civil service.
In a way, they are right. Mr. President, both systems -- the presidential and
the parliamentary -- require well-organized political parties and a well-trained
civil service. But where well-organized political parties and a well-trained
civil service failed to develop under our presidential system, a parliamentary
system will induce and force the accelerated growth and development of these
The new system will introduce the needed element of compulsion. All that will
be expected of us is to be patient and allow the political parties and a new
civil service system to mature, which, hopefully, will not take long.
A LEARNING PERIOD
Mr. President, we should not expect a perfectly working parliamentary government
the moment we adopt it. There are adjustments to be made. There are birth pains,
which we cannot escape. There is a price to be paid. There is a necessary apprenticeship
-- a learning period -- that we must undergo. This was the experience of others
that embraced the parliamentary system.
GOVERNMENT AND PEOPLE’S RIGHT
Mr. President, let me paraphrase a portion of the American Declaration of Independence,
which is germane to the issue before us: Whenever a form of government becomes
inimical to their life and liberty, and to the pursuit of their happiness, it
is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government,
laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such
form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
We must invest time and effort to rebuild our institutions. The time and effort
we are going to spend will be necessary and worthwhile investments. We must
not skirt this obligation and responsibility, if we are to liberate the common
people from the decadence and rut they are in. We must do it not for ourselves,
but for the future of our country, especially for the future well-being of our
downtrodden people. As Andres Bonifacio said: "The people is all, and all
is the people."
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Three people-power revolts should be enough to remind us of the biblical writing
on the wall -- “Mene, mene, tekel, uparsin” -- and to impress upon
us the urgency of the task ahead. This nation cannot afford another Edsa revolt.
Mr. President, you are the third highest leader of this nation. I earnestly
urge you to take notice of the darkening clouds hovering over our social and
political environment. Heed the signs of the times. I urge you and this Senate
to follow the path of peaceful and non-violent social change while the nation
still can. Let not events overtake us. Otherwise, a bloody revolution just might
revise the constitution for us.
SEIZE THE DAY
The action I am proposing to this Senate, Mr. President, has been long overdue.
We must harness our collective energy and resolve to remove the cause of our
stagnation, backwardness, and poverty. Piecemeal and mild reforms in the component
parts of our political system are not enough to stay the course of our turbulent
condition. We must overhaul and change the structure of our government while
we still have the time to do it without spilling blood in the streets.
Let us seize the day, and confront the future with our collective strength and
courage. With God's grace, with a vision focused on our national goal, and with
a united and resolute commitment and prayer, we shall overcome our present difficulties,
and bring forth to this land peace and social stability, and to our people the
good life they long for and truly deserve. Let us not deny our people the chance
to be enlightened on their options for meaningful change and the survival of
Let the great debate begin!
Privilege Speech delivered by Hon. Juan Ponce Enrile on August 2,