The insanity that is the Philippine Presidential System—Why “voting wisely” never works

The Presidential system, in the case of the Philippines, is a hit-or-miss phenomenon. You get a random Joe to run for the highest office in the land in a once-in-a-lifetime chance and hold said office for 6 years. If he’s bad, at least he’ll get to ruin the country for only 6 years. If he’s good, then you’ll be stuck there wishing he can run again for office and bless the country with his magic.

The term limit imposed by the 1987 Constitution may have had the noble intention of preventing any would-be dictator from gaining unadulterated and unencumbered power. This is a reactionary provision inserted by the framers to prevent another Ferdinand Marcos from ever happening again. But as with any knee-jerk reaction, this proved to be more of a band-aid solution which now faces its obsolescence.

How? For instance, the term limits imposed to positions under the Executive Branch perpetuated the now maligned “political dynasties.” The mentality behind which is that while the parent may no longer run for a position, then perhaps the scion will be as good as the parent.

Term limits hinder the development of the nation as it renders continuity of policies a near impossibility. Every 6 years, we get a new president and every 6 years, the Philippines undergoes a coin toss when the new president decides to either continue his predecessor’s efforts in tandem with his own, or scrap the previous administration’s developments altogether and forge new policies—all for the sake of one’s ego and legacy. The same goes for the lower positions.

Our system of checks and balances is self-defeating. While the idea behind it is undoubtedly good, the implementation is Kafkaesque. Too much is buried under layers upon layers of unnecessarily complex bureaucracy that by the time things are seemingly resolved, it’s election season again.

Take the impeachment process. It’s a burden since it undergoes so much bureaucratic process, drama, and fanfare that weathering the president, no matter how bad he is, is deemed as the more “productive” approach. A non-functioning public servant should be easily dealt with.

The Constitution provides immunity from suit to the president such that he may enjoy unencumbered productivity. Again, this is self-defeating. You need not grant immunity to the president if, in the first place, he can be replaced easily.

This is where a Parliamentary setup one-ups the Presidential. Once the Prime Minister is deemed a liability to the interests of his party, his party members themselves are, if not forced, inclined to issue a “vote of no confidence” to replace the PM with a better one.

See here’s the thing, some would argue that a Parliamentary setup will only encourage the “Padrino” system even more, and they are right. But not in a negative way. The parliamentary system forces parties to shape up lest they risk losing all of their positions come the general elections.

The padrino system here is thereby put to good use such that the PARTY itself, not INDVIDUALS, will collude with each other to perform well so as not to lose the public’s faith. Effectively, they are forced to self-audit so they will not lose their House seat.

Political personalities will be less common as “personality” is thrust upon each party and the ideas they represent, not merely on individuals that the masses will then worship like a Messianic figure. People should learn to look at ideas, not persons.

The presidential system thrusts so much responsibility and power upon one person, and this leads to fanaticism. This gives off the impression that the president is a panacea to all our political ails when in truth, it takes multitude of warm bodies to run a State effectively.

Despite the so-called system of checks and balances, it is ironic that erring presidents (or even lower public officials) are rarely held accountable. This is a manifestation of a dysfunctional system. It comes as no surprise since we merely copied it from the USA—a nation with an altogether different culture, geography, peoples, and history seen as alien especially since that the Philippines is an Asian nation.

Indeed, systems shape our behavior. While we can argue that we need to put “good” people into position, that itself is a recipe for failure. Any government system that hinges its success upon the benevolence of its operators is doomed to fail.

Too often, even “good” people turn bad if they’re stuck with a bad system. This has been the prevailing hijinks every election season: Put someone “good” then that someone ultimately becomes bad. Then if they were indeed deemed to be bad by the court of public opinion, cries for impeachment will be heard all over again. It’s a practice in insanity. It needs to change.

It is not good enough that we put “good” people into position. There must also be a system in place that effectively forces them to BE good. Immunity from suit will not guarantee that, nor the costly drama of impeachment when a quick “vote of no confidence” will suffice.

It is high time Filipinos stop thinking of politics as a moral battleground where there is an everlasting clash between the light and the darkness. Filipinos must instead look at politics as an industrial machine whose operators also look for competitive wages (read: self-interests) so they can make a living.

It is high time Filipinos discard the ideal notion of altogether ridding politics of corruption. It is never going to happen. Politics provides power to those who know how to play and—cliché as it may be—power corrupts. It is up to the people to decide how they can make their politicos’ respective self-interests align with their own.

Lastly, Filipinos must learn to think outside of their box and consider that maybe, just maybe, it is not the people in charge who are entirely at fault for the country’s problems but the very system of governance these people operate in.

As it stands, people will always be a problem no matter what. They’re just people, after all. Corruption is part of human nature. Cynical as it sounds, it’s just how it is.

The best we can hope for is to curb corruption by implementing a system that will effectively and efficiently eject or correct politicians who are performing subpar. The 1987 Constitution certainly does not allow that, nor does our current setup.

The proof? History attests to it.

3 Replies to “The insanity that is the Philippine Presidential System—Why “voting wisely” never works”

  1. In 1982, then President Marcos, as guest speaker, said these words in front of the National Press Club members and guests in the US:

    “And the question that is often ask is: Does the Republic of the Philippines differ from the American Republic? Yes and no. It doesn’t differ in the sense that it is democratic, but it differs in the sense that we have a prime minister. And in the sense that we try and make the legislature and the, uh, president or the executive work together. We cannot afford any stalemates. We cannot afford any delays. It is a modified presidential form of government. While yours is the complete and pure presidential form of government.

    “Why did we change this? Because we cannot afford stalemates and deadlocks. Yours is a strong economy and military power. Ours is a weak country. We cannot afford to delay and postpone decisions, spending debates between Congress and the president or the prime minister. The poorer Third World countries cannot. And so, my friends, that is the situation.”

  2. TBH, the bigger problem of “voting wisely” is that how can we ask people to vote wisely when the system itself is STUPID!

    The presidential system is stuck with too much pasikatan. For example, right now, Noynoy is laid to rest and his supporters may end up voting for Kris Aquino or even Joshua Aquino Salvador or decades later, Bimby Aquino Yap, because of the blood relation or family relation. I mean, think that the late Noynoy won because of his deceased parents Ninoy and Cory. Then the Marcoses end up getting voted by Marcos loyalists because of their relation to the late Ferdinand E. Marcos.

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