The Philippines concluded its recently held general elections, where we witnessed the beginning of a new chapter in Philippine history. The Marcos-Duterte tandem, together with a number of their publicly endorsed senatorial candidates, are expected to serve their national positions this coming June. The Marcos-Duterte ticket won by a landslide, garnering around 60% of the total votes, where the incoming Marcos administration is expected to have tremendous political mandate with such a majority. The next government is bound to materialize their platforms, and it begins with choosing and appointing competent private citizens or politicians to various positions. But beyond the results of the sacred ballot boxes, the recent elections exposed how polarizing Philippine politics can be, which can be traced on how hapless the current 1987 constitution really is.
After Corazon Aquino was pushed to the presidency in 1986, a process to change the 1973 Philippine constitution gained traction. In turn, this gave birth to the 1987 constitution, which is basically a continuation of the presidential system introduced by the Americans during the Philippine Commonwealth years. This system of government perpetuated various political and social malaise due to these constitutional limitations that restricted the state and the society in participatory nation-building. Even though the Philippines has a longer history of democracy in comparison to other countries in the Indo-Pacific region, the country didn’t seem to bother to create these inclusive institutions. As a result, various socio-political symptoms persisted and worsened due to character-based politics promoted by this presidential system of government.
The first socio-political symptom is the tremendous influence wielded by the landed gentry and the elites. Tracing back the faulty land tenure programs instituted way back from the Spanish colonial era’s “encomiendas“, these landed elites became similar to European feudal lords during the middle ages. Their primary interest lies on how to expand or maintain their political clout and were never interested in emancipating their tenants from perennial servitude. Their loyalty was never to the country where they belong to but on what is more economically beneficial to them. Due to the Philippines’ inefficient and often altogether ineffective bureaucracy, there are virtually no incentives to enfranchise the lower strata of the society.
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The second symptom deals with the toxic relationship of showbiz and politics where, with the nature of Philippine elections, popularity is the name of the game. The mass media and entertainment businesses are willing victims and perpetrators of such games, specially when we see politicians use publicity to cement name recall when elections come. These aforementioned politicians build on working relationships with popular showbiz personalities, hoping that an endorsement would provide the necessary votes to deliver them to public office. This can be noticed further as how these political campaigns are performed, which is uncannily similar to Philippine noon-time variety shows. As a result, candidates resort to singing and dancing, no matter how hilarious they end up looking.
Finally, the last symptom that is being perpetuated by the 1987 constitution is with regard to political dynasties. Numerous political analysts and scientists are quick to identify the detrimental effects of political dynasties, where these political families engage in strategically occupying various posts in both national and local governments. The most common strategy is for a popular family member to occupy any government seat and leave notable legacies in a locality. However, with term limits specified by the constitution, that politician would eye a different electoral position instead, while letting his/her wife, husband, or children inherit that position, which he/she has initially occupied. As such, these term restrictions, which were installed with good intentions, end up creating a system more susceptible to corruption.
These three above-mentioned socio-political dilemmas are mere symptoms that manifest the deeper structural and institutional flaws of the current constitution of the Philippines. The 1987 constitution perpetuates an electoral system where the electorate becomes enamored and fanaticized more on the politicians themselves, rather than their advocacies, principles, and platforms. The Philippine-style “padrino” system has blended uniquely with this character-centric politics where affiliations and allegiances clearly define gainers and losers. As a result, this has relegated meritocracy to the backseat and has visibly lowered state capacity. In addition, this enfranchises public servants to switch alliances, creating turncoats before they become victims of a sinking ship. How can we create a strong republic if such systems disincentive technocracy and instead, favor political patronage?
The Philippine state and the Filipino society should only look at accomplishing one primary objective and that is about creating, perfecting, and preserving inclusive economic and political institutions. These inclusive institutions identify flourishing nation-states and formidable countries that can respond when critical junctures happen. This can be seen with how British history unfolded and how the British state and society pedaled its way towards prosperity.
Prior to the industrial revolution that afforded London the terminology “Pax Britannica” during the 19th century, two significant historical junctures compelled the United Kingdom to create these institutions. The first is when parliament clashed with the English king because of religion and taxation, where the Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell emerged victorious in this civil war. English society was adamant in its position against the desires of the English king to raise taxes, creating a political gridlock between the monarchy and the parliament which ended in a regicide when King Charles I was executed, leading to the interregnum. In the end, the monarchy returned and later exacted vengeance against the acts of regicide, where Oliver Cromwell himself was executed posthumously. Needless to say, the English society through the parliament acted as a balancer to the excesses of the English monarchical leviathan.
The second juncture is when the Dutch leader William III landed on England and governed the kingdom with his wife, Mary II, deposing King James II. With the dreaded memories from the civil war, the Glorious Revolution was a relatively peaceful transition of power, which afforded British sovereignty not to the crown, but to the parliament. But the most noteworthy is the passage of the Bill of Rights, which put to writing various freedoms and rights of individuals, establishing an environment suitable for participatory and plurality politics. Both the English civil war and the Glorious Revolution created not only inclusive institutions, but also a mutually strong state and society.
Political reformation in Britain happened due to these inclusive institutions, which strengthened individuals to actively participate in politics. However, the lousy 1987 constitution fails to level the playing field between the wealthy and the destitute, and between the strong and the frail. Transforming a constitution that will emphasize coalition-building and consensus-building is a better, cost-effective approach to transitioning when these institutions are adopted. Constitutional reform isn’t a panacea that cures these malaises, but changing the rules as to how politics and economics should be played will undoubtedly make the country more prepared in answering these future challenges that lie ahead.
A no one who enjoys the fun things of life in private.
A believer of freedom, capitalism, and conservative brand of politics.
A no one who cares less about popular public opinion.
A believer that life can be better, if every one is a tad more responsible.