On a Philippine Parliament

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Just recently, issues regarding Charter Change through a People’s Initiative became the main content of all major broadsheets and news programs on television and radio. Advertisements by the group called Sigaw ng Bayan advocating this People’s Initiative were also shown in several local channels. They have even popularized their tagline, “Sigaw ng bayan dinggin na! Charter Change ngayon na!” Both sides of the debate have released their own propaganda supporting their arguments. Pro-charter change proponents say that a parliament would be better because the check and balance gridlock under a presidential system would be eliminated. Those against the proposed charter change, on the other hand, say that the checks and balances are necessary in order to prevent anyone from gaining too much power. In effect, they say that the presidential system we have right now is just fine. In reality, there have been few objective discussions regarding this topic. As a result, the citizens of the Philippines are left in the dark as to what the real pros and cons of a parliament are. Shifting to a parliamentary system might not be the best move at this time because of the flaws of a parliament, the political nature of the country and the character of our government officials.

A Parliamentary Setup
Those who advocate charter change and shifting to a parliamentary setup “brag about…faster delivery of services… by claiming that the check and balance gridlock under the presidential system will be eliminated… under a parliamentary setup.” (Esposo, par. 3) This, however, is where the fundamental flaw of a parliament lies. In order for us to understand this, let us explore what a parliament is and let us consider the British Parliament which is the model institution of parliaments around the world (Rose 131).

A parliament is a form of government where the legislative or law-making branch and the executive or law-implementing branch are merged into one. The people of the state vote for representatives to sit in the Parliament as Members of Parliament or MPs. These MPs then vote for a Prime Minister among themselves to serve as the head of government. To form his Cabinet, the Prime Minister chooses some members of parliament to head government offices as Ministers. The Prime Minister together with the Cabinet Ministers thus forms the Executive Branch of government.

How then is a parliament flawed by the merging of the legislative and executive branches? Presumably, the Prime Minister will come from the majority party in the Parliament. The same goes for the Cabinet Ministers because it is after all a game of politics. Given that they belong to the same political party, it is safe to assume that they share common ideologies. Therefore, this can render the parliament, especially the minority, useless because whatever the Prime Minister desires and proposes to the Parliament has a big chance of being supported by the majority in the Parliament. Richard Rose summed this idea up when he wrote the following about the British Parliament: In terms of effective power, Parliament is not so impressive because its influence on policy is strictly limited. The Prime Minister can be sure that the government proposal will be promptly voted on in Parliament, for the executive drafts legislation and controls amendments. Furthermore, the government controls the power of the purse: the budget it prepares is debated in Parliament but rarely altered. (Emphasis mine)(Rose 148)

The current setup of a bicameral congress works similarly in the sense that what the majority wants is achieved. However, today’s system has a separate Executive branch in the form of the President who may or may not belong to the same political party of the majority in congress. The possibility of having someone in the Executive branch to oppose the majority in congress somewhat prevents a majority from abusing its power. This, of course, happens in an ideal setting. The flaw of a...
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