The Bastard and the Messiah: Problems With the Philippine Presidential System

Villar: too many unanswered questions?

This is the first of what will hopefully be many discourses on the Chief Philippine Executive and the Constitution.

As of this writing, a total of eight (8) candidates have thrown in their hats to compete for the nation’s votes to become the next President of the Republic of the Philippines.

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Setting aside the qualifications of the current batch, the problem with choosing the President is this:

Even if all goes well and we elect a veritable political messiah who has the competence, mandate and charisma to pull off the miracle that we all have been waiting for, not only does he (or she) have a short 6 year period within which to do the job,  we don’t know if the President that comes after his term is a bastard that will nullify whatever inroads have been made by his predecessor.

Section 4, Article VII of the present Constitution of the Philippines provides the term limit for the President as follows:

Section 4. The President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date six years thereafter. The President shall not be eligible for any reelection. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.

No Vice-President shall serve for more than two consecutive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of the service for the full term for which he was elected.

Unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election for President and Vice-President shall be held on the second Monday of May.

The returns of every election for President and Vice-President, duly certified by the board of canvassers of each province or city, shall be transmitted to the Congress, directed to the President of the Senate. Upon receipt of the certificates of canvass, the President of the Senate shall, not later than thirty days after the day of the election, open all certificates in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives in joint public session, and the Congress, upon determination of the authenticity and due execution thereof in the manner provided by law, canvass the votes.

The person having the highest number of votes shall be proclaimed elected, but in case two or more shall have an equal and highest number of votes, one of them shall forthwith be chosen by the vote of a majority of all the Members of both Houses of the Congress, voting separately.

The Congress shall promulgate its rules for the canvassing of the certificates.

The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice- President, and may promulgate its rules for the purpose.

Rightly or wrongly, the 1987 Constitution adopts such a pessimistic attitude towards the President that it almost seems to be betting that more often than not, Filipinos will elect the bastard. In the process, it also hampers a “good” President with restrictions that make it extremely difficult for him to deliver the monumental course changing performance that the collective dreams about.

Given its attitude towards the Presidency, it is puzzling why the Constitution even bothers with the Presidential system.

I am not here  suggesting that we do away with this particular model of government (at least not without further deliberation). However, I do think that a structural change is necessary to endow the President with powers that are more commensurate with the task that we want him to undertake or at least remove certain irrelevant restrictions which unduly prevent the Chief Executive from undertaking legitimate actions with long term reach. While there is no argument against the necessity of imposing term limits and other restrictions against the abuse of power,   the key is not to focus on controlling the actions of the President per se but in preventing a bastard from getting to power in the first place.

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