DURING the 8th Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) congress that was held at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City last May 6, Senate President Koko Pimentel presented the PDP Laban’s federal-parliamentary model which is a hybrid of the US and German systems. He described it as “…semi-presidential and semi-parliamentary but uniquely Filipino”. His presentation was thorough and detailed, and it was apparent that the model was borne out of the PDP Laban’s experience and grasp of the Philippine situation over the years. It was a formidable reflection too of what is in the mind of its main sponsor, President Rodrigo Duterte, their party chairman.
Some basic features of the political structure is the retention of a universally elected president as head of state with specific powers granted by the soon to be revised 1987 Constitution. It has in effect a “strong federal president” but one who does not assume all the responsibilities of running the bureaucracy of government. Thus, the designation “semi-presidential”.
The legislative body retains the two houses—with a twist. Senators will be elected by the states, similar to the two senators from each of the 50 US states comprising the 100-member US Senate. The Senate has certain veto powers over some of the actions of parliament but it is strictly not a “lawmaking body”.
The parliament is the equivalent of the current House of Representatives with members elected from each of the 11 states of the Philippine Federal Republic. And the political party that has the majority of MPs gets to choose the prime minister, the head of government. Majority of lawmaking powers emanate from this body and only from among the MPs will come the prime minister. The current “party list” are embedded in the party and are allotted seats in parliament on a proportional basis.
All these are models to be discussed and debated publicly and none is “itinaga sa bato” (written in stone), as Senator Koko said. But the main thrust of PDP Laban is that federalism must be in place before President Duterte steps down from office in 2022 – a good 60 months from today.
Closer to German model
The CDP “Roadmap to Federalism” presented by the author, hews closer to the German than the US system. For one, the executive and legislative bodies are fused into a unicameral (one body) parliament; with the party which gets the most number of members of parliament elected choosing the Prime Minister, the head of government. The President, elected from among the members of parliament, surrenders his membership to any party and becomes the head of state – and like the current Queen of England has ceremonial duties, none political. The President who holds office for five years is given some powers by the Constitution – like that of commander in chief.
The PDP Laban and CDP positions are not that far apart as to the political structures, differing only in the time element. The PDP Laban’s thrust is transition to a federal parliamentary government within 60 months. CDP looks at a longer horizon even beyond 2022 – after President Duterte’s term.
To put this in perspective, federalism is intricate and complex. It is the antithesis to an aberrant unitary government practiced over a century, where values of political patronage have permeated the body politic.
The CDP roadmap is thus designed to mitigate the shock to the body politic arising from the purging of traditional political practices through the immediate passage of reform laws, now pending in Congress. Furthermore, the critical process of transition to a parliamentary-federal republic has to be in place in the revised constitution so the assurance of its continuity is safeguarded by the constitution itself even beyond the term of the current President.
3 major steps
The CDP federalism roadmap is simplified in three major steps:
1. To put in place four preconditions while revising the 1987 Constitution: political party reforms now pending in Congress; pass a universal freedom of information law; instigate electoral reforms; and make the ban on political dynasties executory in the constitution. The time frame here is two years with a plebiscite by May 2019.
2. The transition into a parliamentary government, known as “party government” because of the pivotal role of political parties.
3. Provinces and highly urbanized component cities are allowed to evolve first to an autonomous territory. Government can’t impose on the body politic the territories that will eventually become states in a federal format. Provinces and cities need to negotiate as to actual territories and population to encompass a bigger state; the considerations of the natural resources and wealth; the similarity of customs and language; and even the seat of the state capitals. All this will need time and with guidance from parliament.
By the time the President steps down, the parliamentary government will be in place. The prime minister or head of government will be chosen by the political party majority or through party coalitions. The president or head of state will be elected from among the members of parliament. Transitory provisions in the 2022 Constitution may allow DU30, by then 77 years of age, to be the head of state, with lesser powers but with his political ascendance intact. Or if he so chooses, he may retire.