Our Times

Writings of Susan Ople aka Toots, columnist of Panorama Magazine and Tempo, proud mother of Estelle and 7 dogs, namely, Picasso, Monet, Suzy, Miggy, Marty, Chandler and Joey. Daughter of the late war veteran, journalist, writer, labor minister, constitutional commissioner, senator, senate president, and foreign affairs secretary Blas F. Ople aka Ka Blas.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

UP Professor Rene Azurin's Speech on Charter Change

(My new blogsite, www.susanople.com,is down but no worries, let me post here the speech of UP Professor Rene Azurin delivered before the Makati Rotary Club. Topic is on Charter change. Rene authored the minority report of the Consultative Commission. Please pass this on to your friends to give them the other side of the argument on this vital issue. Thanks.)

The politicos who are pushing for charter change do not like to admit that the core question around the whole charter change issue is this: how will the proposed change alter the distribution of power in our society? These politicos do not like to admit that what they are really pushing for is for more power to be allocated to them and less to the rest of us.

It should be made clear that the only change that the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos are really interested in is the shift from the presidential form of government to the parliamentary form of government. Notwithstanding their loud assertions all over the media that they are for charter change because they want to open up the economy and create more jobs, their “Peoples’ Initiative” proposal in fact only petitions for revisions in Articles VI (Legislative Department), VII (Executive Department), and XVIII (Transitory Provisions) of the Constitution. In no part of the scrap of paper that they are asking people to sign is there any mention of amendments to the sections in Articles XII (National Economy and Patrimony) and XVI (General Provisions) that actually contain the restrictive economic provisions. This is disingenuous on their part. On this matter alone, it is hard not to conclude that this is not all part of a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive the Filipino people.

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people the real and practical consequences of the parliamentary system’s fusing of the executive power now vested in the President and the legislative power now vested in Congress into a single body (Parliament). They do not tell the people that this fusion of executive and legislative powers – the distinguishing feature of the parliamentary form – means that the same set of people choose the programs of government, appropriate the funds for these programs, and execute these programs. In a business organization, this is analogous to combining in a single unit the functions of the purchasing department (the one who chooses the supplier), the functions of the finance department (the one who pays the supplier), and the functions of the operations department (the one who uses the items supplied). This means that the built-in control mechanism of having different units act on different parts of the same transaction is lost. Such a system therefore has inherently weaker controls and is more prone to abuse and corruption. This is why no company that has grown sufficiently large as to require formal systems of control ever fuses purchasing and finance and operations. It is simply bad systems design. Now, if this isn’t done in comparatively small organizations like business enterprises, why should the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos propose to do this in the very large entity that is the Philippine government?

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that a parliamentary system discards the system of checks and balances that is an excellent feature of the presidential system. They do not tell the people that the Prime Minister and the members of Parliament – especially in the unicameral system being proposed – will be far more powerful than the President and the Cabinet in a presidential system. The Prime Minister and his ruling coalition can decide on any program they want, allocate funds to it, and implement it in any way they want. So consider this: if the P2.8 billion agricultural fund anomaly could happen in a presidential system despite its built-in controls, what might be possible when there are no such controls and some politicos decide to go on a public spending rampage?

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that, in a parliamentary system, the entire national budget (except of course for certain fixed expenditures like debt servicing and salaries) is the ‘pork barrel’. They do not tell the people that there is no check for the power of the Prime Minister and his ruling gang to do what they want except to resort to the judicial system, but that is an after-the-fact control device and assumes that kickbacks can actually be documented and proven in a court of law. I know that we all are disturbed by the level of graft and corruption that occurs in the limited pork barrel system we now have. Now imagine what might happen after we've expanded the pork barrel and done away with the controls. Graft and corruption – and cronyism – flourishes more easily in parliamentary governments, even in mature ones.

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that, in a parliamentary system, ‘horse trading’ – or the ‘I’ll go along with your project if you go along with mine’ system – is enshrined as the way of governance. This is a natural consequence of the fact that the Prime Minister and his/her cabinet are dependent for their continued stay in office on the votes of members of Parliament, and such votes can be withheld at any time. The fact that the government in a parliamentary system can fall any time there is a ‘no confidence vote’ is loudly touted by the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos as a virtue of the system. Actually, it is a very serious shortcoming because it essentially implies that the special interests represented by every member of Parliament will always be served, often at the expense of the national interest. Of course, all politicos in representative democracies – whether in presidential or parliamentary governments – represent special interests. The problem however is compounded in parliamentary systems because too much power is placed in the hands of the members of Parliament and, as a result, they can do virtually anything to promote those interests.

The pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people exactly how their desired shift to a parliamentary form of government will benefit the country. All they do is point to other countries that happen to be parliamentary and more economically successful than we are, and then make the sweeping statement that we would be as economically successful as those countries if only we changed to a parliamentary government. They conveniently do not mention that there many other countries that are performing better economically but do not have parliamentary governments, or that there are many other countries that have parliamentary governments but are not performing well economically. These pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not tell the people that there is no demonstrated correlation between form of government and economic performance, or between the parliamentary form and the rate of economic growth. In fact, economic performance is a function of a country’s economic policies, its resource endowments, and the set of environmental conditions, not its form of government.

Finally, the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos do not like to tell the people that, in a parliamentary system, we ordinary citizens – already bereft of any real power – will be further deprived of the power to vote for our choice as leader of the country. In a parliamentary system, only the members of Parliament will have a say in who will lead the nation. Sila sila na lang ang mag-didikta. Props na lang tayo.

It is worthwhile perhaps to remember that the US-style presidential system is a later iteration of the British-style parliamentary system of democracy. If we try to recall a little bit of history, we will note that the parliamentary form was really a late 17th-century power-sharing concoction of British feudal lords whose primary concern at the time was mainly to maintain the balance and prevent any one lord from acquiring enough power to install himself as monarch. These aristocrats, who were absolute rulers in their individual fiefdoms, did not feel any need to make an accounting of their actions to their subjects and thus felt no compulsion to install systems of ‘check and balance’. In contrast, the people who migrated to North America were mainly the oppressed working classes of Europe who were naturally more conscious of limiting the powers of those who would ‘rule’ over them. Thus, they produced the formula of dispersing and distributing powers among three separate, independent, and co-equal branches of government, and allowing the people to directly elect their leaders for fixed and limited terms of office. The American system actually must be considered an improvement over the British system because it diminished the power and prerogatives of ruling elites and retained more power for the people.

I consider it absolutely essential that we maintain the separation of executive and legislative powers and retain the system of ‘checks and balances’ because the powers already vested in government officials are enormous and easy to abuse. Giving more power to politicos and then removing the restraints cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be the solution to this country’s problems. In fact, this will make the situation in the country worse than it already is. Graft and corruption is a real and serious problem in this country and shifting to the parliamentary form will aggravate it. ‘Legislative gridlock’ – the problem that the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos say they want to solve – is a minor (even imaginary) problem whose elimination will not make any perceptible impact on the country’s economic growth rate.

From a systems design point of view, it does not make any sense – given the realities of the Philippine situation – to change from a system with comparatively strong controls to a system with comparatively weak controls. On the contrary, the direction of change should be toward even stronger controls. When you are already experiencing burglaries in your neighborhood, the correct response is to install a more sophisticated security system, not to remove the locks from your front door.

What, in effect, we are being told by the pro ‘cha cha’ politicos is, ‘Give us more power and the problems of the country will be solved, and we will be economically better off’. One could very well wonder if the ‘we’ in that statement includes us ordinary citizens. A somewhat cheeky translation of that previous statement might be, ‘Remove the locks from your front door and we promise not to ransack your house, and we will see to it that you will get a new flat screen TV’. The question we must ask ourselves is: given our past experience with these politicos, should we believe them? The problem with the systems design of the parliamentary form is that it requires the presumption of good intentions for it to work well. Are we prepared to make this presumption? Frankly, I am not. I don’t believe that most of you are either.

It should be obvious that the change to a parliamentary system is being railroaded by politicos because it will give them virtually unrestricted power to promote their special interests. The lengths to which they will go and the means that they are prepared to employ to ram through this change is a clear indication of how very much they want this kind of power. Both modes of change that they have put into play – the Constituent Assembly without Senate cooperation and the People’s Initiative option – raise serious legal questions, but the ‘cha cha’ proponents speak confidently not only of the Supreme Court ruling in their favor on these questions but of it ruling on these in record time. Why are they so sure? Are they implying that even the Supreme Court is already on board their railroad train?

By July this year (or in about three months from now), some politicos are assuring us with absolute confidence that we will have a new parliamentary system in place. The resources that they are using to meet this timetable and the haste with which they are forcing through such a major structural change in our society seems not only indecent, but actually grotesque. The interests of the very few are once again about to triumph over the interests of the country as a whole. It is easy to imagine these ‘cha cha’ proponents enjoying laughs in private at the ease with which they are putting one over us.

My friends, we certainly need judicial reform. We need electoral reform. We need economic reform. What we do not need is a change in our form of government.

My friends, it is up to you and me to tell the people what this proposed change to a parliamentary system really means. We need to spread this message and persuade the various groups and organizations that we are members of – civic, professional, social, and religious – to make a public stand against this brazen attempt to put one over the Filipino people. I believe that we urgently need to raise the level of public awareness and, more importantly, the level of public outrage in order to derail their railroad train, if derailing it is still at all possible. In any event, we must try. If we don’t do this and if we don’t fight this politico initiative now, then we – you and I – must bear responsibility for the problems and the pain this will cause our children, their children, and future generations of Filipinos.

We started by saying that the proposed charter change is really about the re-allocation of power. Who gains? Who loses? In the shift to a parliamentary system, the politicos will gain power. We ordinary citizens will lose what little power we still have.

Is that what the Filipino people want? Do we really want to give our politicos more power? Do we want to give them the key to our national treasury’s front door? I definitely don’t. Do you?

1 Comments:

At 12:33 PM, Blogger TECHGUY (hinde guapo pero medyo bastos) said...

Hi Susan

Off topic ito, ako nga pala si Techguy, i have seen my mom and dad wedding pic and their license, nabasa ko yong ninong nila sa kasal e is one Bernardo Ople, is Senator Ople related to him, siyanga pala i got your blog from Ajay, BTW were are from Caloocan

 

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