By Perry Diaz
Last July 25, 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave her annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Philippine Congress. Barely three weeks after an opposition-led mass action failed to topple her, her SONA was probably the most important address as the country’s president. It was a story in black and white — the good and the bad.
After her customary greetings, she went right into the issue of her presidency: “Ours is a country divided,” she said. “The story of our nation is a tale of two Philippines. Almost, as it were, two countries under the same name.” Was she being prophetic or just saying it plainly? No frills… no bells and whistles.
She talked about a “Philippines whose economy, after long years of cumulative national endeavor, is now poised for take off.” And she talked about the other “Philippines whose political system after equally long years of degeneration has become a hindrance to progress.”
Without going further into the details of her SONA, what I heard was: The Philippine government is in big trouble. No amount of rosy statistics and impressive numbers could defy the fact that the country needs more than a “call to the Lord to lead us.”
President Arroyo talked about a country divided between a good economy and a bad political system. I say that the real issue is a country divided between the rich and the poor. No amount of economic progress could help the poor as long as the profits of economic growth are for the exclusive benefit of the rich. As the old maxim says: “The rich get richer; the poor get poorer.” Yes, this adage is true from the time the Philippines was colonized by Spain in 1571… through the revolutionary period in the 1890’s… through the American colonial period… and from the Philippines’ independence in 1946 through the “people power” revolutions of 1986 and 2001.
The Philippines was once the envy of its Asian neighbors. It was a model of democracy in a region ruled by warlords and dictators. Now, it is called “The Sick Man of Asia.” Its government has become one of two of the most corrupt governments in Asia. The warlords and drug lords rule over their turfs. And the politicians promote their personal agenda over the welfare of their constituents.
It is sad to say but the country is ripe for another revolution. But is this the cure to the centuries-old problem that has divided the country? Would a revolution make the Philippines better? We’ve had a few already and still corruption abounds. The anti-Arroyo opposition — temporarily derailed — is still trying to pursue her removal from office. It would seem that they would not stop until they have succeeded.
Is a revolution inevitable? Can it be prevented? These are the questions that remain unanswered. However, the government has the upper hand in its struggle with the opposition. The government has a little window of opportunity to neutralize the opposition and proceed with the implementation of former President Fidel V. Ramos’ plan to change the government to a parliamentary system.
There are now discussions as to what exactly would a parliamentary system accomplish? Some of the proponents are even suggesting a federated parliamentary system. Putting it in perspective, the United Kingdom has a parliamentary system of government while the United States has a federal republican government, which allows the 50 states to have their own autonomous government.
The question is: Is the Philippines ready for a federated parliamentary government with each of the provinces having its own autonomous government? My gut feeling is: No. In my opinion, it would only institutionalize the political fiefdoms already in existence. Almost all the provinces are ruled by political dynasties. Giving them autonomous right to rule could lead to warlordism, similar to what happened in Yugoslavia before it broke into several independent republics.
In 1998, the United Kingdom underwent a dramatic change. Through devolution, certain powers vested in the U.K. parliament were transferred to new legislative bodies in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. “Devolution” is defined as the “transfer and subsequent sharing of powers between institutions of government within a limited framework set out in legislation.” Devolution allows the “transfer of power” to be done in phases or step-by-step transfer.
I believe that a step-by-step devolutionary process in a new Philippine parliamentary government would be in the best interest of the country and the Filipino people. Empowering the provinces, or regions for that matter, by devolution would give the provinces time to mature and develop a political system conducive to the welfare of the people. And the best part of it is that devolution in each province or region would not necessarily be in the same uniformed steps for all provinces or regions. Some provinces or regions could have more power than the others.
With the kind of flexibility provided by devolution, a national parliamentary government would be able to maintain limited but effective control over the semi-autonomous provinces or regions. As President Arroyo stated in her SONA: “Perhaps it’s time to take the power from the center to the countryside that feeds it.”
In a parliamentary form of government, national politics will cease to exist. Nobody will be running for national office. The members of parliament will be elected locally. And by the majority will of the members of Parliament, a Prime Minister will emerge to run the government. And the beauty of it all is that when a government loses the support of the majority of Parliament, the government falls and a new government is formed again by the majority will of the members of Parliament.