Parliamentary System: Power to the People

By Perry Diaz

Parliament has its origin in England in the 13th century when it was formed as an advisory council to the English monarch. It evolved into its current form by transferring the power of the monarchy to the Parliament, making it the absolute law-making body of the country. Today, the English monarch is a figurehead — the ceremonial head of state. Political power is in the hands of the Prime Minister and the parliamentary government. Most countries in Europe have adopted some variance of the English parliament. Other non-European countries such as Japan, India, and Australia have converted to parliamentary government.

The Philippines, because of its dependence on the United States after the Spaniards left the archipelago in 1899, adopted a government similar to that of the United States — a two-party presidential system. The major difference between the US and the Philippine government is that the US has a federal government and the Philippines has a unitary central government. It is so for a good reason. The US is a union of formerly independent and sovereign states; whereas, the Philippines has been a singular state since 1571 when Spain established its colonial government in Manila.

When the semi-autonomous Philippine Commonwealth was established in 1935, the two-party system was a perfect model for the newly constituted legislative body. During that period, great Filipino leaders emerged to become the political leaders after the Philippines gained its independence in 1946. These leaders — mostly lawyers — were trained in governance, an experience that eventually provided them with the political acumen needed to chart the course of the new republic.

The early years were the golden age of the young republic. Second only to Japan, the Philippines was the envy of neighboring countries. The peso — at two pesos to one dollar — was very strong and Filipinos were one of the most literate in the world. Virtually all of the newspapers were written in English.

The country was progressive. However, it had its growing pains as well. Petty corruption became big time corruption. As the population grew, corruption spread like a plague and found its way into all facets of the government. Corruption became the rule rather than the exception. Eventually, corruption became the norm of doing business, in the public sector as well as the private sector. It permeated into all levels of society, from the poor to the rich.

In the end, government became the exclusive domain of political dynasties. A new breed of leaders sprung to the top of the political ladder using as the springboards their popularity as movie stars, television personalities, and athletic superstars. They became mayors, congressmen, senators, vice presidents, and even a president. If a popular actor like Dolphy would run for the Senate, he would win hands down. Why? Because of his acting career that spanned more than 50 years, he would beat any young bright man or woman vying for national office. However, he admitted, “What do I know about government? I’m an actor all my life.”

During the past decade, the intrusion of incompetent candidates in national elections has diminished the quality of governance. Now, they’re in dominance. I would not be surprised if the next president is an actor. Actually, an actor almost became the president in the last election. By eliminating national elections (President, Vice President, and the 24 Senators), the quality of governance would improve because those young bright leaders who are prepared to govern would not have to compete against popular but incompetent and untrained candidates. And this is what makes a parliamentary system attractive. Why is that so? Since nobody is elected nationally, every locally elected Member of Parliament has an equal chance to become the Prime Minister. The Parliament, by majority vote, elects the Prime Minister.

The most powerful aspect of Parliament is that the Prime Minister and the government have to have the support and confidence of a majority of the members of Parliament. At any time, the Prime Minister or the government loses the support of Parliament, the Prime Minister and the government would go down and a new Prime Minister is elected by the Parliament and a new government formed. In essence, the Prime Minister’s tenure is indeterminate. The Prime Minister could stay on the job as long as the majority of the members of Parliament have confidence in him or her. However, once that confidence is gone, the government falls. If a government fell because it failed to fulfill its covenant to the people; then, the power of parliamentary government is truly in hands of the people. They have the power to remove an incompetent Prime Minister and the government at any time.

While a parliamentary form of government proved to be successful in industrialized countries, the question is: “Could it be implemented in a third world country like the Philippines?” Being cognizant of the fact that authoritarians and dictators govern most third world countries, a parliamentary government in the Philippines could become the catalyst for change in the economic recovery of the country.

With the charter change in progress, the Philippines is on the threshold of breaking the yoke of political mediocrity and economic bondage. However, could the people wield the political power that is devolved to them from the parliament? They have one shot at it — all or nothing.


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