CARMEN N. PEDROSA: CONSTITUENCY POLITICS

MANILA, OCTOBER 27, 2003  (STAR) FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa  - The word is out. Reluctant candidate, Fernando Poe, Jr. will finally enter the presidential derby of May 2004. He becomes a candidate thanks to superrich Danding Cojuangco who has allegedly offered an ‘offer’ he cannot refuse – tons of money and logistics for the campaign, the use of his private plane and helicopter and plenty of San Miguel Beer! Senator Vicente Sotto, another actor turned politician allegedly brokered the deal. His take is to be Malacañang’s "little president", if and when FPJ wins. But there is a catch to this generosity.

The catch, according to this source, is the Opposition’s version of the de Venecia-Gonzales-Rufino formula for GMA’s return to the 2004 polls. FPJ will only be a transitional President, before the country shifts to parliamentary federal govern-ment. After 100 days in office he will ask Congress to form a constituent assembly, draft the necessary amendments which will then elect Danding as the first post Marcos prime minister around 2007.

That is bad news for independent business which needs a level playing field. The deal will not only make Danding a well connected crony as he was during the unlamented Marcos regime, he will be the dispenser of goodies. If this news is true then we must brace ourselves for the return of Marcos crony politics.

Lakas doubt whether FPJ will voluntarily surrender his victory. It is different with GMA who knows the presidency but wants to leave a more lasting legacy. She wants to preside over the historic transition and be known as the enabling catalyst for new politics, they say. GMA’s candidacy is part and parcel of the Lakas platform for constitutional reform. According to JDV, we will be voting for a party platform, not a person.

If the deal is carried out, both government and Opposition parties will be in a race to effect the transition. Both sides are for unicameral parliamentary legislature. Although constitutional change is a common goal, we have yet to hear from the Danding-led Opposition which has so far worked in tandem with Lakas. Given the uncertainty if FPJ wins, constitutional reform is safer with a GMA victory.

The Danding-FPJ tandem will be a vehicle for the return of Marcos politics. Danding may mean well but he will have to face public opinion which associates him with Marcos and will not accept that return. It will be a gruelling election fight.

So is it a choice between personalities? Does one abandon political reform via constitutional change because of the fear of Marcosian personalities getting into power? Not necessarily. It still remains true that the only remedy for breaking the vicious cycle of popularity and money politics in the Philippines is to shift to real parliamentary federal government. It is not the same as the fraudulent parliament in Marcos’s time.

Parliament was the chosen political system by prominent Filipinos who drafted the 1936 Constitution but Americans wanted the presidential or we would not have been given our independence. Indeed, the president was a resurrected governor-general, almost king-like with wide-ranging powers. Although his powers have diminished through the years, a Philippine president, following his colonial predecessor, is one of the most powerful in the world. No wonder the system failed. A president is not personally relevant to ordinary people who are supposed to vote him or her into power. Pictures of presidents eating with a family in a slum or wading in crowds is just that – photo opportunities.

Even the most well-meaning President is not accessible. Presidents can’t even if they wanted to. They are too high up in the totem pole and operate through a bureaucratic labyrinth that forecloses direct relations between President and his national constituency. That is a serious drawback if the election of a president cannot mean more than just a name on a piece of paper. As far as the masses are concerned it is local authority that governs – governors, city and municipal mayors etc. In a parliamentary federal government political power is anchored to constituencies, to real people. When voters vote for their member of Parliament, they must know him personally.

So too with a prime minister. Although the whole country is his or her responsibility, he has a constituency of 200 or more Members of Parliament to whom he or she answers everyday. The relation between leader and led is direct whether locally or nationally. The 200 or so MPs in turn know each other, more or less. The origin of the word parliament explains much of the political theory that evolved from after dinner discussion. Persons who govern must know and understand what they are talking about. Moreover, they must convince and persuade fellow MPs. An unlearned movie actor or inexperienced broadcaster faces a challenge beyond mere name recall or popularity because of movie roles. If he is unable to explain and carry out the party platform, he fails as a prime minister. These stringent requirements favor an exceptional man. If the Prime Minister fails, he can be removed by a vote of confidence. Nothing as messy as an EDSA revolution. Unlike a President, he or she is always under scrutiny and needs to defend his party program and its progress all the time.

On the other hand, a President has a fixed term and in a way, not accountable to anyone, except in theory, to an abstract national constituency. This abstract constituency called ‘the people’ vote for a President they will never know and who will not know them personally because he or she is beyond them and their daily lives. Consequently, politics or government is not real to them. A President is removed through impeachment which is difficult if not impossible as we experienced during Erap’s time.

Parliaments are about constituency politics. People, as constituents, is the center of gravity. It narrows the gap between those who are elected and the citizenry. No matter how much we educate Filipino voters if government is too distant and indirect as it is under the present system, there will be no incentive to vote for good people. Through parliamentary federal system we spread out power and give more to local authority precisely because of their accessibility. The basis of governance is about officials personally known and responsible to constituents, from the prime minister, members of parliaments and down to governors, mayors and barangay captains. * * *

E-mail: pedrosa@edsamail.com.ph


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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