June 12, 2004  (STAR) FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa  -  We celebrate our declaration of independence on June 12, 1898 instead of July 4, 1946, thanks to the leadership of the late President Diosdado Macapagal. Although we celebrate the event, it is the substance of independence that is worth remembering. It has to do with the belief that independence or its wider, deeper sense – freedom – is not given, it is earned. And to paraphrase the great English wordsmith, Winston Churchill, it is fought for with blood, sweat and tears. The political concepts, that our founding fathers wished should govern the Filipino nation after its declaration of independence, took a few months more and it is on these I prefer to dwell on.

On September 15, 1898 a national congress was convened in the Barasaoain Church, in a suburb of Malolos. There is much to learn from O.D. Corpus’s essay "A Modern Constitution for the Filipino Republic"which he wrote for ‘Perspectives on Constitutional Reform’ of the Cavite Historical Society headed by Cesar E. A.Virata, a descendant of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. According to the essay, the mood of the assembly was solemn and the correspondent Frank D. Miller, writing for the London Times and the Harpers’ Weekly thinks that cheering for Aguinaldo may have been subdued because he did not have an imposing personality. That may be true but it was the correct perspective for a people founding a nation. Nation building is not owed to a single personality but the coming together of individuals with diverse personalities.

Aguinaldo said, "The work of the revolution being happily terminated and the conquest of our territory completed, (he was still unaware of the great American adventure in the Far East) the next great task was the problem of peace. The most important was "to formulate a ‘solemn document that would express the aspirations of the country’ – the Filipino Constitution as the supreme expression of the national will."

Felipe Calderon, the towering intellectual, wrote no one knew anything about legislative rules and procedures. But they learned. An eighteen member rules committee was created of highly educated men including Calderon and Joaquin Gonzales. The two took the rules of the Spanish Cortes (parliamentary) as a model. Appropriate revisions were made and the committee and then the Congress adopted the result. It may be opportune to note that the event took its course and without debate on the issue, the Malolos Congress worked both as a legislature and as a constituent body unlike the continuing debate on whether we should have a convention or a constituent assembly to effect constitutional reform.

The articles most relevant to our present dilemma in the Malolos Constitution are:. "Title 6. "Article 57 which established the principle of the administrative system:

"The management of the interest peculiar to the towns, the provinces and the State belongs respectively to the popular assemblies, the provincial assemblies and the central administration in conformity with the laws and on the basis of the most ample decentralization and administrative autonomy Article 57 unmistakably frowned on interference in local government by the central government" This was clearly the federal thrust envisioned by our founding fathers.

Finally "Title VIII (Articles 58-72) dealt with the President of the Republic. He was to be elected by the Assembly and special delegates sitting as a constituent body. He had more or less the usual powers in the office – The president’s power to dissolve the legislature required the prior agreement by a majority vote of all the members of the Assembly.": To Calderon the basic characteristic of the government of the republic, from a reading of the various provisions that he had sponsored, was the supremacy of the legislature over the executive. In short, a parliament.

Therefore political commentators who say "with this kind of congress, how can we expect a parliament to work?" are off mark. I would not place too much importance on a rude and unruly congress in the canvass of presidential and vice-presidential votes, no matter how unpleasant. The core of a system is not the behavior of parliamentarians. There have been worse behavior by parliamentarians in very economically successful countries like South Korea, Taiwan or even in the oldest parliament – the UK.

There is a whale of a difference between a Congress developed in a presidential system and a parliamentary federal system envisioned by the founding fathers of the Philippines and being revived by contemporary reformists.

We might prefer if they were well-behaved and courteous but we miss the point if we keep the presidential system because members of Congress behave badly. That is not an argument for either presidential or parliamentary. Nor is the success of a parliamentary system dependent on the maturity and sense of responsibility of the members of parliament. Some of the best and most mature politicians in older countries have fouler mouths and even fouler characters. The conduct of senators and congressmen in the canvass of presidential and vice-presidential votes is not "the benchmark of whether a parliamentary federal system will work in our country." Besides, they are the creatures of a presidential system in which the overarching requirements for electoral victory are money and celebrity.

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Charter change is unavoidable. The public may be sore at the turtle pace of the Congress canvass but it is time to think of what lies ahead for the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency. The most urgent task is constitutional reform and the switch to parliamentary federal. I am glad that Gen. Jose T. Almonte mentioned this in his speech before the Business Leaders Forum at the University of Asia and the Pacific. He warns that even under ideal conditions, the new President would find it difficult to govern – given the political and economic pressures on the Philippine state. "Charter change has become unavoidable that would shift from the presidential to a unicameral parliament, from a protectionist to an open economy and from the unitary to federal government. The presidential system borrowed from the Americans has not worked for us."

The political setting, the checks and balances among the three branches of government have all too often produced gridlock, he adds. "Since the Presidency, the two houses of Congress and the Supreme Court all hold veto powers, national policy-making has come to depend on the lowest common denominator of agreement among them. The rigidity of the presidential system is an even greater problem. Since the President is accountable directly to the electorate, he or she is in practice accountable to no one, particularly since the 1987 Charter imposed the "no-reelection" clause. The parliamentary system avoids these problems by combining the legislature and the executive while keeping the judiciary independent. Properly managed, the parliamentary system could make government more open and more accountable."

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E-mail: cpedrosa@edsamail.com.ph

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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