What does a Head of Government do should people rate his administration and its handling of the pandemic so highly, to the tune of a ninety-one percent approval rating?
Should he sit back, do nothing, and let his critics win?
Or should he finally take the first few albeit delayed steps to accepting the popular mandate for “pagbabago” meaning national renewal, or acting on his campaign promise to reform the constitution?
Such question lingers on in my head as I type this.
Perhaps two of the most non-democratic and frustrating functions of the presidential system which we have in the Philippines today are a rigid election schedule and a lack of accountability between the executive and legislative branches: these have contributed to democratic stagnation in our country.
The former is well-represented by the recent query of a Representative in the Lower House about postponing the 2022 elections due to public safety and public health concerns, while the latter can be viewed from the lens of the recent power struggle for the House Speakership.
Quite recently, Congressman Mikey Arroyo of Pampanga asked the chairperson of the Commission on Elections Sheriff Abas about “The thought that we will postpone the elections, has that ever triggered in your mind?”
Abas, an attorney, replied in the negative. Mr. Abas’ reply correctly upheld the provisions of the current constitution, wherein presidential and senatorial elections are to be held every six years in May, while giving congressional representatives limited terms of three years each. There is no provision to postpone or cancel regularly scheduled elections in the law.
Though some would make the point that this arrangement allows for regular elections and stable terms, this point lies in contrast to the more flexible and adaptable arrangement present in parliamentary systems.
For example, while a congressional term lasts exactly for three years, members of parliament are granted a term of four to five years depending on their country’s law, with parliament sometimes dissolving even earlier for fresh elections due to many circumstances.
Even a pandemic is no excuse for parliaments to put their days of reckoning and accountability on hold, as best exemplified by the recent Singaporean general elections.
This lingering threat of electoral removal through the ballot box at an indefinite and uncertain time shapes the behaviors of the members of parliament to prove more careful and deliberate with their actions, as diametrically opposed to the behaviors exhibited by some of the Philippines’ lawmakers.
With the speakership row fresh in the minds of so many Filipinos, concerned citizens have been quick to condemn the antics playing out between the incumbent Speaker of the House and another legislator who was “promised” the powerful, political role. Even the President, whose role is supposedly completely different, was asked to help mediate this dispute!
Conversely, a norm found in parliamentary systems is the neutral role of the legislature’s speaker, whose role is more of a neutral arbiter and referee who decides the speaking list and is in charge of procedure.
Generally, the whole body of legislators decides who gets the job, and his tenure is not generally subject to executive interference or meddling. This arrangement would appear preferable to the jarring theatrics we see today.
Ultimately, not adopting or learning from the best practices found in the governments of other countries will only serve to entrench the status of the unenviable and tiring status quo which this country faces in its politics.
The President, despite the many missteps of his administration and communications, and if the surveys are to be believed still has political capital.
His promise to redefine our institutions must be placed at the forefront of our clamors, or else let his legacy, and democracy, continue to stagnate.