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Jun 21

Why I Don’t Want a Parliamentary System

Arab News

Why I Don’t Want a Parliamentary System

by Manuel L. Quezon III

Personally, with regards to the dizzying number of proposals for constitutional amendments, I find myself quite conservative in what I want. I am for the four year presidential term with one re-election; I am against the abolition of the Senate, regardless of the current Senate being the most deplorable in our history; I am neutral when it comes to term limits when it comes to Congress, seeing that it has led to old crooks leaving and their younger, brighter and too-rich-to-worry-about-stealing children take their place; but then again, if a constituency wants to elect the same person to the same seat for eternity I am inclined to let them do so; particularly in the Senate, where we certainly did well with having some eternals there such as Lorenzo Tañada and Amang Rodriguez.

I am most definitely against the parliamentary form of government as proposed by the government, because it is unsuitable for us, it will lead not to more efficient and transparent, not to mention, accountable, leadership as parliamentary advocates insist, but instead, will lead to even stronger oligarchical rule. I’ll put it this way: I’d rather let go of term limits for the House and have Jose de Venecia as an eternal Speaker because he’s very “good” at being a Speaker; but I don’t want a nation run by an eternal Prime Minister de Venecia or worse, an everlasting Prime Minister Arroyo. And if you think the current Cabinet system is bad, think of Members of Parliament holding portfolios and the ramifications of such a situation. I am very interested in Federalism, whether through the creation of actual states, or through accelerating the devolution of powers, or by thinking of it in terms of economic, and not political, terms.

But in the end, as one sober individual said in a meeting I attended, “all of this can be debated in a Constitutional Convention.” And the man was right.

I have also said time and again that it is not less politics that we need, but better politics; not fewer politicians, but indeed, more politicians. Politicians of the kind who take a sabbatical from their professions to devote a term or two to government, and then return to the private sector, instead of making politics a permanent profession. We need better-crafted laws and an appreciation of the fact that politics permeates all our lives, whatever our occupations, and the first ones who should admit this are the academics who perpetually whine that there is too much “politics” in everything. From what I have heard, the academic departments of our universities practice the sort of politics that would shock even our shameless members of Congress.

My father (whose birth anniversary is this week, hence my dwelling on his writings) explained it better than I ever can, way back in 1967, when he wrote the following as part of one of his articles in a weekly magazine:

“Our pre-Spanish society was made up of three classes-slaves, freemen, and nobles. An aristocratic society, in other words. It was not what the Europeans call an absolute monarchy — it seems that a more highly developed state of affairs is necessary for that. The long years under Spanish rule did nothing to destroy the social mentality that went with such a pre-Spanish society, although the legal status of slave had been abolished.

“I can remember very well the pre-war relationship of servants to masters-from what I have read of the relationship between slave and master in pre-Spanish days, I gather there was not much difference between the two relationships.

“Before any of my readers feel indignant at this observation, let me point out that the type of slavery to which our minds spontaneously turn when the word is mentioned is the Roman and the American type. That kind of slavery seems never to have existed on our shores.

“Slaves were truly part of the household, part of the family-at least so our older historians assured us. It was a very strongly paternalistic relationship. Obviously, that sort of relationship, although it may at times be very touching when found in master and servant, transforming the relationship into one of parent and child, is hardly conducive to the kind of relationship of equality which a democratic mentality thrives on.

“The general reliance of the Filipino on the wisdom and goodness of those above him on the political, social, and economic ladder, which was transferred from the maginoo class to the Spanish rulers, then to the American rulers, finally to the Filipinos who replaced them, is also, to say the least, not very conducive to a truly democratic mentality and democratic attitudes.

This explains in large part why so many of our politicians, when holding office, do not really feel that they can be called to account for any of their actions. It also explains why public office and public property are so often treated as personal belongings, almost as something which is by right in the family.

“Thus, we hold on to a title long after the position has been relinquished. The manner in which we treat our public officials is another indication of an undemocratic mentality — we refer to them very impertinently when they are not around, and yet when they do make an appearance, we practically fall on our faces before them. It is not the dignified respect which implies self-respect.

“The insufferable manners of those who manage to climb up the ladder of success, the way in which they try to lord it over those under their authority or below their position in the community, show how undemocratic we really are in our outlook.

“Some will of course say that the aggressiveness of the underprivileged Filipino is a proof of the spread of a truly democratic mentality. I challenge the allegation.

“The aggressiveness of the under-privileged Filipino is no different from that of his fellow countrymen, only aggravated — it is of the chip-on-the-shoulder variety, which again is not indicative of the self-assurance as to equality which is part and parcel of the democratic mind.

“Perhaps if truly serious studies were made of the gap between our ideal of government and our Constitution, on the one hand, and our political practices and our mentality, on the other, it would become clear why our government is and has been a failure in many respects. It would then be easier to assess the situation in order to make whatever adjustments are necessary to make our democratic ideals a reality, instead of something we run after yet never quite seem to grasp. It would be possible to bring our mentality fully in line with our professed ideals.”

There it is, in a nutshell. It’s not the constitutional system that’s a problem: It’s that some of us continue to fear democracy, and refuse to work towards perfecting it.

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