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Time to stop pleasuring the president?

12:06 AM January 23, 2017

The Constitutional Convention elected to draft the 1935 Constitution was overtly partial to the American constitutional structure. Thus, the decision to adopt a unitary form of government instead of a federal system akin to the United States’ seems off-script.

But the adoption of a unitary structure was basically part of a broader scheme to establish an extremely strong executive branch. Sadly, this move has given rise to a constitutional order that allows the governance of the country to be overly reliant on the person residing in Malacañang.

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The bitter irony here is, those terrible years under the Marcos dictatorship should have jolted the 1986 Constitutional Commission to avoid the folly of giving too much power to a single human being. And yet the 1987 Constitution did exactly that.

Consider Article VII. Section 1 reads: “The executive power shall be vested in the President of the Philippines.” Then read this in conjunction with Section 17, “The President shall have control of all the executive departments, bureaus and offices…. ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.”

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For contrast, look at South Korea’s executive structure. Article 66 (4) of that country’s constitution explicitly states: “Executive power shall be vested in the Executive Branch headed by the President.” The other members of the Executive Branch are the Prime Minister (Article 86) and the Supreme Council (Article 88).

The most notable difference is, in the South Korean model, executive power is given to an institution (“Executive Branch”), not to a person. In our case, it is vested in the “President of the Philippines.”

The establishment of this singular and highly personal executive structure in the country sustains the “pleasuring the President” dogma, which fundamentally means that presidential appointees hold their posts at the complete sufferance of their boss. Thus, when challenged, Cabinet secretaries and other officials of similar stature often assert the prerogative of “pleasuring” the president first and foremost—a practice completely objectionable because it undermines accountability in public office.

And worse, the dominant, almost autocratic stature, of the president facilitates Malacañang’s strong influence in all matters of government. This permeating presence then sustains the culture of political patronage. Patronage of course, is the very lifeblood of “Imperial Manila.”

Therefore, there is a need to recalibrate the delegation of executive power in a new Charter. The foremost change must be its delegation to an institution, not to a person.

Following the example of South Korea, the new Constitution can establish a collegial executive body and likewise explicitly state that executive authority is vested on the executive branch headed by the president.

As for the other members of the executive branch, the new Charter could provide for vice president, one for the Visayas, one for Mindanao, one for the National Capital Region (NCR) and another for the rest of Luzon, to be elected collectively with the president.

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Or the new constitution can also create a Supreme Council to be comprised of representatives of administrative and autonomous regions. Provincial governors (mayors in the case of the NCR) within the region shall elect their representative who shall serve for the full term of the president.

Obviously, other possible arrangements must still be considered in the constitutional drafting process. Nevertheless, the brutal honesty and cavalier approach to President Duterte’s governance compel the rethinking of the current system of electing a constitutional dictator every six years.

A leader with absolute power over the country, who displays utter disdain for human rights and an obvious disinterest in preserving human life, should be a sufficient wake-up call.

 Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.

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TAGS: Commentary, Constitution, Constitutional Convention, Duterte, Government, opinion, president
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