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Beware the ‘governor’

I wonder if voters realize that the current constitutional order actually allows governance of the country to be overly reliant on the person residing in Malacañang.

Indeed, we suffer a government framework wherein the delivery of public services, from agriculture to zoning, all intersect at the Office of the President. Even the mismanagement of the airport is blamed on the person holding this post!

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The bitter irony here is that those terrible years under the Marcos dictatorship should have taught us not to give too much power to a single human being. And yet the 1987 Constitution still does exactly that.

Consider first Section 1 of Article VII on the Executive Department which states: “The executive power shall be vested in the President of the Philippines.” Then read this in conjunction with Section 17 which provides: “The President shall have control of all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices. He shall ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.”

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The very text of our Constitution conveys straightaway the immense power wielded by the chief executive. And the authority of the office is practically absolute as ruled in the landmark case of Marcos vs Manglapus (G. No. 88211-Oct. 27, 1989):

“The powers of the President are not limited to what are expressly enumerated in the article on the Executive Department and in scattered provisions of the Constitution. This is so, notwithstanding the avowed intent of the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 to limit the powers of the President as a reaction to the abuses under the regime of Mr. Marcos, for the result was a limitation of specific power of the President, particularly those relating to the commander-in-chief clause, but not a diminution of the general grant of executive power.”

The dictatorial underpinning of the office is unmistakable. Hence, in evaluating those aspiring for Malacañang next year, I implore voters to recall this particular passage from one of our national hero’s works, “The Indolence of the Filipino”:

“The good curate,” he says with reference to the rosy picture a friar had given him of the Philippines, “had not told me about the governor, the foremost official of the district, who was too much taken up with the ideal of getting rich to have time to tyrannize over his docile subjects; the governor, charged with ruling the country and collecting the various taxes in the government’s name, devoted himself almost wholly to trade; in his hands the high and noble functions he performs are nothing more than instruments of gain. He monopolizes all the business and instead of developing on his part the love of work, instead of stimulating the too natural indolence of the natives, he with abuse of his powers thinks only of destroying all competition that may trouble him or attempt to participate in his profits. It matters little to him that the country is impoverished, without cultivation, without commerce, without industry, just so the governor is quickly enriched!”

The “governor” described in this literary work can be any one of those who have declared themselves fit for the presidency. In fact, two of our most recent presidents have been perfect incarnations of this plunderer in Jose Rizal’s opus.

It stands to reason, therefore, that Filipinos should be more discerning in evaluating those gunning for the country’s top job. Hence, we all have to be particularly critical of what the candidates say (or, sometimes, do not say).

Note, however, that commentaries about them, whether from respected pundits or serious bloggers, should only be supplementary in our analysis and should not be taken as gospel truth. Our examination and reflection should focus primarily on the very words that come out of the “presidentiable’s” mind and mouth.

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A televised debate would thus be extremely helpful. On this score, the media must be tasked to take the mantle for the general public. They must be relentless and unforgiving in probing the candidates. Let the undeserving unravel on live television and the destined shine.

Most important of all, we should immediately reject spiels that merely praise or blame the current administration. And we should likewise spurn soapbox pronouncements that are only inspired by the news of the day and filled with spin and stopgap measures.

The plain fact is the electorate deserves to know from these presidential aspirants the specific public policies they intend to translate into decisive action once they assume office.

Let us not forget that our population now stands at a little over 100 million. Given the pressing global environmental concerns, food scarcity is a very distinct and frightening possibility.

Therefore, we must insist that presidential candidates present a comprehensive food security plan. We expect our top leader to balance our food production needs and the demands of climate change. Hence, economic proposals pertaining to manufacturing, mining, agriculture, tourism and so forth, all have to be defined in this context.

Another fundamental concern with such a massive population is to decrease the number of the uneducated and the unhealthy. Hence, we want a firm commitment to establish a genuine comprehensive national public health management framework that will remedy the fragmented and substandard state of public healthcare in the country.

And as far as improving our education system is concerned, promises of more classrooms and textbooks will not be enough. We want to hear specific plans to uplift the quality of educators such as increasing their pay and enhancing their training. In fact, we want to see “presidentiables” anchor their national development program on the education of our people.

Ultimately, the candidate that should warrant our vote is the one who can present a credible and viable action plan implementing Section 17 of Article II of the Constitution:

“The State shall give priority to education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development.”

Because we are essentially electing a dictator, we really need to aim for a leader who will be fully and unequivocally committed to empower Filipinos. And voters must beware that a “presidentiable” who fails to face up to this challenge will most likely be another “governor” in Malacañang come 2016.

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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