The Only People Who Should Fear a Parliamentary Philippines Are Those Who Command No Support

Generally speaking, full-scale parliamentary systems are considered less powerful than those with a defined or de-facto strong presidential system. Countries like the US, Russia, China, France, Syria, Egypt, Zimbabwe and to a degree South Africa, have become known for strong and influential presidents.

Parliamentary systems can produce a strong leader, but this is generally much more rare. Where a President needs to run on an individual basis in an election whose time is set years in advance, in parliamentary systems, heads of government derive their power from how much support they can garner from members of parliament elected in the same way as the Prime Minister. The most typical systems used to elect members of parliament are the party list proportional representation system used in most of Europe and the first past the post system of British style parliaments. Russia’s Duma currently uses a hybrid of the two.

In such a system, a government is only as strong as its parliamentary supporters and unlike a fixed term presidential system, a parliament can throw out a leader at any time, should he or she lose the support of parliament.

Thus, the world has witnessed parliamentary systems that historically produce weak governments due to a lack of unity behind a prime minister, with Italy being a traditional example of this throughout the 20th century, while parliamentary systems with a popular leader are able to produce heads of government that are arguably stronger than many presidents. Singapore for example saw the consistent parliamentary support of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew between 1959 until 1990.

In this sense, under a would-be parliamentary system, if Rodrigo Duterte was Prime Minister rather than President, he could theoretically serve for much longer than a single 6 year term, assuming his popularity remains consistently high, which thus far it has done. Furthermore, unlike in the current system in The Philippines which leaves open the possibility for a President to have a hostile relationship with the separately elected House of Representatives, Senate and the independently elected Vice President, in a parliamentary system, the leader of the legislature is also the supreme executive of the government, thus making such a hostile environment impossible.

Of course, Duterte could amend the constitution, thus allowing for multiple presidential terms, but if people in The Philippines want to experience the most fully effective democratic system, the best solution would be a parliamentary federal republic that would see important issues being voted on directly by the people through referenda.

In such an atmosphere, local issues could be decided upon by local representatives who would have both extended powers and responsibility over their regions, while national issues, including the all important matters of trade and foreign policy would be controlled by a prime minister’s government drawn from a popularly elected parliament. All the while, key issues effecting the nation would be decided via referendum, giving every Filipino the chance to directly say how he or she feels on a given matter.

One of the benefits of such a system is that a weak leader would not be able to gain popular support for a long period of time,  while a strongly popular leader would be able to govern on behalf of the people with fewer obstacles in the way.

By definition, such a system is more democratic than the current one is, as it makes a leader’s power directly proportional to his or her wider support in the country. It is therefore ludicrous that President Duterte’s critics think that somehow moving towards such a system would be a ‘power grab’. If anything, a parliamentary system Duterte more susceptible to scrutiny, as this is one of the defining differences between a parliamentary and presidential system. Furthermore, far from being strange or unusual, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, India and Pakistan all operate on such a system, as do most European countries.  There is no reason why such a system could not work in The Philippines.

When combined with federalisation, something that makes perfect sense in a country with the geography of The Philippines, such a system could create a win-win model for the country wherein popular leaders would have less artificial obstruction and unpopular leaders would be far easier to remove. Duterte’s opponents are afraid of such a system. The reason for this is easy enough to see – what they truly fear is coming face to face with their lack of popularity.


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