When the famed composer and musician Frank Zappa was diagnosed with terminal cancer and gave what was to be his final major interview, he was asked what he wanted his legacy to be. In the interview from 1993, Zappa was asked “how do you want to be remembered”? He responded by saying “It’s not important”. When then asked if he wanted to be remembered for his music Zappa replied, “It’s not even important to be remembered. The people who worry about being remembered are guys like [Ronald] Reagan and [George H.W.] Bush…these people want to be remembered and they’ll spend a lot of money and do a lot of work to make sure that the remembrance is just terrific”. He again reiterated that he doesn’t care about such things regarding his own life.
While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte still has four more years of his constitutionally mandated presidential term to serve, the perpetually popular leader has frequently shunned the trappings of power and has rejected all forms of public egotism, saying that inflated titles are “corny“. Far from seeking to cling on to power indefinitely, Duterte has made it clear that the only reason he continues to serve is that he commands the respect of the people and armed forces and that furthermore, while occasionally “tired” with his job, he could not in good conscience abandon the country to an incompetent figure like that of Vice President Leni Robredo.
While Duterte does intend to offer a lasting legacy to the country by reforming the 1987 Constitution through federalising the nation, beyond this, the federal-parliamentary system that Duterte has in the past shown support for is ultimately the only way that Duterte’s legacy can outlive Duterte’s single presidential term.
A more egotistical leader might not only seek to extend his power beyond 2022 but would seek to do so at the helm of a much needed reformed political system that would eliminate the political deadlock built into the currency system wherein the Senate, Congress, President and Vice President can in both theory and practice all advocate for policies that are incompatible with one another. Yet for Duterte, he seeks to serve his term and do as much as he can before his currently mandated time is up. He genuinely appears to want nothing more and nothing less.
This personal humility is in keeping with Duterte’s overall attitude of a man who still prefers to be called ‘Mayor’ rather than ‘President’. Not only is Duterte the first President of The Philippines from Mindanao, but as such he has remained true to his roots. Not once has Duterte attempted to speak like, dress like or act like the political oligarchs of Imperial Manila. Whether at home or abroad, Duterte’s style of leadership is that of a first citizen among a nation of equal men and woman rather than that of an autocrat riding roughshod over the populace.
Because of this and because of Duterte’s calls for people to enlighten themselves on matters ranging from the spiritual to the temporal, it is time for a new generation of Filipino thinkers, future politicians and patriots to do that which is necessary to make sure that Duterte’s gifts to the country do not expire when his term expires.
The most effective way to make sure that there will be no going back to the dark yellow days of corrupt presidents in the pocket of business oligarchs who answer first to foreign regimes rather than the Filipino people, is to establish a federal-parliamentary system before 2022. Even one more national presidential election based on the current system runs the risk of allowing the corrupt old guard to slip back into power.
Consider how the political dynamics of The Philippines would be different if even under the corrupt crop of politicians, there was a parliamentary rather than a presidential/congressional system. If the current political structure of The Philippines was that of a federal-parliamentary system, Duterte would be leading the government as Prime Minister backed by members of his party PDP–Laban and other members of parliament (MPs) who support PDP-Laban. Meanwhile, opposition parties would sit on the opposite side of the parliamentary chamber either as separate parties or as part of a united coalition.
Thus, in a parliamentary system, current Vice President Leni Robredo would get her chance to form a parliamentary opposition coalition comprised of her Liberal Party and other groups who oppose Duterte including the Communists, pro-clerical/theocratic parties, militant feminist parties and the possible addition of would-be independent MP Antonio Trillanes, assuming he is not caged for life due to his crimes against the nation.
It would be in this context where Roberdo or any other Liberal opponent of Duterte’s party would have to prove her (or his) competence by standing before parliament and arguing her case all the while a would-be Prime Minister Duterte would have his chance to respond to everything she and her colleagues are saying.
A parliamentary system is not only more efficient at getting reformist laws passed but it also constitutes a far better means of holding both the governing and opposition to account. Because the prime minister’s power derives from his or her ability to command a majority of members of parliament who are directly elected by the voters, should the members of parliament who are forced to listen to their constituents feel that any given prime minister is performing poorly, such an individual can be removed in a simple majoritarian vote of no confidence. Crucially, not only is such a method far simpler than impeachment but it causes very little disruption to the overall workings of government.
Likewise, no matter how much an obstructionist opposition might scream, there is little they could do to actually obstruct legislation in a parliament in which they command a small number seats based on receiving a small number of votes.
A parliamentary system does not automatically guarantee a better class of politicians, but because such a system holds all politicians (both those in government and those in the opposition) to account in real time, over a period of years, there is little doubt that a better and more astute class of politician will arise within the context of such a system.
This is why it is crucial for Duterte’s supporters to back federal-parliamentary reforms. Far from merely representing a mechanical change to governance in The Philippines, such changes will ensure that long after President Duterte walks into retirement, his reforms can be built upon rather than destroyed by those who have sought to destroy his Presidency from the moment he won in the summer of 2016.