The Philippine Liberal Party’s Opposition to Parliamentary Governance is The Definition of Hypocrisy…or is it?

Every political party tends to have a flagship policy and the Liberal Party of The Philippines is no exception. Only instead of advocating a more open economy, freer trade, political reforms, infrastructural megaprojects or improved public services, the flagship policy of the Yellows is to overthrow the democratically elected President of The Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. In spite of Duterte’s consistent and generally overwhelming popularity, Yellow factions seem to have an obsession with removing Duterte from office, even though under the current political system, Duterte has done nothing to warrant the complex and serious process of impeachment.

By contrast, in a parliamentary system, removing a head of government (generally called a prime minister) is far simpler. To remove a prime minister and his or her government from power, all that is required in a parliamentary system is a simple majority vote of all members of parliament. Therefore, if a leader and his or her government become wildly unpopular, they can be removed by a straightforward process that can be accomplished in a matter of hours.

One would consequently think that for Liberals who want only one thing – the removal of Duterte, advocating a shift to a parliamentary system that would make removing the head of government comparatively easy, would be a paramount priority. And yet the Liberals are totally opposed to constitutional reform (aka charter change) which would establish a Singapore or Malaysia style parliamentary democracy in The Philippines. By contrast, those who support creating a parliamentary system in The Philippines tend to be supporters of Rodrigo Duterte.

Why could this be? There are several answers to this important question. To understand the first, one must examine the fact that the powerful Aquino family who oversaw the drafting of the current 1987 Philippine Constitution created a system that favours their interests and those from similar socio-economic backgrounds. The Aquinos were a powerful family of “hacienderos”, a Spanish era term which in 21st century nomenclature essentially means agricultural/land owning oligarchs. Therefore, they favoured a constitution which limits foreign direct investment and free trade as such things necessarily offer modern market competition against those with vested interests in maintaining a closed door monopoly over the economic life of the people. By contrast, in a full parliamentary system, a party opposed to the closed economic model of the 1987 Constitution (aka the Yellow Constitution) could have campaigned throughout the country on an ideas based manifesto for economic liberty, consumer rights, job creation and seeking substantial foreign investment to help modernise an economy often derided as the “sick man of ASEAN”.

Unlike in parliamentary elections, in a presidential system, more often than not, elections are fought over personalities rather than ideas. Such contests are those where a name is more important than a manifesto and crucially, presidential elections are far more costly to campaign in than parliamentary elections.

Thus, presidential systems tend to favour rich socio-economic and political dynasties whose money is used to back a single individual rather than a more collective effort where multiple parliamentary candidates rally behind an ideas based manifesto. Similar reasons lie behind the Liberal opposition to federalism. Anything that takes away control from the central government risks putting power in the hands of those who have received nothing from and therefore owe nothing to a powerful clique of oligarchs.

Indeed, even in parliamentary systems where dynastic politics emerge, the party leader must still stand behind a manifesto. This for example is why in this year’s parliamentary elections in Pakistan, the anti-dynastic PTI party resoundingly beat its two dynasty based rivals, the PML-N and PPP. PTI’s ideas landing an electoral blow against two parties who had few ideas to back up the famous family names of the respective leaders.

And yet, if Liberal politicians are to be taken at face value, one would expect them to campaign with all their might for a system that could help them remove a would-be Prime Minister Duterte based on the popularity they presume they have. Of course, as Duterte remains far more popular than any Liberal politician, if these statistics were reflected in a parliamentary election, a party or coalition supporting Duterte as prime minister would have more seats than those that the Liberals could realistically gain. Therefore, in a parliamentary system, a Liberal opposition would certainly have the right to try and bring down a Duterte government through a simple no-confidence motion, but there is very little likelihood it would ever succeed based on current trends.

But here’s where the Liberals actually know something that many Duterte supporters tend to ignore. The Liberals know that based on their ability to raise capital, to influence the corporate mainstream media, to court influence from powerful western nations and their ability to try and hoodwink more gullible sectors of the population with a slick well-funded campaign, chances are that they have a far better chance of coming back to power under the current system than in a parliamentary system.

Because of this, the Liberals are in reality less concerned with removing Duterte than they are concerned with reversing all of his reforms after a would-be 2022 presidential election. If the Liberals know this, so too should Duterte supporters.

Because of this, it is imperative for Duterte supporters to also support that which truly frightens the Yellows – a federal-parliamentary system in which the Yellows know deep down that they would likely fail to achieve power. This is the reality, it is staring the entire country in the face and yet few dare speak this truth.

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