The moment that Rodrigo Roa Duterte won the 2016 Presidential election in The Philippines, it became clear that the Filipino people had collectively said “out with the old and in with the new”. Since then, the political leaders and corporate media supporters of the old regime have continually embarrassed themselves, have demonstrated their lack of contact with the feelings of the common man and woman and have been judicially exposed as being on the wrong side of the law more often than not. This holistic process has been going on for around two years, but yesterday’s arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was symbolic of the fact that in Duterte’s Philippines, the law will be enforced uniformly rather than selectively. This is the case, even though the law under which Ressa was arrested was signed by former President Noyboy Aquino and regarded charges of libel stemming from a published piece that had nothing to do with Duterte – a man who was the Vice Mayor of Davao at the time of the piece’s initial publication.
And yet, if anything represents the fall of an old regime that continues to lust for power, money and influence, it was the imagine of Ressa’s arrest. Predictably, international liberal media spun the issue as far away from the facts as possible, but once the dust settles, it should be clear that due to an ineffective political system in which deadlock is a permanent feature and one which will furthermore force Duterte out of office in 2022 in spite of commanding the confidence of the nation – now is the time to advocate for a political system that is worthy of both the real and symbolic changes occurring in The Philippines.
The solution to these problems of transitioning from the era of Duterte to one of extended Duterteism, is to adopt a federal-parliamentary model whilst also eliminating constitutional restrictions on an open economy powered by foreign direct investment (FDI). Not only would this change the political landscape but it would likewise change the media landscape. To put it another way, the Rappler model of character assassination simply would not hold water if they were forced to cover parliamentary politics.
In a parliamentary system, the government and opposite debate the issues of the day in real time. As such, after the Prime Minister says something, the leader of the opposition gets to voice his or her differing opinion and then the Prime Minister gets to respond. This cycle continues throughout both extended debates and shorter question and answer sessions. The same is true of finance, foreign, interior and defence ministers (etc.) who engage in regular debates with their opposition counterparts.
As such, reporting on parliamentary affairs requires much more attention to policy detail and to proper political rhetoric than does reporting in a presidential system. This is because in presidential systems, there aren’t proper debates, there are merely sets of disjointed statements, given by individuals in different locations and at different times and worst of all, none of the people making these disjointed statements actually get to confront one another in the atmosphere of a civilised debating forum.
As a result, in presidential systems, media outlets get to work with their favourite political figures so as to prepare a well choreographed set of attacks on their opponents. These attacks often take place hours if not days after the statement they seek to counter was originally made. This is not genuine political debate – it is a political circus.
By contrast, in parliamentary systems, politicians need to think on their feet in terms of delivering an instant response to political opponents, whilst those reporting on such matters do not have time to coordinate a personal assault on their ideological opponents. This is the case because instead of taking place in the press, the rhetorical attacks (which incidentally are forced to be quite substance driven) are instead taking place in real time on either side of the parliamentary chamber. Hence, there simply aren’t as many opportunities for politicians and their friends in corporate media connive an attack on their adversaries. In parliamentary systems, the facts speak for themselves and so do those defending their unique interpretations of the facts.
In this sense, parliamentary systems help not only to elevate the political discourse, but they help to elevate the discourse of those reporting on politics. This for example is why the media in a parliamentary democracy like Singapore is far less prone to hyperbolic character assignations than the press in The Philippines. One look at Channel News Asia or The Straits Times and one can see how the tone is much calmer than the points scoring style Philippine “mainstream” media.
Even in a country with a notorious tabloid press like the UK, there is a clear separation between serious political media and down-market tabloid ‘rags’ which discuss the capacious behaviour of celebrities that most serious political minds have never even heard of.
By contrast, in The Philippines, so-called “serious journalism” is often indistinguishable from tabloid journalism, because when one needs to attract attention by maliciously attacking individuals rather than by discussing ideas, the road to the gutter becomes a very slippery slope.
In this sense, by allowing for a parliamentary system to take hold, The Philippines can help to elevate not only the quality of political debate, but the quality of reportage and analysis of these debates. With the politicians and media outlets that support the old way of doing politics becoming discredited by the day – now is the time to replace the old with something truly new. A parliamentary system is clearly the way forward.