7 Questions Filipinos Must Ask Themselves About Political Reform

Too often, the political discourse in The Philippines is framed around support of or opposition to individuals, rather than support of or opposition to ideas. Because of this, any genuine debate about reforming the country’s political system must begin from a point of introspection regarding how one feels about the state of governance and quality of life in The Philippines. The following questions therefore should be asked:

1. Why is the Philippine electoral process more complicated than that in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and that of most European countries? 

2. I like Duterte, why can’t I vote for him again? 

3. I don’t like Duterte, why can’t he be peacefully removed from office? 

4. Why do bills take so much longer to become law in The Philippines than they do in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Britain or Canada? 

5. Why do more Filipinos leave their country than any other group in ASEAN?

6. Why is it easier for a Filipino to open up a business abroad than for a foreign entrepreneur to set up a business in The Philippines? 

7. Why is it that in the 1950s and 1960s, The Philippines was one of Asia’s most prosperous countries, whilst since the 1970s it has become one of the least? 

The answers to these questions can be addressed by a deeper understanding of federal-parliamentary reform, in addition to ending constitutional prohibitions on modern foreign direct investment. Below are the answers to each of the aforementioned questions.

1. Countries with parliamentary systems tend to have much simpler electoral processes than those in presidential systems, let alone a presidential system as needlessly convoluted as that in The Philippines. Whilst a Philippine ballot often looks like a university level statistical examination, in parliamentary systems, one generally simply puts a check mark next to the party name (and or logo) that one supports. The entire process takes less than a minute. Easier voting processes encourage democratic engagement and guarantee that votes are conducted in a straightforward and transparent manner, rather than in a strategic or even devious manner.

2. Term limits do not exist for members of parliament in just about every major parliamentary system. Because a prime minister is elected like every ordinary member of parliament, so long as the prime minister’s party retains democratic support, many prime ministers serve multiple terms. Famous examples of multi-term governments under the same prime minister include Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, India’s Indira Gandhi, Canada’s Pierre Trudeau, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. It is no wonder that each of these governments accomplished a great deal during their time in power. Democracy in a parliamentary system allows for the kind of political and economic consistency that is scarcely imaginable in most presidential systems.

3. Inversely, it is far easier to remove unpopular leaders in a parliamentary system than in a presidential system. In parliamentary systems, governments can be removed if they lose a simple vote of no confidence within the parliamentary chamber. Such a vote can be called at any time and for any reason (general incompetence typically being the most common).

Also, an individual party can vote to remove its leader, whether the party is in government or in opposition. This for example is how Margaret Thatcher was eventually removed from power in Britain, even though her party (which was in government at the time) continued to serve out a full parliamentary term under the leadership of John Major.

4. In a parliamentary system, the executive (head of government) operates from within the parliamentary chamber, rather than in a separate and totally detached office. All members of parliament, including prime ministers are elected in the exact same way. It is the party itself that chooses its leader and the people who vote to determine which party has the most seats. Ergo, whichever party has the most seats will see its leader become prime minister and any member of parliament has the potential to become the future leader of his or her party.

Furthermore, even in a bicameral parliamentary system, there is typically only one parliamentary chamber with genuine and effective power. As such, all policy proposals are debated on and voted on in the same place. This is even more straightforward in a unicameral parliamentary system like the one in Singapore.

By contrast, in The Philippines, bills bounce back and forth between a slow moving House of Representatives and an even slower moving Senate. Then after this lengthy process of policy making ping pong is done, only then does the President get to have has legal say. This is why someone like President Donald Trump controversially invokes many emergency presidential powers in order to get things done. In a parliamentary system, getting things done quickly is the rule rather than the exception.

5. ASEAN’s first economic miracle in Singapore was made possible due to the fact that the government actively courted foreign direct investment (FDI). By offering foreign investors an easy, transparent and flexible inroad to Singapore, the country grew wealthy and subsequent generations of Singaporeans became major global investors themselves.

Today, not only Singapore but Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have far simpler FDI laws than does The Philippines. People need money to become wealthy and in a poor country, this means that the money must come from foreigners. Without genuinely modern FDI laws, The Philippines will continue to lag behind other ASEAN nations.

Because the money to create jobs doesn’t come into The Philippines in the way that it continues to do in Singapore and other pro-FDI economies, millions of Filipinos travel abroad to wealthier countries in order to find good jobs.

6. The reason that Filipinos have found success in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, the USA, Canada and throughout the EU is because these places have more modern FDI laws than does The Philippines. As such, these countries are flush with the capital needed to help get a young business off the ground. Filipinos aren’t somehow culturally let alone racially allergic to innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, but the constitution of The Philippines is intrinsically allergic to these things. This is why Filipinos tend to excel at doing business abroad in ways that many could not accomplish at home. FDI generates wealth and wealth in the hands of an entrepreneur is start up capital. This win-win cycle of a prosperous environment leading to better business opportunities for local residents (citizens and immigrants alike) is manifestly absent in The Philippines.

7. In the mid-20th century, the US had a vested interest in economically aiding The Philippines. As a country that had recently gained independence from the United States, Washington did not want a strategically located country like The Philippines to go down a path towards anti-American communism. By the end of the Cold War, America lost its incentive to help The Philippines in this way and instead of taking destiny into Filipino hands, the country allowed itself to rest on its past American laurels and as such, the country’s economy declined.  If The Philippines had said, “we want US style FDI laws in an age when the Cold War was coming to an end”, things would have turned out very differently – just as they did in Vietnam – a country that the US was making war upon at a time when American money was flowing into Manila.

And thus one has seven key questions with seven simple answers to why federal-parliamentary + FDI reforms are desperately needed in The Philippines.

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