Speaking personally, I have never had much time for people who rely on scripts. Public speakers, politicians, political and social commentators and activists are not actors and as such, they should not use the tools of actors. It is one thing to be a great Shakespearean actor memorising the words of the greatest playwright in the English language, but when one is speaking about contemporary political and social issues, there ought to be a clear expectation that one is speaking from the heart.
Because of this, it has always been disappointing that in The Philippines, political “debates” are more like scripted attacks between politicians that play out on television, social media, corporate mainstream media and in the wider sphere of guttural public gossip. Scripted “debates” being played out not in real time but over a matter of days and weeks in the media, are not unique to The Philippines. They are in fact part and parcel of a political system that actively discourages real time debate. Such systems often reduce the quality of debates on economics, trade, foreign relations and social reform to the level of discourse that one would expect from a pair of feuding Hollywood celebrities. The Philippines frankly deserves a more elevated level of political discourse.
By contrast, in a parliamentary system, all of the nations politicians have the ability (and in many cases an obligation) to be in the same place at the same time – inside a parliamentary chamber. As such, in parliamentary debates, supporters of the government can make their points in front of their opposition audience and of course members of the opposition can then retaliate. In lengthy parliamentary debates, this back and forth cycle of debate can last for hours, whilst during short, sharp question sessions, rapid fire arguments bounce back and forth across a parliamentary chamber.
Furthermore, in parliamentary debates, the politicians sit only beside other politicians, there are no script writers, spin-doctors, public relations experts, media personalities, celebrities or useful idiots to support nor cut down the political arguments being uttered.
Such a system does not guarantee political honesty, just as no philosophy or religion has made all of its followers 100% honest – 100% of the time. But when one accepts these human limitations, one must work within the framework of a political system that minimises dishonesty, just as a philosophy which condemns theft and violence is more socially healthy than one which exalts the opposite.
In a parliamentary system, there are no middlemen. During parliamentary debates, politicians can say what they like about each other’s policies with a sense of immediacy that dramatically reduces one’s ability to spend hours of contemplation alongside a team of professional lairs, in order to come up with a retort to an opponent. Whilst presidential systems encourage “debate by committee”, parliamentary systems expose politicians for who they really are and what they really think and they do so in a manner that is vastly more transparent than a system which encourages politicians to create media fortresses in which rhetoric is spewed at a distance in respect of both space and time.
Thus, when Davao Mayor Inday Sara Duterte stated that all politicians are dishonest during campaigns, her remarks should not be seen as anything other than an admission of a truth that every grown man and woman ought to have already known. The question therefore should not be one of over-analysing her straightforward statement, but one which seeks answers as to why The Philippine political system encourages dishonesty.
The clear solution is one that demands instant accountability and one that furthermore allows for debates to take place beyond the constraints of that which can be scripted or pre-fabricated. A parliamentary system could help to inject a new spirit of honesty, openness and genuine scrutiny into a Philippine political system that has become obtuse, aloof, disconnected and therefore, incredibly dishonest.