After one has spent substantial time reviewing online and real life discussions about the need to transform The Philippines from its current convoluted presidential system into a straightforward Singapore style parliamentary system at a national level, with the added element of creating parliaments in new federal units of the country, there are few positive counterarguments that can be heard. The current system of inbuilt deadlock between a Congress, Senate, office of Vice President and office of President which are all elected separately seems to have few actual supporters. On the one hand this is not surprising as any political system that is needlessly complicated, leads to more rows than compromises, is economically inefficient and which turns elections for the most important offices in the land into easily manipulated personality contests, is clearly not fit for purpose.
And yet, advocates of a straightforward, cost effective, more democratically transparent, simplified parliamentary system still face opposition from those who advocate for the maintenance of the status quo, not from a position of intellectual strength but from a position of intellectual laziness. For example, one frequently hears the argument that Filipinos are somehow not capable of understanding a significant change in governance, with the implication being that somehow Filipinos are intelligent enough to understand a woefully complicated presidential system but are paradoxically too stupid to understand a much simpler and much more straightforward parliamentary system.
Apart from this aforementioned argument being a contradiction in logic, it hints at another argument stating that somehow Filipinos are more averse to change than their more adaptable neighbours in places like Singapore and Malaysia or even Vietnam which in the 1990s underwent seismic positive economic changes. This argument can be disproved by understanding the popularity of sitting President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte’s reformist style of government has radically changed society and the economy for the better and as such, Duterte is embraced by a vast majority of the public. If Filipinos were somehow allergic to change, they would never have supported Duterte, even within the framework of the old political system.
Then there is an argument based on the cultural “Amerophilia” that many in The Philippines retrain. According to this frame of mind, because the United States is a wealthy country with a presidential system, it means that presidential systems guarantee wealth and national strength. This argument however neglects to indicate that the majority of nations with the world’s highest living standards are parliamentary rather than presidential in terms of their national governance. In fact, the United States is not even in the top fifteen nations with the highest living standards according to non-profit organisation Social Progress Imperative. Secondly, the US is a highly indebted economy but even this reality is less important than a more recent development in the United States.
Throughout much of America’s contemporary history, the US has been a two party system in which the political positions of both parties were remarkably similar. So much was this the case that Tanzania’s founding father Julius Nyerere once proclaimed, “The United States is also a one-party state, but with typical American extravagance, they have two of them“.
And yet today with the arrival of Donald Trump, the two parties have drifted apart more noticeably than at any point in recent memory and the result has been an increase in political violence, vigilantism, domestic provocations and a generally increasingly inane and toxified political discourse. Thus, even a country like the US can only function under a presidential system when both parties are advocating much the same thing in terms of policy. The minute that someone like Trump threw this consensus off-kilter, the entire political system also got thrown off-kilter.
Thus, when all is said and done, while those who somehow fear parliamentary reforms in The Philippines have few if any positive arguments to proffer, even their negative arguments are easily exposed as products of disinformation and emotion rather than logic and clear thinking.