It comes as no surprise to those who understand Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity that his allies swept the board in May’s midterm elections. The Senate of The Philippines was once a bastion of Duterte’s opponents but now 9 out of the 12 seats that were contested in the election are controlled by key allies. Because of this, there is a rare moment in the history of a highly convoluted political system in which both the House of Representatives and Senate are controlled by a majority of those generally allied to Duterte.
With Duterte’s single term set to expire in the year 2022, no one can argue that constitutional reform can be or should be put off a day longer.
May’s election makes it clear that Duterteism is a very real phenomenon in The Philippines. This itself is rare as the presidential system in the country tends to make elections about personalities rather than about policies and ideas. Although there was plenty of personality driven politics in this election, notably, the opposition failed to rally around the Aquino dynasty as one would have expected in previous years and the victors rallied around the concept of Duterteism, rather than the man himself who was not standing for any position in the election.
Had May’s election been a parliamentary general election as well as a series of elections for the parliaments of the federal provinces/regions that would be created by a reformed constitution, one could imagine a landslide victory for all those standing as members of Duterte’s party or allied parties. Inversely, one would have seen opposition MPs (members of parliament) lose many seats.
This straightforward process would have saved time and money and would have been an even bigger boost to the concept of Duterteism as in parliamentary systems, one is voting for a party which itself represents an idea rather than an individual or group of individuals.
In 2022, the penny will finally drop for many in The Philippines. 2022 will be the first year that Duterteism will be tested without the presence of Rodrigo Duterte as the national leader. But rather than hold another presidential personality contest three years from now, the country should work towards the development and implementation of a federal parliamentary system in addition to eliminating constitutional restrictions on foreign direct investment.
This could be easily done. If reforms are passed by the middle or end of the year 2020, at the beginning of 2021, all current members of both the House and Senate would become sitting MPs in the National Parliament of The Philippines. This new body could sit in the current House of Representatives chamber and all that would be required is the re-arranging of the seats to fit the traditional government vs. opposition style of Westminster parliamentary systems such as that in Singapore.
Then after a year of watching parliamentary debates between the government and its backbenchers on the one side and the opposition and its backbenchers on the other, the 2022 elections could be conducted on the basis of a parliamentary system where any Filipino over the age of 18 would be eligible to stand, including all members of the current Philippine Congress and all former presidents.
This would mean that if he wanted, Rodrigo Duterte could lead his party into parliamentary elections under a new constitution in 2022. If he however sticks to his position of seeking retirement after 2022, Duterte’s party could be led by a candidate whose meritocratic rise to the top would signify that he or she is the best defender, promoter and builder of Duterteism in the country.
The currently broken opposition ought to endorse such plans as well as in such a system, the country could see the leader of the opposition challenge the government on a weekly basis. In this sense, parliamentary debates serve as a highly important campaign tool as one gets to gauge one’s decision in the next election based on watching the real time performance of the party leaders, other frontbrench politicians and backbenchers within the parliamentary chamber.
It would also be possible to begin implementing evolving federalism in 2022. In that year, certain regions could also conduct elections for regional/provincial parliaments, including the newly created Bangsamoro region with its parliamentary system of regional governance.
Finally, while a presidential election would take place in 2022 under a reformed system, it would be for a strictly ceremonial leader. Thus, people who want a celebrity popularity contest to get excited about would still be able to satisfy their need but not at the expense of a functional political system.
The time is now to get these reforms on the books and the sooner this can be done, the sooner one could inaugurate a transitional parliament before 2022 so that the country can see first hand how the current crop of politicians would perform in a truly meritocratic political setting.
If this is accomplished, Duterte will not have only changed the hearts and minds of Filipinos the world over, but he will have transformed his country permanently from one with a broken political system to one that is up to the task of fixing the country on the basis of evolving Duterteism over the decades.