Monday, February 06, 2006

Sounding Board : A parliamentary system?

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.

WHAT WILL THE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM look like if the Senate blockade is broken through? Let us take a quick look. My comments will be based on the draft being debated by the Committee on Constitutional Amendments of the House of Representatives.

In a nutshell, the picture the draft paints is of a chief executive much stronger than the current President; a Parliament that can be dissolved by the prime minister; and a weaker Supreme Court.

The prominent figures in the proposed system are the Parliament, the prime minister, the Cabinet and a powerless president.

The desired Parliament will be unicameral. This is no surprise. The popular mantra says that two houses of equal strength breed gridlocks.

Parliament will be composed of as many members as the law will provide; and as in the current House, 20 percent of its members will be party-list representatives. What this means is that the party-list system remains tentative and experimental. Expect a thickly populated Parliament, however. The total number of its members can mean that it will be more expensive to maintain than the present bicameral Congress.

The term of members of Parliament (MPs) will be five years, with no limit on reelection. In case parliament is dissolved, the new members will serve only for the unexpired term of their predecessors.

The sessions, the legislative procedure, and the limitations and disqualifications are the same as in the current Congress. Ironically, as in the 1973 version, the prime minister can veto bills passed by his or her creator and lord, the Parliament.

There will be a "question hour" where the prime minister and ministers can be grilled and roasted to taste. This should take care of the gag rule in EO 464.

The MPs elect the prime minister from among themselves and may oust the prime minister by a no-confidence vote. The ouster takes effect when a new prime minister is elected.

There will also be an Electoral Tribunal, which will be the sole judge of election contests, a Committee on Impeachment which will act as the prosecutor in impeachments, and a Commission on Appointments. The Parliament will be the sole judge of impeachments.

The Cabinet members will be chosen from Parliament.

What of the president? He is the head of state, largely ceremonial, and is more like a grandfather figure or the Queen of England. He must be at least 50 years old. He is elected by Parliament from among themselves, or from outside if no one among the MPs is queenly enough. He has a term of five years but he may be removed by impeachment. Upon being elected president, he must resign from the Parliament and from his political party. It is hoped that thus he will be able to reign serenely.

As with all new constitutions, there will be Transitory Provisions. What are the highlights?

Once the new constitution is ratified, the Senate and the House will be joined in a forced wedlock to form the Interim Parliament. The term of the members will last until June 30, 2007 except for the current senators who were elected in 2004. The latter will stay until June 30, 2010. The vice president will likewise become a member of the Interim Parliament until June 30, 2010. However, in the plebiscite for the ratification of the new Constitution, the people will have the option to postpone all elections until the second Monday of May 2010. Then it will be No-El redivivus.

How will the current President fit? Nicely, hand in iron glove. "From the ratification of the foregoing Amendments to June 30, 2010, the incumbent President shall continue to exercise the same powers as she has now, except those she will delegate to the Prime Minister who shall serve as chief operating officer of the government, conformably with the parliamentary system."

But that does not say it all about the incumbent President. While the provision says that the incumbent President will have all the powers she has now, in fact she will have more, because some of the limitations on her powers today will be removed.

To start with, the limitations on the commander-in-chief powers carefully elaborated in the 1987 Constitution will be removed. In effect, the proposal will resurrect the vast powers exercised by President Marcos, which powers were upheld by the martial law Court and overruled by the 1987 Constitution.

Next, the prohibition of the appointment of the President's spouse and close relatives to key government positions will be removed.

Gone, too, will be the prohibition of appointments two months immediately preceding an election.

Likewise, gone will be the need for the Monetary Board's concurrence before the President can contract or guarantee foreign loans.

The appointing authority will also be enhanced by the proposal that the confirmation of promotions in the military will be required only for the ranks of brigadier general and commodore. The President then will be able to appoint colonels and naval captains without need of confirmation.

The President's treaty powers will also be enhanced by the removal of the prohibition of the presence of foreign military forces.

And when she calls a special session, she will be able to specify what subjects the Parliament may take up.

The Chief Executive will also have greater leeway in the handling of public funds because, in the use of discretionary funds and leftovers from special funds, there are no constitutional rules.

Can she be removed by a no-confidence vote? Parliament can try. But she will have the power to dissolve Parliament. And the Supreme Court is being stripped of the power to determine whether she has gravely abused her discretion. Long live a strong Republic!

1 comment:

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