Habitual Absentee - NARA - 534650may have done Filipinos a favor – by showing that his office is not the solution to, nor the source of all problems. The war in Marawi is hopefully winding to a close thanks to a professional army, and the MRT still is running badly while Metro Manila traffic is horrible. Meanwhile, there is mostly solidarity and respect for the soldiers that fight it out in Mindanao – a far cry from decades ago. There are those who help the victims and refugees of war, and those who are colder to them. And there is mostly joy that the USA and Australia are helping with their reconnaissance capabilities.

Powers that be

The President still has enormous powers – the power to appoint thousands of positions, the power of the purse which was used for pork barrel, the control over the state monopoly of force via the PNP and AFP  – powers patterned after Spanish and American colonial governors, I have read. Quezon fired the governor of Albay once. Quirino appointed the governor of Davao, Vicente Duterte. The power to declare martial law was curtailed in 1986. The Local Government Code in the time of Aquino gave LGUs (local government units) substantial autonomy and subsidies.

Other things move on without the President. Whether it is Senator Gatchalian’s trip to Germany to learn more about energy policy (link) which was incorrectly called a junket and according to him was paid by the German counterparts. Whether it is the more doubtful trip of several Senators to France to allegedly look at the French political system which is a mix of Presidential and Parliamentary. Marcos had something similar but degraded the powers of his Prime Minister, making him a better helper to take care of details. Maybe this time – if ever – it should be different.

Powers to be?

Maybe something like the Swiss Federal Council instead of the Senate? With a rotating head of government while the President is a ceremonial Head of State only? But maybe, maybe without Federalism for now? Tito had a joint governing body to take care of Yugoslavia after his death. What happened due to semi-tribal and macho politics of provocation is now very painful history. Maybe improve regional representation, knowing that, or how many centuries it took for the Swiss to learn to manage their own quarrels? My examples of culturally diverse countries are intentional.

Maybe a Senate by regions – to give names and faces people can relate to, to weaken the personality cult of Presidency? Maybe a Congress by proportional seating based only on political parties? With campaign refunds based on seats won like in Germany to weaken major donor influence? Issues that are systemic in nature can never be solved by changing the President. Cultural weaknesses like impunity and corruption – or the lack of a technology mindset that causes trains to break down – take generations to fix even with perseverance. Maybe changing things now makes no sense yet.

What will be?

Absentee kings (the Hanover dynasty) made the British parliament stronger, yet the Philippine House is showing its very weakness now. The majority of House members is lost in traditional politics, politics in its old sense of power alone, not politics in terms of shaping the polity’s destiny. What will happen depends a lot on the people themselves – whether they will keep thinking in the concepts of patronage i.e. subservience in return for advantages, which will fully return old ways. Or whether a sense of shared destiny and responsibility finally arises, not just ‘blame then rescue’.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 24 June 2017