COMMENTARY: Are we essentially electing a dictator?

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/27 May) — The fighting in the next Presidential election has begun. In fact, an attempt is being made to frame the campaign battle between these two sides—the honest versus the experienced. Hopefully, as the discourse on the qualification of Presidentiables rolls along, the matter of membership in a political dynasty will be a hot issue for debate as well.

But the sad fact is personality and patronage politics will still reign supreme in this political exercise. This is a particularly perilous reality because executive power is configured in our Constitution in such a way that the President practically functions like a dictator.

Consider first Section 1 of Article VII on the Executive Department which states that, “The executive power shall be vested in the President of the Philippines.” Then read this in conjunction with Section 17 which provides that, “The President shall have control of all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices. He shall ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.”

It is immediately noticeable in the very text of our Constitution how immensely powerful the office of the President is. But the sublime authority of the Chief Executive over virtually everything within the executive branch has been declared unequivocal by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Marcos vs. Manglapus (G.R. No. 88211- October 27, 1989)—

“The powers of the President are not limited to what are expressly enumerated in the article on the Executive Department and in scattered provisions of the Constitution. This is so, notwithstanding the avowed intent of the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 to limit the powers of the President as a reaction to the abuses under the regime of Mr. Marcos, for the result was a limitation of specific power of the President, particularly those relating to the commander-in-chief clause, but not a diminution of the general grant of executive power.

An interesting contrast is the way the Constitutional Court of Korea described the office of their President whose impeachment they overturned—

However, the President is not an institution that implements the policies of the ruling party, but instead, the President is the constitutional institution that is obligated to serve and realize the public interest as the head of the executive branch. The President is not the President merely for part of the population or a certain particular political faction that supported him or her at the past election, but he or she is the President of the entire community organized as the state and is the President for the entire constituents. The President is obligated to unify the social community by serving the entire population beyond that segment of the population supporting him or her.” [Impeachment of the President (Roh Moo-hyun) Case (16-1 KCCR 609, 2004Hun-Na1, May 14, 2004)]

The characterization of our President is palpably tilted in favor of how powerful the office is rather than on the responsibility it carries. The South Korean perception of their President really goes the other way with its emphasis on the primacy of the duty of this position to the people and even downplaying its prestige. Indeed, it is quite possible that the difference in the way the office of the chief executive is comprehended is the very reason why there is a huge disparity between the economic developments of our two countries.

Malacañang’s omnipresence in all matters of government is the bedrock of the culture of political patronage. Patronage of course, is the very lifeblood of political dynasties. And the unabated reign of dynastic politicians is the very evil that sustains graft and corruption in our political system. And every Filipino knows from personal experience that graft and corruption in government is the biggest bane in our country’s development.

I must emphasize that there is no intention here to diminish the prestige or relevance of the Office of the President in the overall political order. I merely want to propose the diffusion of executive power with the purview of ensuring the efficient and effective delivery of public goods.

I am only suggesting the re-designing, through simple legislation, of agencies and offices within the executive branch which could minimize, if not remove, the hovering influence of Malacañang in the delivery of public services.

One way Congress can achieve this objective is by institutionalizing the involvement of the community in the governance structure of the office tasked to deliver a particular public service. The fundamental advantage I foresee here is giving the public having a direct line in managing the delivery of services to them could significantly weaken the leverage of politicians (i.e. Malacañang lackeys) to barter the public good concerned for favors or to gain votes.

This is a scenario which could potentially disturb the pattern of political patronage in our political system. At the very least though, the involvement of the private sector and civil society groups could de-politicize, and maybe even professionalize, the delivery of public services thus making the process actually efficient and effective.

There is without doubt an urgent need to recalibrate attitudes about executive power. But since the reforms contemplated here remains to be mere suggestions, then the onus is now on the electorate to keep in mind the dictatorial underpinnings of the Office of the President when evaluating Binay, Roxas or whoever else is aspiring for Malacañang in 2016. (Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.)