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The best of both worlds: Unitary-federal, parliamentary-presidential

Part 5 — constitution series

THIS is a serious proposal.

The debates on what the form of our government should be in terms of the relationships between regional and national governments, and in terms of the relationships between the executive branch and the legislature, have become so divisive that perhaps there is a need to think outside the box.

What I propose is a Republic that draws from the best of both sides of the debate: a political regime that combines the features of unitary and federal, and parliamentary and presidential forms of government.

I propose a constitution that will strengthen the existing administrative regions of the country, by converting them into autonomous regions but not in the mold of the Bangsamoro. Each autonomous region will be governed through two bodies: a regional development assembly composed of all elected members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and Sangguniang Panglunsod of chartered and highly urbanized cities performing collegial decision-making powers on regional development, and a regional executive council composed of all elected governors and mayors of chartered and highly urbanized cities tasked to implement the development plans approved by the regional development assemblies. There will also be devolution of powers to the regional offices of the national government agencies, and the heads of these agencies shall perform the role of a technical working group for the regional governing bodies.

Regions may become full-fledged regional states, with their own fully functioning regional executive bodies, legislature and judiciary on their own initiative, and upon attainment of the qualifications that would be set by the Constitution. These qualifications should include financial and economic viability, and the readiness of regional political and administrative agencies and mechanisms. An autonomous region can become a regional state by showing proof that it can stand on its own, without drawing resources from the national government.

The process of acquiring the status of regional statehood would therefore emanate from the regions. They shall formulate their own organic laws, which will be their own regional constitutions, and will have the freedom to define for themselves their own forms of regional governments. That is, they can opt to directly vote for their regional governors and vice governors, and have a separate elected assembly with fixed terms, which is akin to the presidential system, or adopt one akin to a parliamentary system where the governor and vice governor are elected from the regional legislature that can be dissolved before the end of their terms. Regions can also decide if they will have unicameral or bicameral regional legislatures.

In this system, the development of regions into states becomes an organic process determined by the regions themselves, but limited only to those powers allotted to them by the Constitution. The organic law drafted by a region formalizing its acquisition of the status of a regional state would have to be passed as a law by the national legislature, and should be ratified by the citizens residing in the region.

Thus, there will be regions that may remain as autonomous regions, and regions that will become full-fledged regional states. Autonomous regions will be governed in the context of a unitary principle of national governance, but with significant powers being devolved not only to the regional governing bodies but also to the regional offices of the national government agencies. On the other hand, regional states will be governed in the context of a federal principle of national governance, with each regional state enjoying full autonomy and will exclusive powers on issues that pertain to regional development, and other areas which can be defined in the Constitution. In short, we will have a state that has both unitary and federal characteristics.

At the level of the national government, the Republic can also acquire the features of both the presidential and the parliamentary system.

A president, who will be the head of state, will be elected, in tandem with a vice president, directly by the people in a non-partisan election and both shall have fixed terms. The president will have exclusive powers over foreign affairs, international trade and national security; can veto bills passed by the legislature; shall be the commander in chief of the armed forces; and has the sole power to declare martial law, subject to review by the Courts and the Senate.

The vice president shall be the presiding officer of the Senate composed of members that will be elected by the regions. The Senate shall be a continuing body with half the members being elected every election cycle, and will likewise be non-partisan and shall have fixed terms. It will have exclusive power to ratify treaties, review martial law declarations of the President, and approve presidential appointments. The Senate cannot dissolve itself, or be dissolved by the President. The Senate, however cannot initiate legislation, but can only act on proposed laws emanating from the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives, on the other hand, will have members majority of whom will be elected by districts as members of political parties, and others elected in a system of party lists representing registered political parties or marginalized groups recognized as political parties. A prime minister who shall be the head of government and shall have jurisdiction over all matters relating to actual governance and operations of the national government bureaucracy shall be chosen by the majority party or coalition, with the condition that he or she must come from the party-list members. The prime minister shall be assisted by a Cabinet whose members will also come from the party-list members of the House. The House is the body that can impeach the president, who shall be tried by the Supreme Court.

The House of Representatives can be dissolved on three instances: when the prime minister loses a vote of no-confidence, when early elections are called by the majority party, or when the president, with concurrence by the Senate, dissolves it on issues of national security or political order.

Hence, the national government will acquire the attributes of both the presidential system with a president and Senate that have fixed terms, where the Senate checks the power of the president and the House, and a House of Representatives that possesses the attributes of a legislature in a parliamentary system of government and checks the power of the President through impeachment.

This unitary-federal and parliamentary-presidential system may be a crazy idea. But in a political landscape that has been so weighed down by political inertia from conservatives, and uncompromising idealism from change advocates, perhaps the better way to move forward is to become imaginative and creative.

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