Mon, Aug 02, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo pushing for federal government

RADICAL OVERHAUL The Philippine president's plan has gained favor among provincial governments dissatisfied with the dominance of `Imperial Manila'


The Philippines has numerous political problems, but President Gloria Arroyo is now pushing a drastic solution -- changing the US-style, unitary presidential government to a parliamentary, federal system.

Despite the need to forge a new constitution and radically overhaul the government that such a changeover would entail, Arroyo feels confident that it can begin by next year despite the failure of previous attempts in the past.

Opponents say economic reforms and endemic corruption should be addressed first, adding that a parliamentary system needs strong parties to work properly -- something the Philippines' personality-driven politics notably lacks.

But Arroyo and supporters of the plan say it would end the gridlock caused by endless debates under the current format and would give more power to local governments who are tired of Manila's control.

And it is Arroyo who is in the driving seat, with her call for change strengthened by winning a fresh six-year term in May 10 elections, which also saw her allies winning control of both houses of Congress.

"I expect that by next year, Congress will start reconsidering resolutions for charter change," Arroyo said in her annual address to the joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives on July 26.

This was met by a standing ovation from the legislature where support for such a change has been growing for years.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia, chief proponent of the switch, points to the many parliamentary governments in Europe and Asia as examples of how such a system works better than the US-style presidential system, which the Philippines inherited from its US colonizers in the 1900s.

"This system avoids the gridlock associated with the bicameral, presidential system," de Venecia said, citing the Philippines' own experience.

Under the current Philippine system the executive must engage in lengthy debates and lobbying with two houses of Congress before a bill can be passed.

A federal system has also gained favor among provincial governments who have long been dissatisfied over the dominance of "Imperial Manila."

Camilo Sabio, Arroyo's presidential adviser on constitutional reforms, said that Arroyo openly called for charter change to a parliamentary, federal system during her election campaign.

"We have to change from unitary to federal so that not everything will be done by the national government," Sabio said, remarking that the local governments will be more in tune and more accountable to constituents.

Under a unitary government, a sole executive or the office of the president decides policy for the entire country. A federal system sees several states form a unity government while maintaining independence in internal affairs.

But the details of the change have not yet been firmed up and the process of change is still the subject of heated debate.

Moreover, critics have charged that parliamentary governments rely on strong political parties while in the Philippines, most parties are merely vehicles for a prominent personalities like a presidential candidate.

Elected officials switch parties with ease in this country, making parliamentary governments vulnerable to being toppled anytime.

Sabio however said a parliamentary system would finally force the evolution of strong political parties by requiring elected officials to organize themselves into firm parties to have any influence.

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