Whatever happened to the separation of powers in government?

Posted September 30, 2020

The implementation of a gentlemen’s agreement for the speakership in the House of Representatives between Reps. Alan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco—forged by no less than the President of the Republic—may give people a false sense of peace.

More than this impending action at the Lower House, according to Ben Punongbayan, Chairman and Founder of Buklod, a national political party, there is a more important issue—the issue of the legislature allowing the executive branch of government to meddle with its own internal affairs, such as the election of its top leader, as had happened in forging the said agreement.

The Philippines borrowed the principles underlying its political system from the American model, a very important part of which is the fundamental principle of separation of powers which provide effective checks and balances in running the government. It is a principle that America itself borrowed from the thinking of two philosophers, Polybius during the Roman era and Montesquieu who lived in the 18th century.

That fundamental principle, bedrock that undergirds our government system, was ignored when the said agreement was forged. And is not for the first time. Without effective checks and balances, our government, built upon that principle, resembles an autocracy moving towards authoritarianism.

And this is how the branches of our government have dealt with each other since after martial law when we are supposed to have moved the country to a genuine and effective democratic form of government. Whenever there is a new elected president, the legislative coalition that supported the previous president disintegrates and a new group, most of the members of which may have been part of the previous coalition, forms a new coalition supporting the new president.

Punongbayan believes that there is a recurring magnet that makes this so. That magnet is in the form of the perennial pork barrel and implied collaboration on future matters that would gratify the self-interests of the parties forming the new dispensation.

In turn, these perks fuel the preservation of the political family dynasties to which most of our legislators belong. With such sustaining fuel, the members of the family dynasties enable themselves to rotate among positions in the executive branch, the two legislative houses and the local governments. The local government positions themselves to have their own perks. Therefore, according to Punongbayan, the whole merry-go-round reinforces and perpetuates the family dynasties hold on power.

Clearly, in a situation like this, rarely will there be fresh ideas about how to make the country develop much better. The prevailing atmosphere is the gratification of the self-interest and preservation of the family dynasties’ hold on power.

Punongbayan added that it is precisely because of this bad condition that the provision in the Constitution to prevent the family dynasties’ continuous hold on political power cannot be implemented because the enabling law that is needed for that purpose will have to be enacted by the legislators themselves. Doing so is clearly very much against their self-interest. Our legislators have a clear conflict of interest to bring into force that fundamental Constitutional provision.

According to Punongbayan, the family dynasties’ control of our government is comparable to an incestuous condition. Any incestuous condition cannot bring good results.

And so, a great number of our citizens remain mired in poverty and near-poverty.  In fact the total number of those citizens has increased over the years. The country has lagged behind the world’s march forward towards human, technological and economic advancement.

A measure that starkly shows how much we have lagged behind is the economic ranking of ASEAN countries in terms of per capita GDP. We have, in fact, gone down a number of notches in this ranking since after martial law. And the prospect is dim. We are likely to go down further to the bottom, just ahead of Timor Leste, a tiny ASEAN country.

Punongbayan expressed emphatically that the most important solution to enable us to effectively change course for the better is to create and maintain a political system that can bring entirely new faces to government leadership continuously, national and local. This continuing flow of new faces will engender the flourishing of new ideas to fix much of our debilitating problems and provide a pool of able leaders who have the strong will and desire to get the right things done. New leaders who also will keep faithful to observing and adhering to the fundamental principles upon which our government system is built.

If we cannot make that overriding solution happen, we are marching towards Dante’s Inferno, according to Punongbayan.


Punongbayan: We must create and maintain a political system that can bring entirely new faces to government leadership continuously, national and local.


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