14 December 2006

A parliamentary government? No, not yet

I WAS meaning to write about it early this morning, but not only did I misplace my copy of his slides but also had a hard time finding his final quote of Plato by way of Leo Strauss, which I -- and most everyone in the audience, particularly Councilor Miles Raquid-Arroyo -- think summed up the essence of his lecture.

Our guest was Dr. Patrick Riordan, a member of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, who talked on "Power and Charter Change: Control or Tyranny?" last night at the Madrigal amphitheatre at the Ateneo de Naga University.

My difficulties notwithstanding, he essentially pointed out the danger of pursuing systemic change which, he said,
must always be viewed with the worst-case scenario in mind, when everything else fails. This is a very critical point that had been conveniently swept under the rug in the reckless drive for charter change -- first via the people's initiative route, then lately the rushed constituent assembly attempt by the House leadership; a failed power grab, says Manolo Quezon -- that the Arroyo administration and its allies has been foisting on the nation.

In his concluding remarks, Riordan -- who teaches political philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London and is on his fifth visit to the Philippines -- asks:
Are the benefits to be achieved through charter change so great that they are worth the threat to stability and predictability that any change would entail?

The affable Irishman reminded me of what David Ellis, a classmate at Cambridge, said when I first told him about the effort to change the Philippine system of government from parliamentary to presidential. David, who once worked as a housing manager in a local authority outside London before deciding to give graduate work a stab after retirement, is fed up with the apparent limited choice under the British parliamentary system. Hence, he cannot understand why Filipinos would want to give away their right to directly choose their leaders. (As things stands though, as shown by the recent unfolding events, only the House leadership and their ilk want to give it away, and in the process control everything.)

Riordan essentially echoed the same thing, pointing out that UK's strength is also its weakness: the absence of a bill of rights, of a written constitution, and a deficient separation of powers under a parliamentary system can easily degenerate into tyranny -- shades of V for Vendetta. Only an operative culture to pursue the common good has prevented it from happening.

That kind of culture underpinning an effective parliamentary system is what the Philippines lack at the time being. What will prevent the same defects -- which charter change is envisioned to cure -- to arise again and again, when the flaws are actually in the people themselves? the elusive Platonian quote (as I recalled it) said in a perfect windup.

And so it is not yet appropriate for the country, Riordan finally said when coaxed by Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado about the bottomline of his lecture.