August 15 - August 21, 2005

Parliamentary system not for Philippines: The wherefores
(second of a series)

(The following is an article written by the late Teodoro C. Benigno on the debate on whether the country needs to change its form of government, and which appeared at the Philippine Star on May 9, 2003)

What are or were the essential features of parliamentary government as conceived by Britain?

They are, among others, rule of law, the supremacy of a popularly elected parliament, collective responsibility of the Cabinet (executive to Parliament) and a tradition of stable, program or policy-oriented political parties (Prof. Olivia Caoili, Legislative and Executive Relations in the Philippines and the Parliamentary Alternatives). Read that again. Stable, policy-oriented or program-oriented political parties. Without such parties as an ideological glue parliamentary government in the Philippines would be a colossal sham.

Do not tell me Lakas-NUCD is such a party, or Laban, or NPC. They are no more political parties in the European parliamentary tradition as a slut crossing herself is the reincarnation of Joan of Arc.

On the contrary, because we do not have such political parties, a parliamentary government in 2004 will be a riot of traditional politicians endlessly vying for power. Who cares for the political doctrine of John Locke or the laissez-faire philosophy of Adam Smith? You have lots of money. You can always buy the majority in Congress—give it a fancy political name—and become prime minister until the next bimbo, with more money than you have, comes along.

Who will countervail? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? Who will protect the nation from his new breed of brigands who have more to do with Long John Silver and his pirates than the Declaration of Human Rights? At least, in the presidential system, a chief executive with courage, integrity, and unfailing resolve, separately elected from Congress, and an alert judiciary can countervail against a corrupt Congress. In a parliamentary government as envisioned by Con-Ass, the unicameral assembly is a constant pigsty, its leavings those of Attila and the Huns after they all peed and emptied on the Rhone.

Now, about our neighbor countries succeeding economically because they have a parliamentary government. That’s what Con-Ass is foisting, isn’t it? That’s a laugh.

They succeeded not because they had parliamentary but because they dreamed early in the 20th century, and worked like a driven demon to achieve their dream. They succeeded because their culture was different from ours, a building culture, an entrepreneurial culture, a community culture. They would not allow America and the West to widen the gap. They sent tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of their best students to the US and Europe. There they would personally touch the philosopher’s stone. By this time, the stone was defined as science, technology, math, engineering, modern management, the latest factory and manufacturing techniques, the magic of cyberspace and the Internet. China was not parliamentary. Japan of the Meijis was not parliamentary.

The parliamentary system of government had nothing to do with “the Asian miracle” of economic success at all. Not at all.

It had to do with the Chinese adage that the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. And so the Chinese have hit the road since more than 30 years ago, in the process investing blood, tears and sweat. It had to do with Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s social engineering, how to make the Chinese, Malays and Indians work together, and work, work, work, till the Petron Towers, the world’s tallest, would streak majestically into the skyline. An Asian technological marvel.

The advocates of a parliamentary system lie shamelessly when they claim the Asian “economic miracle” was nurtured and engineered by this unicameral legislature which originated in Britain in the 18th century. Almost all international authorities on the issue of Asia’s phenomenal economic performance are however agreed that what brought about the “miracle” were three essential factors.

- The first was the predominant role of “Asian values”.

- The second was the Confucian culture embedded in these “miracle” countries.

- The third was the government’s reliance on authoritarian or strongman rule or even dictatorial methods to speed up economic progress.

Actually, the system of government varied in ritual from country to country. But even as the ritual varied, the orders always originated from above where the “leader” dictated the agenda and program of government. Disciplined work brigades vied with each other to break performance records, and the best were amply rewarded with decorations and even material awards. Parliaments and congresses existed in some countries, but they were largely docile, toothless rubber stamps whose membership was decided by the government. In all instances, they were one-party organizations. This did away with unnecessary, time-consuming debates and florid discussions. The road ahead was cleared by skilled bureaucrats.

It was this full-fisted, no-nonsense government that brought about change in Asia. Democracy and the parliamentary system were of no concern to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, China’s Deng Xiaoping, Japan’s dynamic Meiji elite, Malaysia’s Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, South Korea’s Park Chung-hee, Thailand’s first ruling crop of nationalist and entrepreneurial generals, Taiwan’s Chiang Ching-Kuo. It was they, and their culture wrapped in Asian values that changed their way of life for the better. And changed Asia.

The voice that mattered was that of the respected leader—strong intrepid, highly intelligent, compelling, commanding. Lee Kuan Yew is the archetype. The issues that mattered were cocooned in ideas and concepts that, however, innovative, stuck to party ideology. The ethic that mattered most was unrelenting work. The emotion that overrode everything else was love of country. They had to succeed, catch up with the West.

The Asian values that mattered were sympathy, distributive justice, duty consciousness, ritual, public spiritedness, willingness to delay gratification, honesty, thrift, trustworthiness, ample savings, respect for education, respect for authority and elders and group orientation. Take the case of Malaysia. Dr. Mahathir, the prime minister, espoused the cause of the Bumiputra (Malay Sons of the Soil). Through a series of draconian laws and decrees, Mahathir gave them every opportunity to catch up with the Chinese and the Indians. This could not have happened under a democratic system, parliamentary or presidential.

Take the case of South Korea in the late ’50s. Gen. Park Chung-hee smashed his knuckles into the crazy-quilt free enterprise system spawned by his predecessor Syngman Rhee and favored by the US. He set up a dictatorship which first decreed land reform. He then got the leading capitalists, entrepreneurs, economists, policy planners together win to something like a ruling national council. He drove them to excel, meet or exceed targets. Or else. The story goes that a prominent businessman complained, said he couldn’t meet his target. Park Chung-hee simply replied he would be executed at dawn. The businessman relented and met his target.

That was iron discipline. But it was that discipline that forged the new South Korea and today it is the 12th biggest economy in the world. It was only many decades later, after the corrupt governments of Choon Doo-Huan and Roh Tae Woo were busted, and the two presidents charged and imprisoned, that South Korea had its first real democratic elections under Kim Young-sam. The parliamentary system was a complete stranger to South Korea’s rapid thrust into a tiger economy.

In the aftermath, the “Asian miracle” roared for three decades together with Hong Kong and Taiwan. That was shock and awe.

The Philippines couldn’t join that phenomenal economic onslaught, a highly “Westernized” country, it was outside the loop of Asian values and Confucian family and community tradition. Our country was an outsider. In an ample sense, it had the religious and social culture of Latin America—Ramon Catholic, impoverished, submissive, patient, resigned. Lawrence D. Harrington of Harvard, an international authority on this issue, wrote about the Latino: “Resignation of the poor. To be poor is to deserve heaven. To be rich is to deserve hell. It is good to suffer in this life because in the next life, you will find eternal reward.” He could have been writing about the Filipino. By the way, failed parliamentary governments are strewn all over Latin America, an economically backward continent.

I better explain that Confucian culture in more detail. More than anything else, that culture fueled – in greater or lesser measure – the sensational economic drives of, aside from China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and Malaysia. And now Vietnam.

Lucien Pye, another professor emeritus at Harvard, liberally quotes Max Weber whom he calls the “unsurpassed master of the origins of capitalism.” Weber analyzed Chinese culture and saw similarities with Puritanism. The Chinese character, Weber said, “would in all probability be quite capable, probably more capable than the Japanese, of assimilating capitalism which has technically and economically been fully developed in the modern culture area.” Imagine! Weber wrote his masterpiece The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1903-07.

Even that early Max Weber forecast that China “might indeed be able to emulate capitalistic practices in time.” Weber also shared the (French Enlightenment’s (18th century) positive views about China. So Napoleon was right after all in mid-19th century. He said China was a “sleeping giant” that would wake up one day and stun the world.

The Confucian “need for achievement”, according to Lucien Pye, is a constant “drive for excellence”. He added: “Chinese children are taught the importance of striving for success and the shame of not measuring up to parental expectations.” Pye stresses “the key values of reliance on the social networks (guanxi), of taking the long-run view, of seeking market share rather than profits, of delaying gratification, and of aggressively saving for the future.” All these have to do with getting the economy to perform like the blazes. Today, China is on the verge of becoming an economic superpower. The Philippines is the laggard of Asia.

I have purposely resorted to the varied works of renowned world authorities on the issue and the lessons of history. As I emphasized earlier, the aim was to propagate the truth and debunk Con-Ass propaganda that a parliamentary government in the Philippines would lead us to the biblical land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey. Nothing is farther from the truth.

This is the mother of all lies.


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