Growing flaws and a chain of injustices in the three branches of government were dissected in a forum titled HAYAG: The Three Branches of the Philippine Government and Its Functions held last August 21 via Facebook Live, organized by the DLSU Political Science Society.
Educator and policy advisor Richard Heydarian, Free Legal Assistance Group Chairperson (FLAG) and former DLSU College of Law Dean Atty. Chel Diokno, Associate Solicitor II from the Office of the Solicitor General Atty. Patricia Sta Maria, and 2019 Bar topnotcher Atty. Diane Azores detailed the role of citizens in participatory development and democracy
Inclusivity and exclusivity
In analyzing a political system, Heydarian explained that looking at the “interaction or gap” between the law and government actions is essential. Provisions written in the constitution, “executive orders”, and “implementing rules and regulations of different agencies of the government” may not align with “what is happening on the ground”, he pointed out.
Heydarian further illustrated the disjunct: while laws can be leveraged by citizens to assert their rights, authoritarian approaches to governance may overrule even “the best constitution in the world”.
Delineating the role of institutions in society is crucial, according to Heydarian, as it distinguishes an “inclusive society” from an “exclusive” one. The people in an inclusive society would hold more influence over the State, and more importantly, can be expected to enjoy the benefits of inclusive economic institutions.
“Bale wala na napakaganda ‘yung mga karapatan mo…[if] half of your society is living below [the] poverty line,” he declared.
(Having good rights [on paper] will not matter.)
In contrast, an exclusive society is marked by immense economic inequality and greater power granted to the State.
The Philippines, Heydarian argued, is a mixture of both an inclusive and exclusive society. The disparity between the formal equality granted to citizens-such as rights laid out in the Constitution, and actual equality poses a problem for the Third Wave Democracy, as he explained, “Ang ganda ng Constitution, you have democratic elections, but most of the people are so poor that they wall would end up selling up their votes.”
(The Constitution is well-crafted)
For a country to be successful, it must have functional state capacity—such as effective tax collection, social cohesion, and leadership. Hence, Heydarian emphasized that the Philippines needs leadership that is “dynamic, progressive, and inclusive” built on “teamwork and delegation”, unlike the “elite democracy” currently in pace.
For the country to progress into a “real democracy”, Heydarian called for the establishment of “real” political parties, greater citizen participation, and an inclusive economy “where people are not desperate to sell their votes more than once during election period.” According to him, societal change can still be pursued with the growing need for youth voices in government currently filled with older politicians, whom he called “boomers in office”.
On lawmaking and judging
“It’s important to recognize that law-making is a political process,” noted Sta. Maria. While law-making is one of the powers exercised by the legislative body, she explained that “law-making is not just Congress; it’s a lot of interplay with the government and the society.”
More than just the policy majers, citizens also have a role to play and have to make themselves heard.
Being aware of and invested in the “hows” and “whys” of the legislative process can enable citizens to claim their political space and perform checks and balance themselves. “There are a lot of spaces where we can have our voices heard,” she said. Among the many ways citizens can act are through protests, rallies or coalitions, which she described as “legitimate forms of expression in democracy and lawmaking”.
The judiciary branch, on the other hand, is supposed to be an independent branch in charge of interpreting the law passed by Congress and implemented by the executive body. Diokno, however, explained that the Philippine Constitution proclaims otherwise, as court judges are only elected to their seats through the appointment of the executive branch.
Furthermore, Diokno expounded that the judiciary is not exempt from the political motives, citing the removal of Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto petition. The former College of Law Dean stated that in the constitution, the only way to withdraw the Chief Justice is through impeachment. “Kung Chief Justice nga madali tanggalin, paano pa kaya ‘yung iba?”
(If it was that easy to remove the Chief Justice, then what more for other positions?)
Separation of powers
As stated in Article II, Section I of the 1987 Constitution, the Philippines is a democratic and republican state. The manifestations of republicanism, Azores presented, are the concepts of the separation of powers, check and balances, and blending of powers. These three principles intent to prevent the concentration of authority in one group that may lead to an “irreversible error or abuse in its exercise to the detriment of republican institutions.”
Nevertheless, the separation of powers can be violated when one branch either interferes with or entrusts its function to another.
Authority wielded by only one person can lead to a country’s demise. As Diokno narrated, the independence of the judiciary was usurped during the administation of late dictator. Ferdinand Marcos, with every jduge in the country put under the control of the then president. While the judiciary branch could have regained independence after the end of the Marcos era, Dikno argued that some of Marcos’ allies were still able to inflence the branch, preventing the Marcos family from being held accountable for their actions.
Apart from the three branches, Diokno argued that a free press and the citizenry are vital in performing checks and balances, even if they are not part of the government. “We are entitled to know what is happening in the government and deman from them,” Diokno said.
Speaking up, Azores advised, is a way for ordinary citizens to fulfill their role in democracy. Sta. Maria similarly emphasized, “Don’t be shy about things you believe in. Protect your spaces and use it to affect politics”
Although Heydarian cautioned against blind optimism—that reform is a “tiring process”—warning “that it won’t happen all at once.”Diokno then reminded the audience, “Democracy is never a static thing…It is up to fight to that democracy, to carry on what those who cam before us fought for.”