Q&A on Parliamentarism

KATIPUNAN, Simbahang Lingkod Ng Bayan
Loyola House of Studies,Ateneo de Manila University

Below is a "Question and Answer" on the Parliamentary system of government .

This is in support of our educational campaign on major issues affecting
the Filipino people


1. What is the basis of our present form of government?

The 1987 Philippine Constitution which officially took effect on February
11, 1987

2. What is the present form of government of the Philippines?

Our constitutional form of government is Presidential. The constitution,
specifically Articles VI, VII & VIII provides for three co-equal and
independent organs of government - the executive, the legislative and the
judicial. Their relationship is governed by the doctrine of "separation of
powers".The executive power is vested in the President; legislative or
lawmaking power with Congress which is composed of a Senate and House of
Repressentatives and the judicial power with the Supreme Court and the
lower courts.While these three branches are independent, and co-equal, the
President enjoys preeminent or dominant position. Hence, the term

3.How can the Filipino people change its pattern of governmentl into a
Parliamentary form being proposed by some sectors foremost of whom are
President Gloria Arroyo and the majority in Congress under Speaker Jose de

By amending/revising the constitution in a manner provided for in its
Article XVII. as follows:

Firstly, Amendment/revision may be proposed either:

a) By congress, as a constituent assembly,upon a vote of 3/4 of all its
members, voting separately
b) By a constitutional convention, or
c) Directly by the people, through initiative upon petition of the
required number of registered voters.

Secondly, Ratification of the amendment/revision by a majority of the votes
cast in a plebiscitel

Any proposal made under any of the methods enumerated above will
need the approval of the people for validity

4. What are the significant differences between the Presidential and
Parliamentary forms of Government?

a) As to the Head of Government


The President is both the head of State and the head of government.


The Prime Minister is the head of goverment. The President who is
head of state in a Parliamentary system is merely a titular head and
performs ceremonial functions such as administering oath of office.

b) As to the manner the Head of Government is Chosen


The President is elected by qualified voters in a national election.


The Prime Minister is chosen by the members of parliament (MP) from
among its members; the President may be chosen even from non-members.

Note: Members of Parliament are elected by the people the same manner as
members of the present congress.

c) As to the Relationship between executive and legislative branches of


As stated above, the doctrine of "separation of powers" goverrns the
three branches - the legislature, executive & judiciary. Retired Supreme
Court Associate Justice, Isagani Cruz, quoting our late Justice Jose P.
Laurel, declared that " the keynote of the conduct among the three
departments should not be independence but interdependence" ( Oct. 8, 2005,
Philippine Daily Inquirer, OPINION page). Noted Constitutionalist , Rev.
Joaquin G. Bernas refers to this interelationship as " interdependence
through coordination". Further, Isagani Cruz states, " One of the purposes
of the doctrine is to promote efficiency, which can be attained if each of
the departments can perform its functions without interference from the
other departments"

The state renders the executive constitutionally independent of the
legislature with respect to his/her tenure of office and to a considerable
degree also with respect to executive policies and acts. President and
his/her cabinet have sufficient constitutional powers and prerogatives
which enable it to prevent encroachment by the legislature. The President
and members of congress both holds office for a fixed term. Same is true
with the heads of the Judiciary


The Government ( Prime Minister and his/her Cabinet) consists of the
political leaders of the majority party. Since they are members of the
Parliament the government is actually a committee in the parliament and
integrated with it. Hence, the term " interdependence by integration" (Fr.
Bernas). The executive arm remain in power only for as long as it enjoys
the support of the majority of the members of parliament. The government
loses its power if the majority withdraws its support or if the general
elections change the majority structure of the parliament

The parliament and government share in policy making. Policy execution
is entrusted to the government under constant supervision of the Parliament..

d) As to "Control Device"


While the members of three branches enjoy constitutional independence
and prerogtives, the separation of powers among the three principal organs
is not absolute. The system of checks and balances operates along with the
doctrine of separation of powers to make the presidential system feasible.


The parliament can exercise what is called "vote of non- confidence" or
"censure" to remove the Prime Minister. For its part, the Prime Minister
enjoys the power to dissolve by which the legislature can be abolished and
a new election can be called.

Fr. Bernas considers this control device of dissolution and vote of
non-confidence as belonging together like "piston and cylinder". He states
that: "It is their potential reciprocity that makes the wheels of the
parliamentary mechanism turn". ( p. 22 Constitutional Structure and Powers
of Government, 1997 Edition)

5. Name some outstanding features of the Parliamentary System being
poposed for the Philippine state.

The column of Rev. Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas (Philippine Daily Inquirer,
February 6, 2006) commented on some of them . Fr. Bernas based his
comments on the draft being debated by the Committee on Constitutional
Amendments of the House of Representatives.

The highlights of his comments are:

The prominent figures of the proposed system are:

a) Unicameral Parliament composed of as many members (MP) as the law will
provide and who will have a term of 5 years with no limit on
reelection."Expect a thickly populated Parliament however. The total number
of its members can mean that it will be more expensive to maintain than the
present bicameral Congress"

b) Chief Executive (Prime Minister) who is much stronger than the current
President who:

- shall be elected by the MPs from among themselves

- " Ironically, as in the 1973 version, the prime minister can veto
bills passed by his or her creator and lord, the Parliament

- shall have a cabinet whose members are also chosen from Parliament

c) President - the head of state whose function is purely ceremonial "and
is more like a grandfather figure or the Queen of England"

d) A weaker Supreme Court

In the same column. Fr. Bernas make the following comments with
reference to the transitory provision of the proposed constitution:

a) Possible Incorporation of the NO-EL ( No election) virus

b) Incumbent President GMA will have more powers that she now enjoys and
more because some of the limitations on her powers today will be removed.

" The Chief Executive will also have greater leeway in the handling of
public funds because, in the use of ddiscretionary funds and leftovers from
especial funds, there are no constitutional rules."

"Can she be removed by a no-confidence vote? Parliament can try. But
she will have the power to dissolve parliament. And the Supreme Court is
being stripped of the power to determine whether she has gravely abused her

6. What are the elements of an effective Parliamentary System?

"Preconditions of effective parliamentary system are:
"a. strong viable political parties.
"b. Credible electoral system
"c. Efficient and functional bureaucracy"

Above answer is taken from the column of Solita Monsod " It's Not the
Constitution, stupid!" ( Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 8, 2005). She in
turn quoted it from the "Primer on Local Government in a Federal System"
which was published by the Local Government Development Foundation.

The observation on the matter by Ms. Monsod which is copied below, is
enlightening and highly worth noting:

" It is painfully clear that none of these conditions obtains in the
country today. But even the least discerning citizen will realize that
these are also preconditions for an efective presidential system. Which can
only mean that shifting from a presidential to a parliamentary system will
lead to more effective governance only if these conditions are in place. On
the other hand, if these three conditions are in place, why change?"


Constitutional Structure and Powers of Government by Joaquin G. Bernas,www.mozcom.com for details