Suggested changes to the Constitution

my Trade Tripper column in this 16-17 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

Almost two months after the last elections, perhaps now may be a good time to start exploring and assessing the merits of amending the Constitution. Some of the following suggestions have long been made by myself (naturally, with many others), although a number have been brought about by the peculiar circumstances of May 2016, and still others by taking advantage of the experiences of other democratic countries.

Constitutionally, the president and vice-president should be voted together as a team, with the choice of the vice-presidential candidate left to the presidential candidate. Yes, the reason for the voting separately rule is to ostensibly make the process more “democratic,” the people being allowed to directly elect the top two officials of the land. The problem with that, as we’ve seen repeatedly, is it just results in too much conflict and politicking. The executive branch already has the two other branches to contend with, why add another source of hostilities within the branch itself? Besides, the choice of a vice-president would be a good first indicator of the presidential candidate’s decision-making abilities. And by choosing someone he likes, the vice-president will presumably be in the loop for many of the administration’s programs, thus making that vice-president better prepared to assume office should something indeed happen to the president.

Presidents should be constitutionally required to have a majority of votes cast, with a run-off election if need be. One way of minimizing the need for runoffs is to have the two parties with the highest number of votes in a preceding election be the only ones named in the ballot (the rest falling under category of “others”). This encourages the institutionalization of parties while avoiding the Comelec’s unconstitutional act of disqualifying candidates possessing the qualifications contained in the Constitution.

The Vice-President currently has a monthly salary of P100,000 (plus other benefits), so it’s ridiculous for this public official to not have any specifically designated work. Constitutionally make the VP, at least, the Senate presiding officer, with voting power available in case of ties. This makes sense as the Senate currently has an even number of senators. Or at least reserve a Cabinet position, preferably Finance (as that would be a serious training ground for one who should be ready anytime to assume the presidency).

The elections for the Senate should constitutionally be converted to a regional or provincial (including autonomous regions) rather than national basis. That reason of trying to make the Senate have a more expansive outlook clearly doesn’t work in reality. It just makes the Senate a petulant body unaccountable to no one. At least by electing the Senate on a more localized basis, greater equal representation is effected. And to make the Senate even more responsive to their region (or province), it’s suggested further that Senate members be appointed by the respective Provincial Boards; thus, making the senators accountable to that Board (and, hence, region or province) directly.

Local government units can be further strengthened by simply amending the Local Government Code (not necessarily through the Constitution). The power to make investment regulations should be devolved to a per provincial basis, rather than centralized through the Board of Investments. International trade (and customs) can be a coordinated program between the national government and the LGU, with revenues proportionally shared between the two; provided, that the LGU be the main accountable entity for attracting and processing importations (tariff setting could arguably be delegated by Congress to the LGU’s), with security being the responsibility of the national government. Prime responsibility for exports and identifying market access should be with the LGU, with the Department of Trade being merely coordinative (including processing trade remedy complaints).

As it is now, all earnings of the LGU should still remain with that LGU but with the consequence of no longer being entitled to any further share in the national budget. The latter would be now left to the discretion of the national government. Additionally, the LGU’s should also be made primarily responsible for all education, welfare, and health functions, with the national government merely giving assistance, and the Departments of education, welfare, and health relegated to mere coordinating agencies.

The structure should be amended (and this can be done through revising the civil service code rather than constitutional amendment) so that only department secretaries can be appointed by the president, with the rest (i.e., undersecretaries down) being permanent employees of the government. This has the advantage of a more stable, professional, and politically neutral civil service system with better institutional memory.

Finally, the Congress can legislate to have the different divisions of the Court of Appeals assigned jurisdictionally and physically to different regions or provinces. There really is no reason to bunch up most of the CA in Manila.

So let change come indeed.