By Marcial Bonifacio
Third of 4 parts
Having presented my reasons for the federalist shift while also addressing contrarian views, I also propose that the Constitutional Commission scrutinizes, adapts, and includes the American government’s model—in full or, at least, in part. If only in part, I propose a few particular safeguards be assimilated into the new Philippine constitution. In the meantime, it seems appropriate to scrutinize my reasons for including the U.S. model in making the transition to federalism.
First and foremost, America’s republic is comprised of the best historical ideas. Indeed, the founders scrutinized the governing systems of the predominant Western civilizations—ancient and contemporary. These include Greece, Rome, France, and England from which the founders derived the concepts of liberty, justice, trial by jury, separation of powers, democracy, republicanism, and self-government. The founders meticulously studied the rise and fall of tyrannical governments in those nations, as well as their own experience with King George III in framing a constitution which would preclude such occurrences in the U.S.
Preexisting Government Infrastructure
Second, since the Philippine government was largely framed after the U.S. government, the familiar preexisting federal infrastructure or apparatus of the separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches facilitates a more congenial transition to federalism much more so than abolishing it as parliamentary government advocates and proponents of PDP-Laban Federalism Institute’s model seek to do. Even the anti-colonialist Delegate Manuel Roxas defended the ratification of the 1935 Constitution (although it is a gross variation of America’s original constitution):
Why have we preferred the Government established under this draft? Because it is the Government with which we are familiar. It is the form of government fundamentally such as it exists today; it is the only kind of government we have found to be in consonance with our experience, and with the necessary modification capable of permitting a fair play of social forces and allowing the people to conduct the presidential system.
It must be noted that I do not oppose a parliamentary form of government per se. I simply would support it only as a last resort, i.e., when all reforms under a presidential federal system (e.g., the establishment of an electoral college to elect the president and a Senate elected by regional legislatures instead of at large) fail, but I digress.
Third, America’s system has proven to be the most resilient. Constitutional law Professor Hugh Hewitt points out:
The work of collective genius that is the Constitution has been tested by everything from an actual civil war that claimed 600,000 lives to various panics, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession, not to mention impeachments and assassinations, political-judicial meltdowns like Florida in 2000, and dozens of scandals—and it does not break. It is more resilient than any other modern constitution, a remarkable, nearly perfect balance of competing powers and separated authorities that has endured and will endure. Those who fear it is off the road and in the ditch have to ignore history’s many examples of America righting itself after trauma and setback.
Consider America’s progress in the abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, and civil rights for blacks, all of which happened within 229 years of the establishment of the U.S. government. In spite of such turbulent occasions, the world’s oldest written supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, remains largely intact. Contrast that with our three Philippine constitutions—of 1935, 1973, and 1987—all promulgated and implemented within a single century. Additionally, President Rodrigo Duterte has raised the specter of a revolutionary government, which all betokens the instability of the Philippine government.
Fourth, the language of the U.S. Constitution is very clear in distinguishing the powers of the federal government from that of the states. Article 1, Section 8 enumerates the federal powers:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…To borrow Money on the credit of the United States…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes…To coin money…To establish Post Offices and post Roads…To raise and support Armies.
The Tenth Amendment, the last of the Bill of Rights, betokens the threshold at which the states (or the people) are sovereign, which is the cornerstone of federalism. It states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.” The American founder and principal author of the Constitution, James Madison, elaborates on the nature of these powers in Federalist 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace negotiation, and foreign commerce . . . The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state.
Indeed, it is those “few and defined” powers of the federal government which accounts for a simple, comprehensible, and short constitution. Contrast that with our lengthy constitution of 1987, which manifests a government exceeding the size and scope imposed by America’s founders.
Based on Natural Rights
Fifth, it is the first written constitution based on our timeless, ubiquitous, natural rights, which intrinsically circumscribe the national government and betoken the vast range of our individual liberty. Indeed, the U.S. Declaration of Independence (upon which America’s constitution is based) betokens man’s universal and intrinsic equality and endowment of “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Even the Philippine revolutionary and anti-colonialist Apolinario Mabini acknowledged such rights, stemming from “natural law,” when attributing the success of the U.S. government to the major work of two of its founders, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine:
The ruler’s success is always to be found in the adjustment of his practical measures to the natural and immutable order of things and to the special needs of the locality, an adjustment that can be made with the help of theoretical knowledge and experience. The source of all failures in government can therefore be found, not in (mistaken) theories but in unprincipled practices arising from base passions or ignorance. If the Government of the United States has been able to lead the Union along the paths of prosperity and greatness, it is because its practices have not diverged from the theories contained in the Declaration of Independence and of the Rights of Man, which constitute an exposition of the principles of natural law implanted by the scientific revolutions in the political field.
This is excerpted from “The Philippine Case for Federalism, Its Form, and Its Safeguards” by Marcial Bonifacio. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 are accessible by clicking on their links.