By Charmaine A. Tadalan
PRESIDENT RODRIGO Roa Duterte’s move to recommend his preferred Speaker of the House of Representatives may put the independence of the 18th Congress further at risk, analysts said in separate interviews late last week.
It was also raised that while a supermajority in the House and Senate could translate to a stronger push for the President’s priority bills, it could also threaten the quality of legislative measures that will make it out of both chambers.
“I think a President openly and enthusiastically making an endorsement for Speaker of the HOR undermines the principle of separation of powers,” lawyer and senior research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco of the Ateneo Policy Center said in an email on June 20.
“In the case of a supermajority in both houses of the 18th Congress, keeping the executive accountable will most likely be a rare occurrence.”
Mr. Duterte announced on Tuesday last week that he will name his bet for the House leadership on June 28, following his state visit in Thailand for the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.
Among those interested for the Speakership are Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco, congressmen-elect Alan Peter S. Cayetano of Taguig City-1st district, Pantaleon D. Alvarez of Davao del Norte-1st district, and Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez of Leyte-1st district.
“Our political leaders today have allowed patronage politics to override constitutional conventions such as separation of powers. Consequently, we very seldom see the application of the principle of checks and balances anymore between the executive and legislative branches of government,” Mr. Yusingco also said.
As practiced by the Philippine legislature, the President’s endorsement for the leader of the House is an expected development, which University of the Philippines (UP) political science professor Maria Ela L. Atienza noted in this case “may be based on personal loyalty and trust but not necessarily the most well-suited as Speaker of the House.”
Ms. Atienza added the “principle of separation of powers is lost,” given the personality-based politics in the country and the weak political party system, which enables turncoatism.
“The President and his allies will likely choose a loyal Speaker who will protect the President’s interests. However, many politicians are also very practical. In case they feel that the President is no longer very popular, they can also switch loyalties to protect their interests. It is thus worth-watching if the President can maintain his popularity in the second half of his term,” Ms. Atienza said in an e-mail on Thursday.
Further, she raised that while the Senate, dominated by the President’s allies, is expected to become a rubber stamp, it is worth noting that some senators are likely eyeing to run for the executive post in 2022.
“Being nationally elected, the senators are more attuned to the national mood as well as more conscious about how they are perceived by the public. Many senators usually also aspire to be President and Vice President. Thus, this coming three years can also be a preparation for the 2022 presidential elections,” she said.
On this note, Ms. Atienza raised the role of media, the academe and social movements, among others, to keep the independence of both Houses in check.
Contrary to this, University of Santo Tomas political science professor Marlon M. Villarin in a phone message on Thursday said the separation of powers and the principle of checks and balances will remain intact.
“The primary intention is normally to find a leader in both house that will make the president’s legislative agenda in the form of service get supports and priority, I don’t see it as a threat to separation of power for at the end of the day, congress will still sit and decide independently to fiscalize executive initiative and check and balances is still in effect,” he said.
“What is worth noting is the extent and effect as well as the quality of legislation and priority congress does.”
He, however, noted the supermajority in congress may eventually allow for a President to resist checks and balances that may lead to a “tyrannical regime.”