This post was initially conceived as an attempt to respond to Carmen N. Pedrosa, who of late has been again advocating charter change toward a parliamentary form of government in “From A Distance”, her column in the The Philippine Star.
Yesterday’s installment caught my attention because she began by characterizing the choice between charter change now or presidential elections in 2010 as a catch-22. That she subsequently spoke of charter change as the better option—as the way out of this supposed double bind—seems to speak of a turn of mind that is rather strange, to say the least, considering that a catch-22 is supposed to be irresoluble.
Even stranger to me was this statement: “Changing persons without changing the system means more of the same in our flawed presidential system.” After all, are not the persons in any given system, political or otherwise, themselves the causes and/or perpetuators of flaws? Can a system and the persons that animate it and circulate within it indeed be separated, not merely for theoretical purposes, but for pragmatic ones? And simply appalling to me was this: “The question boils down to this. Who should be followed? It is not about rightness or wrongness.”
Bearing these thoughts in mind, I decided to review Pedrosa’s earlier columns [registration required] in order to better understand her position. I also decided to consult a few online sources regarding the presidential and parliamentary systems of government, among them Wikipedia.
Notwithstanding the criticism against the community-generated encyclopedia—which, naturally, is documented in a Wikipedia page of its own (a page that, also naturally, has been flagged for questionable neutrality)—I have found it to be a valuable resource. I would not set much store by its reliability or its appropriateness for research, but it serves very well as a primer to the veritable swamp of information that is the Internet. It is even gaining slow acceptance in journalistic circles. It was also here that I found the actual subject matter of this post: plagiarism.
Plagiarism, derived from the Latin plagiarus (literally, “kidnapper”)—which in turn is derived from plagium (literally, “kidnapping”)—may be defined as follows: an act or instance of stealing and passing off the ideas or words of another as one’s won; using a created production without crediting the source; committing literary theft; or presenting as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
Plagiarism, as far as I am concerned, is the kidnapping—and mutilation—of ideas. It is akin to kidnapping the child of another, hacking off its limbs, and sewing these limbs onto one’s own already horribly deformed infant, creating an even worse monster than what one had to begin with.
The Wikipedia page on the presidential system was last edited on 15 June 2009, 11:14 AM, by user Reub2000. (Below is a copy of the aforementioned version of the Wikipedia page uploaded to Scribd.)
One will find it interesting to juxtapose the section discussing criticism of the presidential system to Pedrosa’s 20 June article, which is entitled “Gridlock rears its ugly head“.
(1) THE DISADVANTAGES OF THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM
Critics generally claim three basic disadvantages for presidential systems:
- Tendency towards authoritarianism — some political scientists say that presidentialism is not constitutionally stable. According to some political scientists, such as Fred Riggs, presidentialism has fallen into authoritarianism in nearly every country it has been attempted.
- Separation of powers — a presidential system establishes the presidency and the legislature as two parallel structures. Critics argue that this creates undesirable gridlock, and that it reduces accountability by allowing the president and the legislature to shift blame to each other.
- Impediments to leadership change — it is claimed that the difficulty in removing an unsuitable president from office before his or her term has expired represents a significant problem.
Political scientists agree that gridlock is a major disadvantage of the presidential system. There are others — the tendency towards authoritarianism. Because the presidential system is not constitutionally stable it easily deteriorates into authoritarianism. According to Fred Riggs, a political scientist, presidentialism has fallen into authoritarianism in every country it has been attempted, except the United States.
(2) THE PRESIDENT V. THE PRIME MINISTER
Winning the presidency is a winner-take-all, zero-sum prize. A prime minister who does not enjoy a majority in the legislature will have to either form a coalition or, if he is able to lead a minority government, govern in a manner acceptable to at least some of the opposition parties. Even if the prime minister leads a majority government, he must still govern within (perhaps unwritten) constraints as determined by the members of his party—a premier in this situation is often at greater risk of losing his party leadership than his party is at risk of losing the next election. On the other hand, once elected a president can not only marginalize the influence of other parties, but can exclude rival factions in his own party as well, or even leave the party whose ticket he was elected under. The president can thus rule without any allies for the duration of one or possibly multiple terms, a worrisome situation for many interest groups.
The presidency by the nature of the system is “a winner-take-all, zero-sum prize — unlike a prime minister, who may have to form a coalition. The president and her/his party can rule without any allies for up to six years. That becomes a threat for other interest groups.
(3) THE SEPARATION OF POWERS
Presidential systems are said by critics not to offer voters the kind of accountability seen in parliamentary systems. It is easy for either the president or Congress to escape blame by blaming the other.
As mentioned earlier the separation of powers in a presidential system is a disadvantage rather than an advantage. The presidency and the Congress as two parallel structures inevitably create gridlock and make it often impossible to govern. Worse it reduces accountability because the president and Congress end up blaming each other for perceived wrongs.
(4) THE ARGUMENT OF JUAN LINZ, POLITICAL SCIENTIST
Juan Linz argues, “The danger that zero-sum presidential elections pose is compounded by the rigidity of the president’s fixed term in office. Winners and losers are sharply defined for the entire period of the presidential mandate… losers must wait four or five years without any access to executive power and patronage. The zero-sum game in presidential regimes raises the stakes of presidential elections and inevitably exacerbates their attendant tension and polarization.
“Winners and losers are sharply defined for the entire period of the presidential mandate. . . losers must wait four or five years without any access to executive power and patronage. The zero-sum game in presidential regimes raises the stakes of presidential elections and inevitably exacerbates their attendant tension and polarization,” argues Juan Linz.
(5) THE CASE OF ECUADOR
Ecuador is sometimes presented as a case study of democratic failures over the past quarter-century. Presidents have ignored the legislature or bypassed it altogether. One president had the National Assembly teargassed, while another was kidnapped by paratroopers until he agreed to certain congressional demands. From 1979 through 1988, Ecuador staggered through a succession of executive-legislative confrontations that created a near permanent crisis atmosphere in the policy.
Ecuador is cited as a good example of democratic failures with a presidential system. Often, presidents ignore the legislature. Things got so bad that one president was driven to teargas the National Assembly.
The country went through a succession of executive-legislative confrontations from 1979 to 1988.
(6) LEADERSHIP CHANGE
In parliamentary systems, unpopular leaders can be quickly removed by a vote of no confidence, a procedure which is reckoned to be a “pressure release valve” for political tension.
This would not have been necessary in a parliamentary system when an unpopular leader could be removed by a vote of no confidence. This is a device comparable to a “pressure release valve” in a country besieged by political tension.
(7) SLOWNESS OF RESPONSE TO THE NEEDS OF CITIZENS
Finally, many have criticized presidential systems for their alleged slowness in responding to their citizens’ needs. Often, the checks and balances make action extremely difficult. Walter Bagehot said of the American system “the executive is crippled by not getting the law it needs, and the legislature is spoiled by having to act without responsibility: the executive becomes unfit for its name, since it cannot execute what it decides on; the legislature is demoralized by liberty, by taking decisions of others [and not itself] will suffer the effects”.
Finally, the presidential system by its nature is slow to respond to citizens’ needs. Often, the “checks and balances” make action extremely difficult.
Since the Philippines followed the American presidential system, let us hear what one constitutionalist said of the American system: “the executive is crippled by not getting the law it needs, and the legislature is spoiled by having to act without responsibility: the executive becomes unfit for its name, since it cannot execute what it decides on; the legislature is demoralized by liberty, by taking decisions of others will suffer the effects.”
The sixth provision of the Journalist’s Code of Ethics as adopted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is, “I shall not commit any act of plagiarism.” The necessity of this provision should be obvious enough. How can a journalist be considered credible when he or she steals ideas from others? Or, as in this case, when she lifts and paraphrases, without proper citations, entire sections of a text that is governed by a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License?
More significantly for Pedrosa, how can she endorse a form of government that she believes is more accountable and more transparent to its citizens, when she herself is evidently unwilling or unable to be accountable and transparent to her reading public? Perhaps she ought to ask herself the question that she posed last 17 May: When is change real change?
For the record, I am not wholly or fanatically against amending the Constitution or shifting to a parliamentary system. And yet I think it is fair to expect that a person who supports a cause for ostensibly moral reasons, the tack that Pedrosa seems to have taken in beating the drum for charter change, ought to be himself or herself beyond most, if not all, reproach.