Debates on whether Gloria Macapagal Arroyo well make a good House Speaker are ultimately unrelated to debates on whether her long Presidency was successful or not. Suffice to say, her economic record was better than all of her post-1987 predecessors and her overall record was far better than her immediate successor.
Her current appointment as Speaker of the House of Representatives has turned many heads on a number of levels. While some feel that the re-appearance of an old president in a powerful Congressional position is a sign that “the political swamp must be drained”, others feel that her record as President simply was not good enough to justify her being awarded an important position in 2018.
However, in order to understand why her appointment represents none of these things overall, one must understand that her appointment gives a small hint as to what would be a more frequent occurrence if the Philippines adopted a parliamentary system.
In a parliamentary system, key positions are far more fluid than in a presidential/congressional system. In other words, it is not un-common for the Minister of Culture to become the Minister of the Interior one or two years after his or her initial appointment, assuming such an individual’s skill set demonstrated that he or she would make a productive Minister of the Interior. Likewise, if a Jr. Finance Minister proved more successful than the Finance Minister, the Premier could easily shuffle positions in order to elevate the more meritocratic individual to a position best suited to his or her skill set.
Therefore, because of the critical importance of Constitutional reform and because of Arroyo’s well known positions on this matter, it would help to think of her current job as a de-facto ‘Minister for Constitutional Reform’. In many ways, the internationally peculiar single term that the 1987 Constitution grants to a President means that many President’s go into Congress after their Presidency. This is unheard of in most strong presidential systems though it is incredibly common in parliamentary systems.
In a parliamentary system, because one’s ability to remain in a given department of government is based on merit rather than arbitrary term limits, one sees former prime ministers often play key roles either in supporting or opposing a new government or likewise taking new cabinet level positions under a new leader.
In this sense, Arroyo’s elevation to the role of House leadership years after her Presidency ended is a kind of small window offering a glimpse at what would be possible in a more fluid and less restrictive parliamentary system. A parliamentary system would allow someone’s skill set to be recognised and flourish in the most appropriate department. While Arroyo might not have been the kind of inspirational and history making leader that President Duterte is, her skills as a professional economist and strong supporter of a specific kind of constitutional reform make her an ideal ‘Constitutional Reform Minister’ or a ‘Finance Minister’.
In a parliamentary system, cabinet members, including the head of government are chosen from the legislature rather than separately appointed by an executive head of government detached from the legislature. Because of this, if The Philippines already had a parliamentary system, Duterte as a would-be prime minister could work directly with Arroyo as finance minister and in so doing, bring out the best in the talents of both individuals.
Because the current system does not make this possible, the best one can hope for is that Arroyo’s long time support for a parliamentary system becomes reflective of the way the current House of Representatives does business and more importantly, helps to influence the House in drafting alternative proposals to the Consultative Committee whose final suggestion was to retain the current presidential/congressional system.
In this sense, in the true parliamentary tradition, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in the right place, at the right time for the right reasons. It is unfortunate that something which is incredibly commonplace in a parliamentary system – the rapid pivoted of an individual’s role in government is in the current system considered somehow exotic let alone noteworthy.
With any luck, Arroyo’s strong credentials in favour of a parliamentary system will lead to the development of a fully fledged federal-parliamentary democracy in The Philippines that will help to bring out the best in qualified individuals while rapidly exposing the flawed arguments of a current Liberal opposition who in the current system are hardly held to proper account.