Understanding Parliamentary Government And Federalism

IMG_0309.PNGThere is a growing clamor to grant President Rodrigo Duterte revolutionary powers to, among other things, fast track the shift from a presidential to a “parliamentary form of government/federalism.”

Technically, no one can grant the president such powers, except himself (He assumes those powers.)  There is no mechanism in the Constitution to do so through mere demand by the people.

But this post is not about revolutionary powers.  There is enough intelligent discussion going on in mainstream and social media about the pros and cons of having a revolutionary government.

Rather, this is an attempt to demystify these big words like “parliamentary” and “federalism.”

Actually, these are two separate concepts, although they can complement each other.

So let’s try to break it down in layman’s language.


In a Parliamentary form of government like those of Canada, Australia and Great Britain, the executive and legislative functions rest with one body — the Parliament.  This is in contrast to our presidential form of government where the executive function is performed by the president and the legislative function by Congress (Senate and House of Representatives.)

Members of Parliament are usually elected by their respective constituents, much like how our Congress Representatives are elected.

The Members of Parliament then elect a Prime Minister who is usually from the ruling/majority party.

The Prime Minister is the head of government.  Some Parliamentary governments have a President who is the ceremonial head of state.  The president is elected, except in a Monarchy where the reigning King or Queen is the head of state.

As you can see in this Parliamentary set-up, the government is largely controlled by the majority/ruling party.

During the time of Ferdinand E. Marcos, we actually had a “quasi-Parliamentary” form of government where we had a unicameral body (Batasang Pambansa) headed by a Prime Minister.  Marcos held both positions of President and Prime Minister until he appointed Cesar Virata to the PM position. Even then, Marcos continued to be in full control of the government.


Under our present set up, the country is practically ruled by a central government — Malacañang. Provincial and local governments are mere extensions of the Manila government where decisions are made for nationwide implementation.

Under a Federal form of government, certain powers are reserved for the central government while others are reserved for the state governments (in the case of the Philippines, regions or provinces). There are also shared powers, as can be seen here:


So, theoretically, in a Philippine Federalism, there will be no Philippine National Police (PNP), since providing for public saftey would be a function and responsibility of the local governments.  But because maintaining law and order is a shared responsibility, the central government can utilize the armed forces  when needed, just like in the U.S. where the National Guard (which is part of the military) is sometimes called upon in times of a state of emergency.

The big advantage of Federalism is that programs and initiatives can be implemented in a more expedient manner because they do not have to be approved by a bureaucratic central government.

One downside to Federalism is that local units who may not have as much resources (natural and otherwise) will certainly lag behind those that have more capacity, expertise and infrastructure at their disposal.

But everything is relative. What comes to mind is the town of Siayan in  Zamboanga del Norte which was once the Philippines’ poorest municipality.  But it has significantly risen up from that status because the town came together and drew a plan for their progressive future.

The bottom line is that whether we have a presidential or parliamentary form of government; whether we have Federalism or a system controlled by a central government, it’s all about people — people who are chosen or elected to lead our institutions, be it the Parliament or the state/local governments.

We, the people, have that power to put the right people in the right place.


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