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Philippines - National Government
Under the Constitution, the government is divided into executive, legislative, and judicial departments. The separation of powers is based on the theory of checks and balances. The presidency is not as strong as it was under the 1973 constitution. Local governments are subordinated to the national government.
More about the Government of the Philippines.
The legal system used in the early 1990s was derived for the most part from those of Spain and the United States. Civil code procedures on family and property and the absence of jury trial were attributable to Spanish influences, but most important statutes governing trade and commerce, labor relations, taxation, banking and currency, and governmental operations were of United States derivation, introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Judicial power is vested in a Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law. The 1981 Judicial Reorganization Act provides for four main levels of courts and several special courts. At the local level are metropolitan trial courts, municipal trial courts, and municipal circuit trial courts. The next level consists of regional trial courts, one for each of the nation's thirteen political regions, including Manila. Courts at the local level have original jurisdiction over less serious criminal cases while more serious offenses are heard by the regional level courts, which also have appellate jurisdiction. At the national level is the Intermediate Appellate Court, also called the court of appeals. Special courts include Muslim circuit and district courts in Moro (Muslim Filipino) areas, the court of tax appeals, and the Sandiganbayan. The Sandiganbayan tries government officers and employees charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The Supreme Court, at the apex of the judicial system, consists of a chief justice and fourteen associate justices. It has original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls, and over petitions for injunctions and writs of habeas corpus; it has appellate jurisdiction over all cases in which the constitutionality of any treaty, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, or regulation is questioned. The Supreme Court also may hear appeals in criminal cases involving a sentence of life in prison. Article 3 of the Constitution forbids the death penalty "unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it."
The Supreme Court also regulates the practice of law in the Philippines, promulgates rules on admission to the bar, and disciplines lawyers. To be admitted to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, candidates must pass an examination that is administered once annually. Professional standards are similar to those of the United States; the Integrated Bar Association's code borrows heavily from the American Bar Association's rules. Some 30,000 attorneys practiced law in the Philippines in the mid1980s , more than one-third of them in Manila. Counsel for the indigent, while not always available, is provided by government legal aid offices and various private organizations. Many of the private groups are active in representing "social justice" causes and are staffed by volunteers.
Members of the Supreme Court and judges of lower courts are appointed by the president from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy. The Judicial and Bar Council consists of a representative of the Integrated Bar, a law professor, a retired member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector. Presidential appointments do not require confirmation. Supreme Court justices must be at least forty years of age when appointed and must retire at age seventy. According to Article 11 of the constitution, members of the Supreme Court "may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust." The House has exclusive power to initiate cases of impeachment. The Senate tries such cases, and two-thirds of the Senate must concur to convict someone. The judiciary is guaranteed fiscal autonomy.
The armed forces maintain an autonomous military justice system. Military courts are under the authority of the judge advocate general of the armed forces, who is also responsible for the prosecutorial function in the military courts. Military courts operate under their own procedures but are required to accord the accused the same constitutional safeguards received by civilians. Military tribunals have jurisdiction over all activeduty members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The traditional independence of the courts had been heavily compromised in the Marcos era. Because the 1973 constitution allowed Marcos to fire members of the judiciary, including members of the Supreme Court, at any time, anyone inclined to oppose him was intimidated into either complying or resigning. None of his acts or decrees was declared unconstitutional. The thirteen Marcos-appointed Supreme Court justices resigned after he fled, and Aquino immediately appointed ten new justices.
The Philippines has always been a highly litigious society, and the courts often were used to carry on personal vendettas and family feuds. There was widespread public perception that at least some judges could be bought. Public confidence in the judicial system was dealt a particular blow in 1988 when a special prosecutor alleged that six Supreme Court justices had pressured him to "go easy" on their friends. The offended justices threatened to cite the prosecutor for contempt. Aquino did not take sides in this dispute. The net effect was to confirm many Filipinos' cynicism about the impartiality of justice.
Justice was endlessly delayed in the late 1980s. Court calendars were jammed. Most lower courts lacked stenographers. A former judge reported in 1988 that judges routinely scheduled as many as twenty hearings at the same time in the knowledge that lawyers would show up only to ask for a postponement. One tax case heard in 1988 had been filed 50 years before, and a study of the tax court showed that even if the judges were to work 50 percent faster, it would take them 476 years to catch up. Even in the spectacular case of the 1983 murder of Senator Benigno Aquino, the judicial system did not function speedily or reliably. It took five years to convict some middle-ranking officers, and although the verdict obliquely hinted at then-Chief of Staff General Fabian Ver's ultimate responsibility, the court never directly addressed that question.
The indictment of former Minister of Defense Enrile on the charge of "rebellion with murder" shows that the courts can be independent of the president, but also that powerful people are handled gently. Enrile was arrested on February 27, 1990, for his alleged role in the December 1989 coup attempt in which more than 100 people died. Because Enrile was powerful, he was given an air-conditioned suite in jail, a telephone, and a computer, and a week later he was released on 100,000 pesos bail. In June 1990, the Supreme Court invalidated the charges against him. A further test of the court system was expected in the 1990s when criminal and civil charges were to be brought against Imelda Marcos. In 1991 Aquino agreed to allow the former first lady, who could not leave New York City without the permission of the United States Department of Justice, to return to the Philippines to face charges of graft and corruption. Swiss banking authorities agreed to return approximately US$350 million to the Philippine government only if Marcos were tried and convicted. Marcos did not seem to be reluctant to face the Philippine courts.
Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution restores the presidential system with certain modifications. The president is elected by a direct vote of the people for a term of six years and is not eligible for reelection. The president must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, at least forty years of age, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding the election.
The president is empowered to control all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices, and to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Presidential nominations of heads of executive departments and ambassadors are confirmed by a Commission on Appointments, consisting of twelve senators and twelve representatives. The president may grant amnesty (for example, to former communists, Muslim rebels, or military mutineers) with the concurrence of a majority of all the members of Congress and, as chief diplomat, negotiate treaties, which must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.
The constitution contains many clauses intended to preclude repetition of abuses such as those committed by Marcos. The president's spouse cannot be appointed to any government post (a reaction to Imelda Marcos's immoderate accumulation of titles and powers). The public must be informed if the president becomes seriously ill (a reaction to the belated discovery of numerous kidney-dialysis machines in Marcos's bedroom in Malacaņang). The president is prohibited from owning any company that does business with the government. And the armed forces must be recruited proportionately from all provinces and cities as far as is practicable, in order to prevent a future president from repeating Marcos's ploy of padding the officer corps with people from his home province.
Constitutional safeguards also prevent the president from ruling indefinitely under emergency powers. Martial law may be proclaimed, but only for sixty days. The president must notify Congress of the institution of martial law within forty-eight hours, and Congress can revoke martial law by a simple majority vote. The president may not abolish Congress. The Supreme Court may review and invalidate a presidential proclamation of martial law. Of course, Congress can grant the president emergency powers at any time.
The vice president has the same term of office as the president and is elected in the same manner. The vice president also may serve as a member of the cabinet. No vice president may serve for more than two successive terms. The president and vice president are not elected as a team. Thus, they may be ideologically opposed, or even personal rivals.
In 1991 the president's cabinet consisted of the executive secretary (who controlled the flow of paper and visitors reaching the president), the press secretary, the cabinet secretary, and the national security adviser, and the secretaries of the following departments: agrarian reform; agriculture; budget and management; economic planning; education, culture, and sports; environment and natural resources; finance; foreign affairs; health; interior and local governments; justice; labor and employment; national defense; public works and highways; science and technology; social welfare and development; tourism; trade and industry; and transportation and communications. Cabinet members directed a vast bureaucracy--2.6 million Filipinos were on the government payroll in 1988.
The bureaucracy in the late 1980s was overseen by a constitutionally independent Civil Service Commission, the members of which were appointed by the president to a single nonrenewable term of seven years. Because the Constitution prohibits defeated political candidates from becoming civil servants, bureaucratic positions cannot be used as consolation prizes.
Two problems, in particular, have plagued the civil service: corruption (especially in the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue) and the natural tendency, in the absence of a forceful chief executive, of cabinet secretaries to run their departments as independent fiefdoms. Bribes, payoffs, and shakedowns characterized Philippine government and society at all levels. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated in 1988 that one-third of the annual national budget was lost to corruption. Corruption also occurred because of cultural values. The Filipino bureaucrat who did not help a friend or relative in need was regarded as lacking a sense of utang na loob, or repayment of debts. Many Filipinos recognize this old-fashioned value as being detrimental to economic development. A 1988 congressional study concluded that because of their "personalistic world view," Filipinos were "uncomfortable with bureaucracy, with rules and regulations, and with standard procedures, all of which tend to be impersonal." When faced with such rules they often "ignore them or ask for exceptions."
The Philippines is unusual among developing countries in having a strong, bicameral legislature. The constitution establishes a 24-seat Senate and a House of Representatives with 200 elected representatives and up to 50 more appointed by the president. Senators are chosen at large, and the twenty-four highest vote-winners nationwide are elected. Senators must be native-born Filipinos at least thirty-five years old. The term of office is six years, and senators cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
House of Representatives members are elected in single-member districts (200 in 1991), reapportioned within three years of each census. Representatives must be native-born Filipinos and at least twenty-five years of age. Their term of office is three years, except that those elected in May 1987 did not have to face the electorate until 1992. They may not serve for more than three consecutive terms. In addition, President Aquino was to be empowered to appoint to the House of Representatives up to twenty-five people from "party lists." This stipulation was intended to provide a kind of proportional representation for small parties unable to win any single-member district seats. However, Congress did not pass the necessary enabling legislation. The president also is allowed to appoint up to twenty-five members from so-called sectoral groups, such as women, labor, farmers, the urban poor, mountain tribes, and other groups not normally well-represented in Congress, "except the religious sector." Making these appointments would have provided an opportunity for Aquino to reward her supporters and influence Congress, but she has left most such positions unfilled. All members of both houses of Congress are required to make a full disclosure of their financial and business interests.
The constitution authorizes Congress to conduct inquiries, to declare war (by a two-thirds vote of both houses in joint session), and to override a presidential veto with a two-thirds vote of both houses. All appropriations bills must originate in the House, but the president is given a line-item veto over them. The Senate ratifies treaties by a two-thirds vote.
The first free congressional elections in nearly two decades were held on May 11, 1987. The pre-martial law Philippine Congress, famous for logrolling and satisfying individual demands, was shut down by Marcos in 1972. The 1973 constitution created a rubber-stamp parliament, or National Assembly, which only began functioning in 1978 and which was timid in confronting Marcos until some opposition members were elected in May 1984. In the 1987 elections, more than 26 million Filipinos, or 83 percent of eligible voters, cast their ballots at 104,000 polling stations. Twenty-three of twenty-four Aquino-endorsed Senate candidates won. The lone senator opposed to Aquino was former Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile, her husband's former jailer and her one-time defender. Enrile was seated as the twenty-fourth and final member of the Senate, after the Supreme Court ordered the Commission on Elections to abandon plans for a recount. The new legislature was formally convened on July 27, 1987. The leader of the Senate is the Senate president, who stands next in the line of succession for the presidency after the country's vice president. Generally, the Senate had a reputation as a prestigious body with a truly national outlook, in contrast to the House of Representatives, which had more parochial concerns.
At least three-quarters of those elected to the House were endorsed by Aquino, but her influence was less than these results might seem to indicate. She never formed her own political party but merely endorsed men and women with various ideologies who, because of their illustrious family names and long political experience, were probably going to win anyway. Out of 200 elected House members, 169 either belonged to or were related to old-line political families. Philippine politics still was the art of assembling a winning coalition of clans.
Congress did not hesitate to challenge the president. For example, in September 1987, less than two months after the new Congress convened, it summoned the presidential executive secretary to testify about the conduct of his office. The following year, Congress also rejected Aquino's proposed administrative code, which would have conferred greater power on the secretary of national defense.
The internal operation of Congress has been slowed by inefficiency and a lack of party discipline. Legislation often has been detained in the forty-three House and thirty-six Senate committees staffed with friends and relatives of members of Congress. Indicative of the public frustration with Congress, in 1991 the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and the Makati Business Club formed a group called Congresswatch to monitor the activities of sitting congress members and promote accountability and honesty.
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