A Head of State and A Head of Government

Why Both Roles Should Be Separate, Especially in the Philippine Setting

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I am no political scientist and I don’t claim to be one now in writing this. I am writing this based on my understanding of governance in the global and Philippine setting. An understanding that some may consider naive, to which I would not protest. Nevertheless, I felt the urge to write this in light of the recent and upcoming events in the country to express some thoughts that have been brewing in my mind for a long while trying to find a venue to express them. (thank you Medium!) I hope you get to find a few nuggets of wisdom or ideas in this piece, even though I’m no political pundit.

First of all, for a long while I have always believed in the superiority of the American style of government. Maybe it’s the influence of America that is embedded in the consciousness of many Filipinos such as myself. After all, the Philippines was a US colony once. But I guess it can also be out this naive thinking that the American style of governance is simple and effective, especially the concept of having one person in charge, the president, representing the people as head of state and overseeing all aspects of running the country as head of government.

Photo of the 2013 inaugural of US President Barack Obama, a spectacle of the prestige and glamor of the US Presidency (photo courtesy of Reuters/Scott Andrews via Latitude)

Certainly, the American style of governance has its merits and it works in some cases, at least at this moment. In the Philippine setting though, that style of governance is no longer working for us. Some may blame it on the people elected to be president becoming “ineffective” for one reason or another. Others may blame it on the electorate for being “dumb” in their voting. While there may be a justification on laying blame on the two, I believe the greater blame lies deep within.

To figure out the root cause, we have to go back to the basic definition of the roles of head of state and head of government. The head of state’s role is defined as being the chief representative of the state and the people of the state. As such, the head of state is considered as a unifying figure, not identified with any political affiliation whatsoever.

Then, there is the head of government, whose role is defined as being the country’s chief executive who executes laws and formulates policies for the state’s well-being. At times, these laws and policies are subject to opposition. Factoring as well the fact that the head of government position is more political in nature, the head tends to be a divisive figure, especially among those who oppose his/her policies or his/her political affiliation, though by default the opposition tends to be in the minority.

I suppose you can see what will go wrong if you have a head of state and head of government in one person. Once a controversial issue pops up, the unifying figure becomes a divisive one in an instant, adding another level of instability to the state already rocked by that controversy in the first place.

Sadly, this scenario is something we are all too familiar with for years now. What’s even sadder is that many do not recognize this scenario as an effect of the screwed up system that we have right now, taking for granted the distinct roles of the head of state and head of government in the country’s dynamic.

This dynamic factors in more during elections. Whether we realize it or not, our choices for president are factored by a mentality defined by a “head of state mentality” is or a “head of government mentality.” Some would vote a person for president because he/she is “our country’s hope” and “advocate our welfare” which is a head of state mentality. Others may vote for a president based on a belief that the person gets the job done, which is more of a head of government mentality. Don’t get me wrong, both mentalities are valid. But the idea of someone being voted for being seen as either a unifying or a potentially divisive figure in a position that expects him/her to play both roles is a potent, volatile mix that tends to screw things in our country’s dynamic.

Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who served as both head of state and government, with not so impressive results (photo courtesy of Philippine Pride)

Our history has examples of leaders whose leadership fell in either head of state or head of government type and the shortcomings they had that are brought about by having to play both parts. Corazon Aquino is a notable example of someone who fit more in the head of state role as she was elected by a popular sentiment against a dictatorship that long ruled the country. But once she did her role as head of government, she alienated many people who once supported her. Her playing the role as a head of government diminished her importance as a unifying figure in those times, triggering effects that are still being felt today.

Understanding the difference between being a head of state and head of government would make us better see the roles our leaders or those vying to be leaders would fit in. Controversies aside, it can be argued that the type of leadership displayed by former President Joseph Estrada and our current President Noynoy Aquino falling into “head of state” category while the likes of former presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo fall in the “head of government” category. Looking at the possible candidates for the 2016 elections, I can see Grace Poe fitting the bill of “head of state” while Jejomar Binay, Rodrigo Duterte, and Mar Roxas fall into the “head of government” type. Again, all issues and controversies surrounding these people aside.

Other countries have the roles of head of state and head of government kept separate like in the United Kingdom, Japan, Israel, India, and Singapore. While their governments have their imperfections, there is a sense of stability in them not found in ours. That stability lies in their heads of state, be it a monarch who came into power through lineage (as in the case of UK and Japan) or a president elected by the people. (as it is in Israel, India, and Singapore) If you look at these heads of state, you will realize they are not affiliated with any political party and remain largely apolitical, not intervening in the day to day affairs of the government.

Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state of the United Kingdom and David Cameron, the head of government of the United Kingdom (photo courtesy of The Mirror)

Weird as it may be to some, it makes a lot of sense once we understand the dynamics of being a head of state. As I mentioned earlier, the head of state represents the state and the people of the state. As such, he/she should be a figure of unity and stability to portray an image of stability of the state to others, especially outside the state. In contrast, the head of government tends to sow some level of divisiveness, and that is a given in the nature of the role he/she performs in implementing laws and policies. If both roles are performed by one person, there is no image of stability to portray, and others would cast doubt on the state in the process.

The wisdom in having the roles of head of state and head of government is that it creates a sort of balance in governance of the state. True, the role of head of state is largely ceremonial in nature, but it serves as a yin to balance the dynamic yang that the role of the head of government brings, providing a clear and better separation of functions and a sense of harmony and stability in the state being portrayed. More importantly, we get to have better leaders who would be able to discern their leadership being fit for either head of state or head of government, no longer burdened by the baggage of having to do both functions that might possibly jeopardize the state’s stability in the process.

It does not hurt that at this point in time to perhaps reconsider the type of governance that we have. Our country’s stability and future is at stake and if the current system does not work for us, it does not hurt for us to ask for something else, something better hopefully so we can have a better Philippines that we deserve.

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About the Author

Karl Aguilar - about the author photo

Karl Aguilar is a self-confessed urban roamer, freelancing as a writer and photographer, who has once participated in a national game show and dabbles into heady stuff from time to time.

He has a blog that deals with the sights, sounds, and stories of the urban landscape, Metro Manila in particular, called, of course, The Urban Roamer, which you can check out at www.theurbanroamer.com.

Nancy Binay – Don’t hate the player, hate the game!

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Nancy Binay is joining in the Senatorial Race because she can and because she has the necessary name-recall in order to win.

She’s joining the race because she has exactly what the current Philippine system of government favors in order to win a seat in the Senate: A well-known parent (Vice-President Jejomar Binay) and the right surname – Binay.

And that’s not her fault, honestly. It’s the system’s fault!

As the saying goes, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!”

Think about it folks. We have a lousy presidential system with a Senate composed of 24 “nationally-elected” Senators of whom 12 are elected every 3 years for 6 years each

Why do we not have a system where we divide the country into “autonomized” regions (in federalized fashion) and then have those regions elect their own respective senators to represent each of them?

See, folks, there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that forces voters to have to vote for 12 people at a single time.

There is actually no fight in this system between parties, and hence, there is no real talk about common platforms or party manifestos or party stands. This is a fight of individual candidates against other individual senatorial candidates even among those who are supposed to be from the same “slate.”

(This is in contrast to the  USA, for instance, where in each state, there is a battle between the Senatorial candidate of the Republicans for the state seat versus the Senatorial candidate of the Democrats for that same state and it becomes a contest between two parties representing different platforms. Australia has a similar concept of a Senate whose senators represent states.)

There is, in real Truth, no fight between Rissa Hontiveros versus Nancy Binay. The fight of Rissa is against other members of her own slate as well as members of the other team in order to get into the magic 12. In effect, Rissa and Nancy are competing against everyone else so that they get into the magic 12. It doesn’t matter which team, be it Team PNoy or UNA. Rissa is competing against 11 people from her “own team” (Team PNoy) and 12 people from the other main team (UNA), and whoever else are independents. Nancy is doing the same: competing against the rest of the UNA slate and against all the Team PNoy and independent candidates.

Take note that this particular race — the Senatorial Race — is one of the most name-recall and popularity-driven of all elections in the Philippines, even more so than the actual Presidential Elections. The thing about this is that the Senate Race was envisioned by those eminent fools who created the Philippine Senate to be a kind of “launchpad” for future would-be presidential aspirants. Those who win as Senators to get into the magic 12 will later be eligible to run as Presidential Candidates because they now have “nationwide” reach. That’s why this system is so rotten: it produces 12 new mini-presidents every election (24 in total at any given time, when including 12 incumbent senators whose terms are yet to expire in the next 3 years) who are not answerable to specific constituencies and instead think that the entire country is their constituency. 

(Ever wonder why the Philippine Senate wastes  its time on issues like sex-scandals like the Hayden-Katrina sex-scandal or exposés like the old “Brunei Beauties” scandal? Well, that’s because they do not have specific constituents writing them letters, unlike in the USA where people from each of the states write their respective senators about problems specific to their own states.)

Even the way City or Municipal Councilors are elected is the same way! You can have candidates for councilor essentially removing the posters of their own fellow candidates for councilor coming from the same party/team slate.

Case in point: a friend of mine who ran for councilor of a town in the Province of Rizal recounted to me how certain fellow candidates from the same party/team were removing his campaign posters because even if they were from the same party, they were actually competing against each other for limited slots.

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Think again, Folks. In a system where Filipinos need to elect 12 candidates at any given time, you are not likely to really know 12 people you would want to vote for. Chances are, you’ll want to really passionately vote for maybe 3 or 4 candidates at most. But the system says you need to vote for 12 candidates on the ballot

So, ok, you select your 3 or 4 favorite senatorial candidates, and since you still have a remaining 8 or 9 more to go, you then think of who are the other candidates you remember in order to complete your list of 12 names. See? That’s name-recall!

In that situation, those who are easily remembered get their names selected on the ballot. And you’ll be more likely to choose just whomever it is you can remember as long as you don’t think he/she is “that bad.”

Get my drift, people?

The “vote 12 senators at one time” system favors candidates who are popular or enjoy name recall. That’s how it works. And that’s why Lito Lapid became a Senator. That’s why Tito Sotto became a Senator. That’s why Erap became a Senator long ago. That’s how Honasan became a Senator. That’s how Trillanes became a Senator. That’s how Noynoy became a Senator. And that’s how Nancy Binay has a shot at becoming a Senator.

That’s why so many clowns, idiots, and slackers end up as Senators. They’re winnable and have name-recall.

In this system, you don’t have to be the “first choice” of voters. You just have to be among those chosen on the most number of ballots. It doesn’t matter if you’re at number 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 of everyone’s mind when they were chosing whom to vote for. As long as you’re selected on the ballots of so many people and get into the top 12, you’re in!

If you happen to appear on the most number of ballots, even if you are nobody’s First, Second, Third, or whatever choice, you will get top spot (the safest spot).

And guess why candidates running for the Senate aren’t really that “friendly with each other” even when they’re from the same “slate” (or party or team or coalition)? It’s because they’re all competing against each other! There are no parties in the Senate, folks. No real parties. Notice how senatorial candidates do not even have unified stands. They are, in essence, all independents! Each candidate stands for his/her own “platform.”

Observe, for instance, how the current Senate of the 15th Congress of the Philippines features members of the same party on opposite sides of the Senate! Take the Senate’s Nacionalista party members: Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, and Sonny Trillanes are in the Minority, while Bongbong Marcos and Manny Villar are in the Majority. How is this possible? Look at the Senate’s Lakas-Kampi-CMD members:  Joker Arroyo is with the Minority, while the two actors Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid are with the Majority.

This is impossible in a true functioning system. Your membership in a party is supposed to determine whether you go minority or majority. In a Real System, if your party wins majority, then you’re in the majority and you’re expected to vote the way the majority would vote. If your party is in the minority, then you’re in the minority and that’s how you’re supposed to vote on most issues..

Well, the Senate is not about parties. It’s all about individual candidates who merely pretend to be members of parties, where all the parties merely act as a means of pooling resources together for shared electoral campaign advertising, printing, and campaign sortie costs. The electoral system’s lousy algorithm is what makes them act the way they act: parties mean nothing after the elections. 

Told ya, folks! …Ours is a totally “effed-up” system!

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So all those who think that Nancy should not be running ought to really think about it carefully.

Rather than oppose Nancy Binay’s running, you ought to campaign to get rid of this lousy system that allows Nancy Binay to win in a contest where all she needs is to say who her daddy is and remind the whole world what her surname is.

It’s time to shift to the Parliamentary System!

(Note: In a parliamentary system, the Government – aka “Majority” or “Administration” – must constantly debate against the Opposition in order to get their decisions accepted by the wider parliament. The Government must always fend off criticisms coming from the Opposition during Question time. Only competent people shine in a parliamentary system while incompetent and lazy slackers get relegated to the back-benches and often get weeded out due to the highly competitive nature of that system. The dynamics of debate and constant “on your toes” scrutiny does not exist in the Presidential System.)

We must scrap the current Senate system we have until we have a Region-based Federal system with Regionally-elected Senators who will make up a Senate that represents regional constituencies that, according to the way a Parliamentary System works, should be weaker than the lower-house!

CoRRECT™ the Constitution! NOW!

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(Note: A recent brouhaha occurred when there was a small group of readers who did not understand context of this article’s title. The title is taken straight from a popular American colloquial expression “Don’t hate the player, hate the game”, often rendered in the African-American style as “Don’t hate the playah, hate the game”, which actually simply means that “the person you are looking at as being bad is only bad because the system/environment makes him/her so.” Unfortunately, several people didn’t get that, and erroneously mistook this article to be “pro-Binay.” Totally wrong of them. This article basically goes deeper than symptoms. Nancy Binay is only a symptom of the real disease and that disease is our failed system. Fix the system and there will be no Nancy Binays or Kris Aquinos and other incompetent candidates running next time. 

It’s that simple.)

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About the Author

OrionOrion Pérez Dumdum comes from an IT background and analyzes systems the way they should be: logically and objectively.

Being an Overseas Filipino Worker himself, he has seen firsthand how the dearth of investment – both local and foreign – is the cause of the high unemployment and underemployment that exists in the Philippines as well as the low salaries earned by people who do have jobs.Being Cebuano (half-Cebuano, half-Tagalog), and having lived in Cebu, he is a staunch supporter of Federalism.

Having lived in progressive countries which use parliamentary systems, Orion has seen first hand the difference in the quality of discussions and debates of both systems, finding that while discussions in the Philippines are mostly filled with polemical sophistry often focused on trivial and petty concerns, discussions and debates in the Parliamentary-based countries he’s lived in have often focused on the most practical and most important points.

Orion first achieved fame as one of the most remembered and most impressive  among the winners of the popular RPN-9 Quiz Show “Battle of the Brains”, and got a piece he wrote – “The Parable of the Mountain Bike” – featured in Bob Ong’s first bestselling compilation of essays “Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?” He is the principal co-founder of the CoRRECT™ Movement to spearhead the campaign to inform the Filipino Public about the urgent need for Constitutional Reform & Rectification for Economic Competitiveness & Transformation.