Philippine Progress: Shift in Sports, Shift in System

(First published on antipinoy.com on July 7, 2010)

At the time of this writing, millions of people around the world are obsessing about the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the noise of the annoying Vuvuzela horn. From every continent, people speaking almost every language, coming from practically every race, creed, and color are excitedly watching the game called “Association Football.”  Unfortunately, there’s been relative calm in the Philippines, as hardly anyone, save for a few die-hard soccer fans, actually watched the World Cup closely.

Soccer, (coming from the word “association” in the sport’s full-name “Association Football”), called “Football” by everyone else, is also known as the world’s Beautiful Game. It is one of the most democratic sports ever – as Time Magazine recently described it. Anyone can play and excel in it: Rich or poor, light-skinned or dark-skinned, and most importantly, tall or short.  That last one is of utmost importance, considering that we Filipinos, most of whom are not very tall, are crazy about basketball – a sport that obviously favors tall players.

It has caused numerous ceasefires in many conflict zones as Israelis and Palestinians (Soccer is the biggest sport in the Middle East) or Rebel guerrillas and Government troops in continents like Africa or Latin America, often stop fighting just to watch the World Cup or other high-profile soccer matches on TV or listen to live commentaries on radio. During World War I, an informal Truce on Christmas Day in 1914 witnessed one of the most amazing displays of human fraternity as warring sides – British & French versus the Germans came together and played Soccer. After having played the game, made friends, and exchanged names & addresses, the soldiers simply could not shoot at each other once the truce ended, forcing their respective angry generals to send all of them to other fronts to fight against other enemies.

It’s a real shame because while Filipinos were glued to the NBA Finals at about the same time that the World Cup was just about starting, one unfortunate fact continues to be ignored by basketball-crazy Filipinos: We are never going to excel in sports that require height. Unlike most basketball-loving Filipinos, millions of average-height, barely middle-class, or even impoverished Africans and Latin Americans who play and practice soccer can actually dream of one day playing professionally for local or internationally-famous professional teams such as Manchester United (England), Juventus (Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), or Galatasaray (Turkey) – to name a few – and live a life of fame and fortune. These are dreams which are feasible as long as whoever plays and practices the sport has the competence, talent, and commitment, because the game-dynamics of soccer simply does not require height. It needs to be said that soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina became a soccer superstar with his very Filipino height of 5 ft 4.

In stark contrast to the meritocratic nature of soccer which does not care much about being born with the genes for height, the fixation that Filipinos have for basketball creates so many shattered dreams. Millions of young Filipinos are raised to love a sport that does not love them back. Many waste inordinate amounts of time practicing the game, wishing that they would be just like Kobe Bryant when they grow up, only to grow to their full height which might be just a few inches taller than Diego Maradona – a height that is just not cut for competitive basketball.

Filipinos even love to watch the NBA play-offs, but even if the Philippines is perhaps the most basketball-crazy country in the World (Americans are more obsessed with American Football and Baseball), countries with much more diversified sporting interests such as Mainland China and the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Croatia, etc, who all watch more soccer than they do basketball, have successfully sent players to the NBA. The Philippines has never sent a Filipino to the NBA!

Numerous honest discussions and debates have erupted about the need to shift the Philippines’ team sports focus from the excessively height-centric basketball towards the more height-agnostic soccer in order to focus on a sport in which every ordinary Filipino can excel. However, the rebuttals to the contrary range from such excuses as “The cultural temperament of Filipinos makes them prefer basketball because it has a faster-pace of point-scoring while soccer’s scores are low and goal-scoring is rare” to other excuses like“soccer requires a huge field in order to play while basketball needs a much smaller space.”

Who says you need a field to play soccer?

Both excuses fall flat considering that Filipinos are ethnically and even temperamentally similar to the Malays of Malaysia and Brunei (except in religion), both of whom enjoy and excel in soccer within the ASEAN region. It can be argued too that most Latin Americans, with whom Filipinos share common Spanish colonial history vis-à-vis Hispano-America and a very similar Iberian heritage with Portuguese-speaking Brazil, are somewhat culturally similar to Filipinos (especially in their sense of humor) and yet they too enjoy the sport immensely and are perhaps among the most excellent players of the Beautiful Game in the World. Most importantly, millions of impoverished Latin-Americans and Africans often practice playing soccer just about anywhere, be it on a small field, a dusty road, or even a small backyard. Some of the world’s highest-paid soccer stars come from such an impoverished background and they often cherish their childhood memories of growing up, playing soccer barefoot with plastic bottles or anything they can kick around as their ball, drawing lines on the ground to serve as their “goals.” It is just not true that Filipinos cannot shift to soccer.

The unfortunate fact is that Filipinos prefer to stick to whatever status quo they’ve grown used to. The real problem here is Inertia: the resistance to change.

Resistance to Change

Indeed, there is something really flawed about the situation, and Filipinos have to immediately correct it. Unfortunately, there seems to be something about us Filipinos that exacerbates our resistance to change: We have a tendency to refuse to admit that a problem exists, and often prefer to just ignore it and sweep the problem under the rug. In case that problem stares squarely at us, thereby making it impossible to ignore, quite often, we just outright refuse to do the work that would fix that problem and just endure the resulting mediocrity. Worse, many Filipinos prefer to make excuses that seek to justify such refusal to fix the problem, oftentimes reasoning – using intellectual dishonesty – that trying to fix the problem would actually make things worse.

We need not look far to see that this problem is not solely confined to the world of sports, in which increasing attention is being placed on the Soccer versus Basketball debate. Just recently, journalist and current Ambassador to Greece, Rigoberto Tiglao, recently wrote a two-part special on why Filipinos are not into Soccer.

The Tall Man’s Game

In it, he likened the need for Filipinos to carefully consider shifting from basketball to soccer and the difficulty in convincing Filipinos to do so, with the fact that many Filipinos still stubbornly refuse to at least attempt to consider the objective merits of the Parliamentary System as a possible option to replace the current Philippine Presidential System. It has been observed that the Philippine Presidential System’s skew towards popularity and name-recall , coupled with the Philippine Electorate’s preference for form over substance that unfortunately brought about perhaps the most embarrassing stain on the Philippines’ international reputation in 1998, when celebrity actor Joseph “Erap” Estrada won as President of the Philippines. The Philippines had another close call in 2004 when his fellow celebrity actor and close friend, the late Fernando Poe, Jr. almost won. And just recently in May 2010, the convicted-of-plunder ex-President Estrada who was deposed in 2001 ran again and took second place.

In the meantime, numerous politicians aspiring for the Presidency jockey for positions in the equally useless and non-representative Philippine Senate (whose Senators do not represent constituencies unlike in the USA, where Senators are elected per State), and as a result, the Philippine Senate has numerous “Senactors” (Senators who are actors) as well as politicians married to actresses or celebrities.

We continue to be a basketball-crazed society that is isolated from the soccer-loving rest of the world and yet we can’t even excel in this game we so love, nor can we send talented Filipino players to the NBA because basketball is a game that clearly favors height and we simply do not have the height that would at least give us a fighting chance.

In almost the exact same way, we continue to clamor for improvements in our lives, our economic livelihood, and the quality of our politics, yet because of a system of government whose electoral procedure (choosing the name of an individual candidate running for President) clearly favors “winnability” (popularity and name-recall) over competence, we end up with incompetent people who become President only because of their celebrity status or famous surnames. At other times, we also end up with leaders who – though sometimes competent – are forced to pander to the public lest they risk being unable to govern if they fail to play the popularity game.

When will we Filipinos realize that for us to excel in team sports, we need to choose a sport where competence and real talent are much more important than one’s height?

When will we Filipinos realize that for our society to be better-run, more efficient, and more responsive to our people’s needs, we need to choose a system of government in which quality policy-making, platform relevance, and competence take overwhelming precedence over petty traits such as celebrity-status, personal popularity, and name-recall?

Knowing that both basketball and the current Presidential System are not good for us, why then do we Filipinos continue to insist on sticking it out with the both of them instead of making the necessary changes that would correct the problems that these two Problematic American Imports continue to cause?

Once upon a time, Albert Einstein said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

Basketball & the Presidential System: Problematic US Imports

There is absolutely no doubt that an objective and honest discussion on the merits of soccer over basketball most certainly parallels the discussion on the merits of a Parliamentary System over the Presidential System.

Both Basketball and the Presidential System are largely American inventions which they brought along with them during the almost 50 years that they occupied our country and we Filipinos took to both of them as if they were our own.

Unfortunately, both basketball and the Presidential System have pre-requisites that Americans often meet which Filipinos don’t: Basketball inherently favors height for a player to be considered eligible for competitive play because the hoops are high. On the other hand, the Presidential System requires that the electorate be naturally issues-centric and platform-oriented in order to counterbalance the inherent personality-centered exercise of voting for a presidential candidate.

They want to be like Kobe

Incidentally, both basketball and the Presidential System have brought Failure to Filipinos: Basketball has shattered the dreams and self-esteem of millions of young Filipinos who’ve continued to aspire to be just like their idols Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, practicing basketball for hours on end, only to be rendered ineligible for competitive basketball all because they were too short.  On the other hand, the current Philippine Presidential System (based on the 1987 Constitution) has shattered the lives of millions of Filipinos who – because the system favors candidate winnability (popularity, and name-recall) over competence and a sound platform for governance – often end up with leaders who merely have popularity but no competence. Sometimes we end up with leaders and lawmakers who have no choice but to pander to the public instead of focusing on doing what is the correct and beneficial course of action in the long-term, even if it may appear to be unpopular in the short-term. Most politicians with presidential ambitions (except for a select few) therefore tend to focus too much on short-term popularity by engaging in publicity stunts in order to have the name-recall and media attention they need just to have a stab at the Presidency when the time comes to run for it.

In the end, Philippine Society as well as its Government is often unable to make the hard decisions necessary that would bring about a better economy, more jobs, more prosperity, and more improvements to the lives of the people, all because the focus on popularity-based personality-politics always manages to derail society away from focusing on the most important aspects of governance.

In a manner of speaking, it can be said that both basketball and the Presidential System are skewed towards traits which Filipinos either do not have in abundance (height for basketball) or towards traits that Filipinos are extremely obsessed about (popularity and celebrity-status for the Presidential System), both of which lead to Mediocrity and ultimately, towards Failure.

In the former case, Americans have a bigger pool of tall people to select from who may excel in professional basketball, while Filipinos clearly do not. In the latter, Americans have the required cultural and political maturity, policy and platform focus, issues focus, and the ability to zero-in more on the message rather than the messenger in order to counteract and counterbalance the inherent skew towards popularity and name-recall that is inherent in the Presidential System. Filipinos, sadly, are more culturally pre-disposed towards personality, celebrity-status, and popularity, so that winning Philippine presidential elections is more about fielding candidates who are deemed “winnable” rather than determining who among the prospective candidates is the most competent, possesses the necessary qualifications that would enable him to perform his duties successfully, and who has done the best job related to governance in the past and as such, is therefore most likely going to do a splendid job.

Regarding the sport of basketball, it is also no wonder that Filipino basketball players are not exactly NBA-quality (and therefore explains why no Filipino has ever gone to the NBA). In the Philippines, many basketball players who get chosen to go professional are often those who are of towering height, never mind that they may not exactly be the best among the entire pool of available players. There are oftentimes people who play basketball really well and can shoot hoops accurately, but simply because they are too short and unable to do slam-dunks, they are totally ignored by recruitment scouts for professional or semi-professional teams.

In fact, stories circulated in the past about some UAAP basketball teams whose alumni associations recruited players who were not really basketball prodigies, but just plain “tall giants” from their respective high schools. It was evident from their on-court performance: These were extremely tall players who always missed getting the ball through the basket during free throws. No mystery there: Such players were recruited for their height, not for their prowess in basketball.

Product of the Philippine Presidential System

Once again, this parallel zeroes in on the main problem that the Presidential System has brought on the Philippines. Very similar to basketball’s unfair preference for tall people, the  Presidential System has an inherent skew towards winnability  (popularity and name-recall), coupled with the cultural inclination of Filipinos to gossip more about popular celebrities and their private lives or marital woes, and discuss less about the most important issues related to the economy and governance. It is therefore not difficult to see why numerous actors and showbiz celebrities end up as politicians and why professional politicians often end up marrying famous actresses or TV personalities just to gain media mileage and rapport with the voting public. It also shows precisely why the discussions in Philippine Politics tend towards vacuity and pettiness, rather than on real practical problem-solving. For this reason, the Philippines continues to be unable to fix the same kinds of problems that have hounded it for decades, while other countries are zooming ahead leaving the Philippines in the dust.

In other words, the system of government in the Philippines is set up so that the people who are most favored to win in national elections tend to be those candidates who have the necessary popularity and the name-recall (actors, showbiz celebrities, children of well-known politicians, politicians married to celebrities, controversial public figures who get excessive media exposure, athletes and basketball stars, etc) required to win said popularity contests, to the detriment of those people who have the requisite expertise, competence, track record, vision, and most importantly, the relevant platform of governance that matches the needs of the country at a given point in time.

It doesn’t help much that the Philippines continues to make use of the direct popular vote in stark contrast to the more indirect voting system of the US Electoral College, which was set up by America’s Founding Fathers with the express intention of moderating and mitigating the tyranny of popularity, name-recall, and emotionalism that is the unfortunate negative tendency of direct democracy. In addition, there also is the fact that the two-party system of the USA makes use of party-based Caucuses & Primary Elections to ensure that – as much as possible – the best man (or woman) for the job is chosen by each party.

To be absolutely honest about it, there is a steadily increasing dissatisfaction and growing base of evidence worldwide against the dismal operational efficiency and low degree of accountability resulting from the Presidential System. Case in point: There is a large number of disadvantages that the Presidential System is described to possess by numerous political scientists and economists, particularly by renowned political scientist and expert on political systems Dr. Juan Linz, PhD of Yale in his famous essay “The Perils of Presidentialism) as well as a recent joint World Bank and University of Chicago study entitled “Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter” – authored by three Latin American economists namely, Dr. Daniel Lederman, PhD – Chile, Dr. Norman Loayza, PhD – Peru, and Dr. Rodrigo Soares, PhD – Brazil, correlating the Presidential System with greater levels of corruption on the one hand, and much lower incidences of corruption with the Parliamentary System on the other.

Notwithstanding all those operational disadvantages of the “separation-of-powers” Presidential System, coupled with the inherent tendency towards personality-politics found in it, at the very least, it can be said that the USA has specific safeguards such as the use of Primaries and the Electoral College which clearly mitigate the negative traits associated with the Presidential System’s popularity-centric electoral procedure.

Alas, no such safeguards such as a “Two-Party System”, “Party Primaries” and the reliance on an “Electoral College” exist for the current Philippine Presidential System based on the 1987 Constitution. It is for this reason that the full unadulterated impact of the tyranny of popularity bears down heavily on Philippine Society.

* * *

Defects of the 1987 Constitution’s Presidential System 

Fr. Joaquín Bernas, SJ: Forgot to consider the Problem of having a Minority President

Unfortunately for Filipinos, the Philippine Constitutional Commission of 1986 which created the current 1987 Constitution – of which one of the most vocal members is revered Constitutionalist and Jesuit Fr. Joaquín Bernas, SJ – set up a system that has consistently produced presidents who do not have a majority mandate. The 1987 Constitution did not support the creation of a two-party system which would enable the electoral winner to emerge with an absolute majority, and instead, allows for multiple candidates to run for president. The real dilemma here is that allowing multiple candidates to run for President of the Philippines invariably results in splitting the vote in three ways or more, in which there is a big possibility that the candidate who emerges with the most number of votes merely wins with a plurality but unfortunately does not have a majority (more than 50%) of all votes cast. A President who does not get a majority of all votes cast is a Minority President.

Having a minority president is obviously a major disadvantage and creates a crisis of governance. In fact, it is a curse. Minority Presidents are always disadvantaged, because Philippine media has always had the tendency to pander to the preferences of the public. A minority president with say, 40% of the vote, will have 60% of the electorate stacked against him as they did not vote for him, making him vulnerable to gripes, complaints, and negative articles published in the papers.

Every single Philippine President who came after the late President Cory C. Aquino has been a minority president. Former President Fidel Ramos only had 23.5% of the entire vote thanks to so many rival candidates running for the presidency in the 1992 elections. Ousted former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was a minority president, having just around 40% of the entire number of votes cast. And in 2004, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also a minority president with around 38% of all votes cast. It is no surprise, therefore, that all of them were often presented unfavorably by media during their term.

In fact, our popular new president, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is himself a minority president as his mandate is said to be just around 42%, with roughly 58% of the electorate having voted for another candidate.

Now, lest we think that Minority Presidents are extremely common around the world, the fact is that in a majority of countries that allow for multiple candidates for President such as France, numerous countries in Latin America, countries using a presidential system in Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and even East Timor, the prospect of a Minority President (a president with less than 50% of all total votes cast) is thoroughly avoided through provisions for a second round of elections called the “Run-Off.”

Le Pen took 16% versus Chirac’s 19% in 2002’s first round as the vote was split among 16 candidates. After the Run-off: Chirac won 82%, Le Pen took 18%

The dynamics for holding Two-Round elections are simple: The first round of elections pits all candidates, say, 3 or more candidates for President against each other. After they slug it out in the first round, the top 2 candidates who emerge from the first round are then pitted against each other in the Run-Off election, where a week or more after the first round, everyone goes back to the polling stations to vote in the second round “Run-Off.” Since there are only two candidates in a run-off, a clear majority-winner will emerge. It is in such an electoral system where people who voted for other candidates during the first round are then forced to “choose the lesser evil” during the “Run-Off” round. At the very least, voters can choose whom they really want during the first round, and if their favorite candidate was eliminated after the first round, it’s during the run-off where they throw their support behind one of the two candidates.

Here is an example: France’s 2002 Elections. The first round of elections saw numerous candidates slugging it out with Gaullist re-electionist Jacques Chirac coming out on top and with Right-wing “Neo-Nazi” and anti-immigration Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen snatching second place. As there were too many candidates, Jacques Chirac did not get a majority of the vote, so a Run-Off had to be held exactly one week after, pitting the top two candidates from the first round  against each other. The Run-Off was an amazing display of solidarity among the French in order to avoid allowing a “Neo-Nazi” like Le Pen to emerge victorious. Everyone from the Left – Communists, Socialists, even people who had formerly hated the right-of-center Gaullists with a vengeance, went in all-out support for Jacques Chirac in order to ensure the defeat of far right, ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration Front National candidate Le Pen.

Alas, the 1987 Constitution made absolutely no provisions for a run-off election, nor did the Constitution’s framers find it important to avoid having a minority president. That is a major defect.

Unfortunately, this inherent defect in the 1987 Constitution cannot be fixed unless the Constitution is amended. That is exactly what a Constitutional Amendment is all about: If something is missing, needs to be removed, or changed in the Constitution (never mind if it’s a word or a punctuation mark), the Constitution needs to be amended. There is unfortunately no real way around it. The 1987 Constitution is defective and needs thorough revision, if not an overhaul.

The Better Way: Soccer and the Parliamentary System

Fortunately, since it is clear that both basketball and the current Philippine Presidential System are more and more proving to be inappropriate and extremely non-conducive to success for Filipinos, we now have the opportunity to look at the clear alternatives. For our “national team sport”, we definitely should consider soccer. For our form of government, we should bid Adieu to the Presidential System and move on towards the highly recommended Parliamentary System. (Recommended by Ivy League Political Scientists and Economists)

We already know the issue with basketball. Basketball requires height and average Filipinos just don’t have height. Rather than continuing to produce heart-broken basketball-loving youngsters whose dreams of going professional are shattered by their inability to grow to at least 6 ft tall, it’s about time our society – led by our Government, Media, Schools, and our Businesses who sponsor sporting events – decisively shifted over to soccer.

There should be no turning back. Soccer is clearly the World’s Beautiful Game, loved by almost everyone of all creeds, colors, cultures, languages, races, and continents. It is a sport that can allow Filipinos to excel because it does not require nor does it even favor height in order for players to be successful. It is a sport that promotes more teamwork as there is much more ball-passing that goes on than in basketball. In soccer, most goals are scored as a result of teamwork and last-minute ball-passing, in contrast to basketball’s tendency to promote keeping the ball to oneself selfishly in order to reap the glory of scoring.

We also know that the Presidential System has the tendency to promote personality politics due largely to the electoral procedure of choosing an individual candidate to become President. During such Presidential campaigns especially in the Philippines, candidates are extremely likely to promote and differentiate themselves from their opponents by talking more about their own personal traits. Instead of playing up their party-affiliations and their party platforms, advocacies, and policy proposals, Presidential candidates in the Philippines, are forced to play the popularity game simply because it is ultimately popularity, winnability, and name-recall that gets voters picking a candidate’s name on the Presidential System’s ballot. Worse, the Philippine Presidential System creates Minority Presidents.

Question Time: You need to know your stuff well to be Prime Minister

In stark contrast, the Parliamentary System requires the formation of majority governments, through either of two ways: a party can win an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats, and immediately, the majority party’s leader immediately becomes the Prime Minister. Another way such a majority government is formed is through coalition-building. Coalition-blocs can be formed, so that if one bloc gains a majority of all seats in parliament, that coalition then forms the government, and the leader of the party with the most seats within that majority bloc emerges as Prime Minister. Prime Ministers in a Parliamentary System, therefore tend to have more majority-support and therefore a clearer mandate than minority Presidents emerging from the runoff-less Philippine Presidential Elections.

Moreover, the Parliamentary System is a much more party-centric system whose campaigns tend to be much more issues-advocacy, ideas-centric (as opposed to personality-centric), and platform-focused as the electoral dynamics do not involve the Pubic Electorate directly choosing who the Prime Minister will be. This does not even talk about the Parliamentary System’s bias towards leaders with competence and solid knowledge of all the relevant details regarding the country’s affairs: A Parliamentary System features a weekly Question Time session where the Prime Minister and his Front Benchers (Cabinet) are grilled by members of the opposition to make sure that all angles relating to policy-making and functioning of the government and cabinet have considered the best options and are also running properly. A Prime Minister must therefore be on his toes, totally knowledgeable, and able to respond extemporaneously as he is often expected to answer most questions without deferring to other members. For this reason, not all ordinary MP’s aspire to become PM and members of the majority party often cooperate to help brief the PM and the front bench on what they need to know so that they can properly respond. This Parliamentary feature further promotes more solid team dynamics as party members close-ranks to support their PM and party front-benchers.

Listed below are two ways in which the Philippines can develop a True Party System where the politicians rally around ideas, platforms, and consistent policies, and form a loyalty to their parties and their core principles, and where the voting public can be made to look less at personalities and look more at the collective nature of parties and vote accordingly:

  1. Dr. Kasuya´s observation: 1 term only limit = weaker parties

     Removal of Term Limits – Allowing the top leader to continue to stand for elections more than once (removal of term limits) actually promotes stronger party dynamics as parties cease to be ad-hoc election clubs that get formed only to defray election-period campaign costs, and become more long-standing and consistent in rallying around a stable policy-platform in order to maintain continuity. This was the observation made in a research paper entitled “Presidential Term Limits and Party-System Stability in New Democracies as well as the book “Presidential Bandwagon: Parties and Party Systems in the Philippines“, both authored by Japanese political scientist Dr. Yuko Kasuya, PhD when she observed that the party structure of the Philippines rapidly deteriorated after the idea of presidential re-election was banned by the 1987 Constitution, thus preventing an elected President (or Head of Government) from standing for more than one term.  This has caused presidential aspirants as well as those people running together with them in their parties to unfortunately regard each election as essentially a one-shot deal. In case a presidential candidate does win and becomes President, there is hardly any real sense of continuity as that President and his staff only look at the specific 6 year term he has. One-shot deal thinking of that sort turns parties into ad-hoc “cliques of convenience” (my term), thereby eroding whatever sense of continuity and working for the same goals may have existed during the campaign. In short, the idea that an incumbent President may run for re-election develops a better focus on continuity among members of a party to act in support of the incumbent party-mate. Since Parliamentary Systems do not have term limits for Prime Ministers, the tendency for parties to act like one-shot, ad hoc, and temporary “cliques of convenience” is greatly reduced and in fact, practically eliminated, and it is thus no wonder that the party system is much stronger in countries using Parliamentary Systems. A Prime Minister who continues to enjoy his own party’s (or coalition’s) internal support, and whose party (or coalition) continues to enjoy a parliamentary majority stays on as Prime Minister. (Technically, under the Parliamentary System, the parties are bigger than the personalities involved, and so it does not matter who the Prime Minister should be, because it is the party or coalition and its accompanying platform that truly matters.)

  2. Strong Parties: a section of a US Ballot from the 1908 polls – Mark a circle in order to choose a Straight Party Ticket

    Forced “Straight Ticket Voting”– Superior party-dynamics emerges (or is further enhanced) when the ability to choose different candidates vying for different positions is eliminated, and replaced with a system that forces “Straight Ticket Voting” or “Straight Party Voting(sometimes confusingly called “bloc-voting” as that term may also mean groups voting as a “bloc” as in the INC’s tendency towards telling their members whom to vote for: “voting as a bloc”) The use of the term “Forced Straight Ticket Voting” clearly refers to the scenario where voters are not able to split the ticket across to vote  for a candidate from party A to be President, a candidate from party B to be Vice-President, and a candidate from party C for their local district representative.  “Straight Ticket Voting” in the USA would clearly refer to voting straight Republican (for all positions) or voting straight Democrat (for all positions).  Modifying the ballots to remove the ability to choose different candidates from different parties for each position and instead determine the party that the voter chooses and all candidates from the same party are assumed to be selected for all the relevant positions. This feature forces the electorate to cease looking at individual candidates and instead forces the voters to look at entire parties. Since political parties are not human beings with “individual personalities”, the key differentiator between political parties then becomes their Party Platforms.

Mahathir: Product of Parliamentarism

When one carefully looks at both, it is obvious that number 1 forces Strict Party Dynamics among the Politicians themselves, as they end up having better party discipline as they seek to allow for more continuity of their party’s programs instead of seeing their “parties” as mere ad-hoc cliques that stand for nothing and come together every 3 or 6 years with the sole purpose of simply pooling campaign financial resources together to share and defray the costs of their poster printing, TV and Radio advertising, etc. Number 2, on the other hand forces Strict Party Voting among the Electorate. As mentioned, the inability of the voters to “extricate” the personalities from the parties forces the electorate to look at parties as a whole, rather than rely on the default Filipino tendency which is to look for individual superstars.

Both these features which promote better Political Party Dynamics can be done within a Presidential System. Term-limits can be removed *and* the ballots can be redesigned to force voters to choose only straight party tickets. In order to do this, ballots should no longer have individual names of candidates, and instead, only party names will be written down and selected by the voters.

However, when you do both 1 and 2 within a Presidential System, you’ve essentially turned that Presidential System into a Parliamentary System, because this time, the voting system fuses the choice of Executive (President) and Legislative (Senate and Local District Representative) together so that both choices come from the same party.

Continue reading

2 Filipinos: A Football Legend & A Spanish Prime Minister

Part of the reluctance of Filipinos to try something different has often had to do with the primordial fear of the unknown. Once Filipinos are used to one way of doing things, shifting over to a better paradigm or system which presents the better way of doing things is seen negatively. This kind of mentality used to kick in among a huge number of Filipinos whenever the subject of shifting from the dominant sport of Basketball to the more Filipino height-friendly sport of Football would come about. Excuses about Filipinos already being used to it or excuses like the so-called “cost of shifting from Basketball to Football would greatly exceed the returns” would be mentioned. This too is exactly the same type of knee-jerk thinking (or lack thereof) that kicks in every time a discussion pops up regarding the need to shift away from the extremely flawed and problematic Philippine Presidential System to the much more efficient, cost-effective, accountable, and stable Parliamentary System.

Thanks to the Philippine Football Team (fondly called “The Azkals” – a stylized slang term for “street dogs”) and their spectacular coming-from-behind performance from underdog to serious semi-finals contender, Filipinos are finally seeing the light! After years of seeing the Philippine Football Team continue to be the underdogs due to lack of support from the Filipino public and the dearth of financial sponsorship from companies, Filipinos now see hope in shining internationally with Football. This especially comes in the midst of many years of embarrassing international defeats in basketball despite “shooting hoops” being the Philippines’ national obsession. The “Azkals” have rightfully given Filipinos something to aspire to.

Thanks to the Philippine Football Team aka “The Azkals”, shifting paradigms is now possible

Filipino Excellence in Football is not new

Paulino Alcántara – “The Netbreaker”

The truth is that excelling in Football isn’t really new to Filipinos to begin with. The “Azkals” are simply reclaiming the history of excellence in Football that Filipinos have actually enjoyed at one point in our history. Unknown to many Filipinos, the greatest football striker in the history of the famous Spanish team FC Barcelona, fondly called “Barça” was a Filipino: Paulino Alcántara.

Born in 1896 in Iloilo to a Spanish father and an Ilongga mother, Paulino Alcántara y Riestrá was raised in the Philippines until he was between the age of 13 and 14 and moved to Barcelona where he was discovered and given the chance to join the professional FC Barcelona team where he became known as “El Romperedes” – the   “net breaker”, as he is known to have broken nets due to the sheer strength of his kicks.

To this day, Paulino Alcántara remains Barça’s record holder with a total of 357 goals having appeared with FC Barcelona 357 times, and no one has come close to beating his record as a phenomenal striker. He is most remembered for a game against France in 1922, here he scored a powerful goal from 30 yards away, with the French goalkeeper having been totally unable to prevent it from coming through.

Dr. Paulino Alcántara, MD

He had a little hiatus away from Barcelona when his family returned to the Philippines in 1916 where the young Paulino likewise played for the Philippine Football Team, bringing it to 2nd place against Japan in the Far East Championship Games in 1917. While in the Philippines, he also excelled in international table tennis!

In the meantime, with Paulino away from Barça, his old team wasn’t doing very well, since he was their star striker and there was no one else who could fill in his shoes. He later returned to Barcelona after his old team kept begging him to return and the team found itself winning once again. But lest we all think sports (football and table tennis) defined “El Romperedes”, it actually turns out that in the midst of his very successful professional football career, he was also studying to become a doctor. When in 1920, Paulino was scheduled to take academic examinations for his medical studies, he turned down the chance to play for the Spanish National Team as he needed to concentrate on studying for his exams.

The Legend of Paulino Alcántara, a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines who also had the chance to represent the Philippines in both Football and Table Tennis – is solid proof that Filipinos have excelled in football and that the Beautiful Game is not some new undertaking in which we have no experience.

Filipino Excellence in the Parliamentary System is not new either

Azcárraga, in younger years

While it is clear thanks to the example of Paulino Alcántara that Filipinos have it in us to succeed in Football and that the Azkals’ recent performance is really just all about reclaiming our glory in a sport more suited to us, there actually also exists a solid example of the ability of Filipinos to perform well within the parliamentary system. While we’ve had a Filipino figure prominently in Football as FC Barcelona’s all time highest goal-scorer, we’ve also had a Filipino excel within Spain’s own Parliamentary System by becoming a three-time Prime Minister of Spain!

originally called “Azcárraga” after the family of Marcelo Azcárraga, small-minded Filipino politicians renamed it to C.M. Recto

Born in Manila in 1832 to a Basque Spanish father (a general, later turned bookseller) and a mestiza-Bicolana mother from Albay, Marcelo de Azcárraga y Palmero – just like Paulino Alcántara – was raised in the Philippines, and studied law at the Universidad de Santo Tomás in Manila (“UST”) before moving on to the Nautical School and then transferred to Spain to attend a military academy. Thanks to a distinguished military career where he rose to become a general in the Army, upon retirement from his military carreer, Azcárraga shifted to Spanish politics and became a leading member of the pro-Monarchy Conservative Party.  From being a Senator, he later became the top-ranking Minister of War in the Conservative Party’s cabinet and succeeded on to become the interim Prime Minister of Spain after his party’s leader, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, was assassinated in 1897. He again went on to become Prime Minister in two separate incidents.

Respected and remembered in Spain, where he was given the Golden Fleece award for defending the Spanish Monarchy and is the highest possible award that any person can be awarded in Spain, Azcárraga was originally honored  in Manila with a long avenue that was named after his illustrious family. That avenue, originally called Calle Azcárraga, is now known simply as “Recto” after a series of name-changes were pushed  in 1961. Nevertheless, numerous Tondo and Manila natives still refer to Recto as “Azcárraga” just as practically everyone in Metro Manila still calls “Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue” by its original name “Buendía.”

Born and raised in the Philippines, excelled in Spain

Would Juan Luna win 3 gold medals for the arts if Spain was racist?

The existence of both prime examples of Filipino excellence in both Spanish Football and the Spanish Parliamentary System not only prove that Filipinos have had past experience in both fields of endeavor, it also confirms that Spain has also never had any real issues with allowing Philippine-born Filipinos to meritocratically rise up to the top of the food chain in “la Madre Patria.” (Spain)

It will be recalled that during the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, the famous Filipino painter Juan Luna won three gold medals for his famous masterpiece “Spoliarium” and was accompanied by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s silver medal. Would these Philippine-born Filipinos who were not European creoles been awarded and showered with accolades had the Spaniards been the “racist chauvinists” certain historians with flawed pseudo-nationalist political agendas make them out to be?

Pilipina Kay Ganda: Isabel Preysler’s exotic Pinay look is why Spain loves her

The 1884 awards for Fine Arts were not going to be the one and only time when Spanish egalitarian attitudes towards Filipinos would become evident, as this was followed up with half-Pinoy and Manila-born (and raised) Marcelo de Azcárraga’s ascent to Prime Minister in Spain’s Cortes in 1897, half-Pinoy and Iloilo-born (and raised) Paulino Alcántara’s cult-following as FC Barcelona’s (and the Spanish Football Team’s) star striker, and in more recent history with Manila-born (and raised) Isabel Preysler’s emergence as Spain’s most famous media celebrity to consistently grace the pages of Spain’s glossy magazines.

(Tip: Any showbiz, fashion, or glossy lifestyle magazine randomly taken off a stand in any major Spanish city is 100% sure to have at least one picture of Isabel Preysler found within its pages.)

Incidentally, Isabel Preysler – who in 1991, 2002, and 2006, was voted “most elegant and best-dressed woman in Spain” – is the ex-wife of ex-footballer and singing sensation Julio Iglesias and the mother of world famous half-Spanish, half-Filipino singing sensation Enrique Iglesias.

Rethinking our US-only focus & rediscovering our Spanish heritage

NBA’ers Le Bron James and Anthony Carmelo looking sad after losing to the Greek team which did not have any superstars

Basketball and the deeply-flawed Philippine Presidential System are two examples of colossal failures for Filipinos which were bequeathed to us by the United States of America. Far too many misguided Filipinos have continued to defend such an infatuation with everything American, using the tired old argument that since the USA is currently the world’s largest economy and world’s foremost superpower, whatever the USA does is “the best.”

This needs to be seriously re-evaluated as the performance of the USA itself in Basketball has proven to be an even greater colossal failure on the world stage as US Basketball Teams, in all categories – youth, adult, and even professional – continue to consistently get clobbered by so many other teams primarily from Europe and even Latin America. Ever since the year 2000, European-style basketball, whose general playing philosophy is heavily rooted in Football’s heritage of heavy ball-passing,  strong-defense, and an almost extreme emphasis on cooperation and teamwork, has on the average reigned supreme over America’s Basketball players’ superstar attitudes and egotism.

Game after game, whenever the US faces a European basketball team, the “unthinkable” happens: The US Basketball Team loses most of the time. Whether the USA plays against the basketball powerhouses of the former Yugoslavia – Serbia or Croatia, or against Spain, Greece, or even Latin American teams like Argentina – usually known more for Football than Basketball, the results are usually the same: The USA consistently and pathetically loses.

(Luckily, many Americans do tend to be self-critical enough to admit when something needs to be changed, and thus articles do get written which focus on highlighting the problem in order to get everyone realizing the need to solve it.)

Team USA being beaten by Serbia in the Youth Olympics in Singapore — Score on the board: Serbia 30; USA 27

This has extremely broad and intense implications for the future of Philippine Basketball as Pinoy players and fans continue to be uncritically infatuated with and transfixed on America’s NBA games, which have consistently promoted individualism and egotistic playing-styles where selfish monopoly of the ball is the norm and ball-passing assists are considered only as a “last resort.” The end-result of this NBA-centric paradigm has resulted in the Philippines’ consistently mediocre results in international basketball meets against countries where basketball is not even one of the top 3 sports played or followed.

Be it a basketball game pitting the Philippines against Kazakhstan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Lebanon, or others, all of whom are primarily Football-centric countries, the result is the same: The Philippines loses to them in Basketball!

Clearly, this consistent barrage of slaps-on-our-faces should serve as a wake-up call to our continued unthinking infatuation with the American way of doing things as our failure in Basketball is not only a result of our obvious lack of height in a game that mandates it as a minimum requirement, but it is also clearly the result of our collective refusal to look at and learn from other paradigms coming from other societies (such as European or other societies) which may actually be better-fits with our inherent cultural tendencies or inclinations.

Lebanon – 93 clobbers the Basketball-crazy Philippines – 75: That’s because we copy the USA’s Primadonna Paradigm

The American Primadonna Paradigm has always been one that exalts personal glory and individual achievement above all else. Not only does this extend to the American Political System and American Sports, this also extends to American Pop Music, where solo artists abound in America whereas the British are a lot more into bands.

By itself, an emphasis on Individualism is not bad. However, it tends to spell total disaster in team sports where cooperation is supposed to reign supreme over ego and personal glory. Furthermore, Filipinos are actually much more predisposed towards collective undertakings as evidenced by our tendency to do things as a group (something which we actually share with fellow Asians and even with Southern Europeans/Latins), as exemplified by the oft-touted Bayanihan spirit. The heavy emphasis on rugged American individualism is again, by itself, not bad, but it actually does come in direct conflict with our natural tendencies and therefore contributes to a certain level of confusion.

On the one hand, our models for sports – based on the individualistic nature of American Basketball as seen in the NBA – confuses us to go against our own inherent group-based tendencies, and this too is very much evident in our model for governance which is also based on the American Presidential System, itself a highly individualistic, primadonna-based, and personality-heavy system that exalts one individual (the Presidential Candidate) over and above the team (the Political Party).

Fareed Zakaria, PhD

On the political system front, the US Presidential System is itself under intense fire from among America’s very own intellectuals. Leading intellectuals from the USA such as Dr. Arend Lijphart, Dr.  Juan Linz, and even CNN’s and Time’s Dr. Fareed Zakaria all point to the US Presidential System as being fundamentally-flawed and in fact serve to hobble the US from reaching its full potential.

In one of Dr. Zakaria’s recent articles on Time Magazine, entitled “How to Restore the American Dream”, he writes towards the end of his piece:

“People often note that America’s political system is broken. Perhaps the truth is more awkward: America needs radical change, and it has an 18th century system determined to check and balance the absolute power of a monarchy. It is designed for gridlock at a moment when quick and large-scale action is our only hope.”

Another political and policy commentator from the USA, Craig Ruff, has also criticized the US Presidential System and clearly points out the superiority of the Parliamentary System. In his article “Parliament Works Better”, Ruff states:

Craig Ruff

America’s love affair with separate powers assumes strange things: a) a leader cannot be both a maker and implementer of policy; b) it is wicked to entrust the well-being of people to a coherent political party, as opposed to special interests piecemealing public policies; c) one party’s good showing at one election breeds irreversible despotism; d) cults of personality are healthier to democracy than intelligible reasoning and a coherent, guiding philosophy; and e) a bedsheet ballot of nondescript individuals defines the public will.

In stark contrast, consider a parliamentary system that produces: a) robust and seasoned thinkers who understand the making and execution of law; b) accountable leaders of parties, as opposed to unaccountable associations and lobbyists; c) elections whenever a leader loses the public’s and party’s faith and trust; d) ennobling philosophical disputes instead of du jour flaming; and e) unified but reversible law making.”

 

Another American PhD, Dr. Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy institute and managing editor of ProgressiveFix.org  wrote an article entitled “Dismissing Gridlock: A Case for Parliamentary Systems” where he interviewed two political science PhD’s from Boston University, John Gerring and Strom Thacker and wrote:

Lee Drutman, PhD

“The United States is not about to up and rewrite its constitution to create a parliamentary system.

But if it were up to Gerring and Thacker, it certainly should. As Gerring put it, “There’s very little to defend the current system.” Thacker, meanwhile, noted that for a country with our level of economic development, the United States doesn’t do nearly as well as we might be expected to do across a broad range of human development outcomes. “For a rich country, we should be doing better,” he said.

Still, constitutional reform is a live issue in many countries around the world, as well as for those who think about nation-building. And the lessons from Gerring and Thacker do seem clear: Parliamentary systems that institutionalize coordination and compromise consistently produce better outcomes than presidential systems that institutionalize conflict and confrontation.”

Altea, Alicante, Valencia, España ————- Vigan, Ilocos Sur, Filipinas             The Commonalities are obvious!

Quite clearly, there is an ever-increasing number of US-based intellectuals who have decided to look squarely at reality and determine what exactly it is that has enabled the USA to succeed. As a result, more and more Americans are in fact realizing that America’s success happened despite (not because of) its use of the Presidential System.  Truth be told, America’s success is directly a result of being the World’s Largest Immigrant Nation, where an overwhelming majority of today’s Americans are themselves first-generation immigrants, sons and daughters of immigrants, or people who can easily trace themselves as being 5th or 6th-generation immigrants, and thus are still quite conscious of the need to excel and live up to the hard-working immigrant ethos of their immigrant ancestors.

Evidently, two of America’s “gifts” to the Philippines – Basketball and the US Presidential System – have unfortunately bombed when transplanted to our shores and worse, are likewise areas where the USA is itself having major challenges as US Basketball Teams continue to keep losing against teams from countries steeped in more cooperative and team-based traditions of Football (Soccer) as their primary sport, and where the United States’ own Presidential System is now increasingly coming under fire from within the entire US Political Science Academia  and Intelligentsia for its unwieldy and gridlock-prone structural set-up.

Instead of looking only to the US for inspiration, it may actually serve us well to derive inspiration from numerous other societies and more importantly re-embrace our Spanish heritage. After all, Spain is both a Football-centric country and uses a Parliamentary System and we share a much deeper set of commonalities with Spain than with the USA.

Spain is a better model for Filipinos to emulate than the USA

Filipinos have much to learn by simply looking further back to our history and looking past the over-hyped American influences in both Basketball and the Presidential System.

The Filipino Football Legend in action

First off, we need to remember that the Azkals are not the first group of Filipinos to do well in the sport of Football. We’ve had a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines – who rose to become a football hero in Spain, and holds the distinction of being F.C. Barcelona’s all-time highest goal-scorer in all of the club’s history and a committed doctor of medicine: Dr. Paulino Alcántara y Riestrá.

Secondly, we’ve had a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines – who excelled in Spain’s Parliamentary System. This Filipino started off in a military career, became a high-ranking general, rose to become a high-ranking Minister in Spain’s cabinet and even went on to become a three-time Prime Minister of Spain: Marcelo Azcárraga y Palmero.

Marcelo de Azcárraga, born & raised in the Philippines, became Spain’s Prime Minister

Two questions need to be asked regarding our infatuation with all things American:

(1) Have we ever had a Filipino basketball player get into the NBA?

(2) Has a person of Filipino descent ever become President of the USA or at least become a high-ranking US cabinet secretary?

The answer is clearly a big NO on both counts.

(Having a Filipina Chef serve in the White House does not count for number 2!)

Between the two former colonizers, Spain has proven to be the country that has treated Filipinos – regardless of racial background – as true equals, granting all Filipinos with full Spanish citizenship and giving equal opportunities for Filipinos to excel and reach the top as exemplified by high honors presented to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo in the arts and the rise of Philippine-born Filipinos (who at the time were full Spanish citizens) such as Azcárraga and Alcántara to the top of their fields.  With these facts, it thus comes as no surprise that José Rizal and many of his friends and fellow Filipino expats in Spain and Europe such as Antonio Luna were said to have staunchly advocated integration into Spain rather than outright independence: It was clear to them that better political integration and assimilation with Peninsular Spain would  have allowed competent Filipinos to easily rise to the top.

(In fact, Antonio Luna remained a pro-Spain loyalist  – like Rizal – until after the Spaniards surrendered to the Americans in 1898 and it became clear that the Americans were planning to take over the Philippines. It was at that point when officers and soldiers of the Spanish Army, along with other Spanish loyalists joined forces with Aguinaldo’s Katipunan forces to repel the Anglo-Saxon invaders just as Filipinos and Spanish authorities had done much earlier when another Anglo-Saxon invader – the British – tried to take over the Philippines.)

It’s high time we Filipinos acknowledged that not only do we have much more in common with Spain – in terms of culture and heritage – than with the USA, but also that we Filipinos have had the opportunity to excel in two things that are more associated with Spain than the USA, and are more appropriate to our situation: Football and the Parliamentary System.


* * *

Here are some related articles:

1. Philippine Progress: Shift in Sports, Shift in System by yours truly

2. Sen. Pangilinan and the Parliamentary System by yours truly

3. Parliament Fits the Philippines by yours truly

4. F to A: What P-Noy Needs to do in order to Succeed by yours truly

5. Should the Philippines Turn Parliamentary? by Florencio “Butch” Abad

* * *

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 and spearheads the campaign to inform the Filipino Public about the urgent need for Constitutional Reform & Rectification for Economic Competitiveness & Transformation.