Check and Balance


A RECENT Pulse Asia survey regarding the Filipino opinion about charter change shows that about 42% reject it. But the more alarming finding is that 57% of Filipinos know little to nothing about the Constitution. Although I have this inherent distrust for survey results, experientially, this figure seems to be true. Even I knew very little about our most basic law before entering law school. I just never bothered to learn it back then. And like so many of our Filipino youth, I just didn’t care.

Now that I work for the Filipino people, I have no choice but to do care. So allow me to explain our system of government and how it is supposed to work.

Our government is composed of three parts or branches.

We have the Legislative Branch or the people who make the laws. These are the House of Representatives and the Senate. Legislative Power is otherwise known as the Power of the Purse because it is the lawmakers who design the national budget.

We have the Executive Branch or the people who implement the law. These are the President, the Cabinet members and everyone else working under the different departments. Executive Power is also called the Power of the Sword because it is the Executive that imposes the law and controls the police and the military.

Finally, we have the Judicial Branch or the people who interpret the law in actual cases. These are the Supreme Court justices and the justices and judges of the lower courts. Judicial Power is sometimes referred to as the Power of the Scales because it is the courts that have the final word on actual cases or controversies.

Power is spread out among these three branches because of a long history of world experience that if power belonged only to one person or to a single family, there will be tyranny. By giving specific groups specific powers and duties, they are able to check and balance each other’s actions so that minimal damage will arise out of any fault or error by any individual person in government. In other words, our system essentially is a result of a well-placed mistrust in human nature. This is called the Separation of Powers.

How do these checks and balances work? In several ways:

1. If Legislature approves a bad law, the Executive can veto it. If the Executive abuses his veto, the Legislature can, in turn, override it by getting a higher vote.

2. If the Judiciary makes a bad decision in a criminal case, the Executive can pardon the convicted person and set him free.

3. If the Executive assigns unworthy or questionable persons to the Cabinet or to certain key government positions, this decision can be rejected by the Commission on Appointments under the Legislative Branch of government.

4. If certain government officials, namely the President, the Vice-President, the Supreme Court Justices, the Commissioners of the Commission on Elections, Audit and Civil Service, and the Ombudsman prove to be unworthy of their positions, they can be impeached with the initiative of the Legislative Branch.

5. Finally, if any person in government exercises his or her power with grave abuse of discretion, the Judiciary can reverse, modify or set aside that abusive exercise of power and order that person to behave properly.

All these are designed to keep power in its proper place.

Sadly, these checks and balances have mostly been illusory in recent years. The Supreme Court Justices, Members of Congress and even the Ombudsman are either friends or family of the President. There exists a personal touch that contorts the entire system into something no longer recognizable as a democracy. The Philippines has been disfigured under the rule of pakikisama. What we used to consider as a value is now proving to be a serious liability and a blockade against national unity and freedom.

After all is said and done, the ultimate check and balance comes from us – the common people. We vote for our leaders, their policies, attitudes, experience, education, faith, prejudices, mistakes, triumphs and yes… their families. Our collective decision will form our collective destiny.

I hope we can all remember this next year.

Register. Vote. And use nothing less than your very best judgment.
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