Rightsizing Government: A critical constitutional reform measure

A change in form does not constitute wholesale change.

Active moves to revise the 1987 Philippine Constitution have ushered in renewed hope for major political and institutional reforms in the country, particularly in solving the age-old problems of corruption in government. While the shift to a federal form of government serves as a means to improve basic service delivery to our people, it does not provide a direct mechanism to reduce levels of graft and corruption.

Rationalizing the size of government remains a critical component in curbing corruption. However, the current version of the Constitutional Commission's (ConComm) proposed charter does not sufficiently address this issue.

The following features/non-features of the ConComm proposed charter reveal that the rationalization of government size was not substantially considered as a critical reform area:

  1. Increased Size of the Legislature

    Based on the published draft version of the ConComm, the size of the Legislature would increase by about 60% from its existing number. In the Senate, there would be 2 elected Senators for each of the 18 federated regions to bring its membership to about 36 from the current 24. In the Lower House, there would be 400 members of the House of Representatives from the current 297. Given the significant increase in the Legislature's membership, achieving a quorum to pass important measures would become more challenging than it is already at present.

  2. Unabated Presidential Power to create new offices/commissions under the Office of the President

    At present, we have around 413 National Government Agencies employing more than 1.3 million personnel. By far, our civil service is considered as the country's largest employer. Yet, despite its relatively bloated size, the public remains largely dissatisfied with frontline services provided by various government agencies.

    While the transitory provisions in the ConComm’s proposed charter provides a reorganization of the Federal Government, the power of the President to create special offices/commissions under the OP is substantively retained under Article 8, Section 17.

    Rightsizing government does not just entail a review of the present configuration but also involves putting in place limitations on the powers of the President to create new offices/commissions. Based on recent history, past Presidents speculatively abused their executive powers to create new offices/commissions that merely duplicate functions of existing departments/agencies in order to accommodate campaign supporters/donors.

Most of us are rallying behind the Constitutional Reform initiative as it is seen as a vehicle to advance substantive governance reforms. However, these changes must be done wholesale and not half-baked.

A change in form does not constitute wholesale change. Wholesale change can only be attained if provisions geared towards rightsizing government are introduced in the proposed new constitution.

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About the Author
Mr. Aaron Benedict De Leon is currently a Business Development Practitioner in a private consulting firm. He has more than six years of professional experience in leading and managing political and non-government organizations, specializing in organizational management, policy development and program management. He has had stints with notable political/socio-civic organizations, serving in various capacities as: Secretary-General of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP) [2013-2015], Founding Chairperson of the Centrist Democratic Youth Association of the Philippines (CDYAP) [2012-2014], Philippine Representative to the International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) [2011-2012], Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth [2011-2012], Secretary-General of YOUTH Philippines [2010-2011], and Spokesperson/Communications Director of the GT2010 Gilbert Teodoro Presidential Campaign [2009-2010].
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