Home » Opinion » Editorial » Checks and balances in our government

Checks and balances in our government

There is a system of checks and balances in our government, designed to avert excesses in the wielding of government authority. Thus a President can veto any law passed by Congress which, in turn, can overturn the veto if it has the numbers. The President, Vice President, the Chief Justice, and certain other executive officials may be impeached by Congress for acts that are listed in the Constitution. A law enacted by Congress and an order of the President may be questioned in and reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Within Congress, there is the same system of checks and balances between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Sometime ago, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez criticized the Senate for failing to act thus far on several measures long approved by the House, notably the death penalty bill. This prompted Senate Minority Leader Frankln Drilon to assert that the Senate is an independent institution and if it chooses to act differently from the House on any measure, that is its right and duty.

In recent months, there have been efforts to impeach the Chief Justice, with the House, which is effectively controlled by the pro-administration super-majority, holding several hearings while calling on the Chief Justice to resign, so as – so they claimed– to save the institution of the Supreme Court “from further damage.”

The Chief Justice has repeatedly declared she has no intention of resigning; she will fight her case in the Senate which, under the Constitution, tries impeachment cases approved by the House. The House has sufficiently demonstrated that it is bound to impeach her, so it might be best to send her case now for trial in the Senate. That would be the next step in the exercise of the system of checks and balances.

Congress will soon be engulfed in the work of amending the Constitution. Administration leaders want this amendment to be done by a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) composed of the present members of the House and the Senate. Administration leaders do not want a Constitutional Convention (Con-con) composed of delegates specifically elected for constitutional work. That would be too expensive, they said – R7 billion. Surely, it would be worth it to spend P7 billion for the very basic and all-important work of drawing up a Constitution for the country, but a Con-Ass would be a more compliant body.

When the new Constitution is drafted by this Con-Ass, which will be dominated by the over 300 members of the House against 24 members of the Senate, it is bound to go along with the administration goal of a federal system of government without too much debate.

There is also a move in the House for a unicameral legislature – meaning a Congress without a Senate. That would mean a more efficient legislative body, but it would also remove a basic part of the system of government checks and balances which is now a key element of our present Philippine government.