The Powers of the Philippine President, Explained

Both written and unwritten.

With the power to shut down the entire country or mobilize the military for war while in power, to influencing who gets to occupy Malacañang next, the president of the Philippines is king (or queen) of one of Asia's most tumultuous democracies. No other official comes close.

Why is this so?  It's because the president is the only head of a branch of government that is directly chosen by the people. It's a legacy of American democracy where the electorate chooses the head of state. If Europe has its monarchs and prime ministers, the Philippines has its president.

"In our culture, the President wields the most influence--because he was chosen by the majority of Filipinos. The President is the sole head of a branch of government decided ultimately by the people through the elections," University of Santo Tomas Department of Political Science Chair Dennis Coronacion told reportr.

"The reason why the powers of the President are expressed in the Constitution is because these are so vast, that there needs to be a check and balance mechanism," Coronacion said.

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Most powers are in black and white

Here are the powers of the president as written in the Constitution and in the Administrative Code of 1987:

Big boss of government

The President controls all executive departments, bureaus, and offices of the government. This means he has the power to appoint, reshuffle, remove, and transfer officials from one office to another. 

Signs bills into law

As provided by the Constitution, every bill passed by Congress shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President -- who has the power to approve it or veto it. In case of a veto, the bill will be sent back to Congress where the rejection can be overturned by a vote of two-thirds of the House. 

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Commander-in-chief of the military

The President can call on soldiers to respond to an invasion or rebellion. When public safety requires it, the President has the power to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus or place the Philippines or any part of the country under martial law, like what Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972.

Last resort for convicts

The President, after conviction by final judgment, may pardon, reprieve, or commute a convict's sentence. A recent example for instance is President Rodrigo Duterte's grant of pardon to American soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton for the killing of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude.

Borrow money on the country's behalf

Even without the concurrence of the Monetary Board, the President may contract or guarantee loans on behalf of the country subject to limitations provided by law.

Issues ordinances that have the force of law

Presidents can streamline programs with ordinances and proclamations. From executive orders to memorandum circulars, the President can steer the government with issuances.

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While these are limited in terms of scope, written orders of the President help push the administration's agenda. One example of this is President Dutere's executive order prohibiting smoking in public places. 

Decides if aliens can stay in the country

The President exercises certain powers over foreigners in the country. These include the power to deport or overrule a deportation order against any alien, provide citizenship, and exercise powers based on international law principles.

If necessary, seize private property

The president has the power of eminent domain, or to direct the government to seize private property for public use with just compensation.

He or she can also order proceedings to recover ill-gotten wealth by public officials from them or their beneficiaries. The late President Corazon Aquino, for instance, formed the PCGG to recover ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the late dictator Marcos and his cronies.

Appoints heads of agencies

Presidents can appoint officials of government. Some will need to undergo confirmation from the House of Representatives and Senate.

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Oversees local government units

The Department of the Interior and Local Government--headed by a cabinet secretary or an alter-ego of the president, fulfills this role for the executive.

Some powers are unwritten

While the powers of Presidents are expressly stated in law, their influence goes beyond it. He or she wields influence on Congress, building alliances to ensure that his pet bills get to his desk for signing into law.

A weak political system based on who is popular gives the president such influence, according to Coronacion, the political analyst.

"It's like a one-man game. Whoever is the president, dictates the flow. Everyone wants to be under the good grace of the President, even those from the opposing side of the political fence. We call it political turncoatism," he said.

The President, traditionally, also "anoints" a successor. Former President Benigno Aquino III for instance endorsed Mar Roxas for the 2016 presidential elections. Then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo backed her defense secretary, Gilberto Teodoro, in 2010.

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As proven in recent years, the President's public statements amount to policy.

President Rodrigo Duterte's jokes for instance are often construed as policy statements. His threats also signal his orders -- such as when he told ABS-CBN: "I will see to it that you are out." Months later, the media network failed to get a fresh franchise. 

"The President's statements are usually taken as policies which is why presidents should be extra cautious in the words that they say because even jokes may be interpreted as something serious," Coronacion said.

"The President wields a lot of power and influence, which is why all eyes are always on who is in Malacañang," he added.

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