DESPITE traces of tribal rivalry in our dealings with one another, we Filipinos have managed somehow to stick together as a nation. There may be rumblings underfoot now and then, but we have kept marching forward as one.
Now what is this alarming disruption being sown by some merchants of political adventurism who seem bent on cutting up an already unified Republic and selling the bits and pieces down the river of Federalism?
Surveys show that six out of every 10 wide awake Filipinos are wary of that newfangled Federalism being served them. They are not so sure they want to replace the present Constitution with what could be a recipe for disaster. Nor do they trust those peddling the idea.
After two bumpy years in office, President Rodrigo Duterte cooks up a Federalism agenda whose logic eludes us. In slash-burn fashion, he proposes to raze the existing political structure and build an entirely new one from the ashes.
While we concede the Davao ex-mayor’s capacity to destroy, we are not ready to believe in his ability to build a new nation from the ground up. He throws us off with his pretending to be ready to step down, but obviously preparing to step up to a Federal regime by 2022.
It’s scary. This first-time player has his finger on the Reset button to trigger an irreversible chain of events that will revise or totally replace – not just amend — the current Constitution from its title to the preamble down to the last word.
If Duterte’s experiment fails – and many experts in statecraft warn of a likely failure – it will be impossible to reboot the discarded system, or retrieve a backup mirror copy in the cloud, or fall back on an emergency alternate program.
• Why the need for Federalism?
FEDERALISTS want to give the masses outside “imperial Manila” their fair share of the fat of the land and the fruits of development. Interestingly, we have seen that a sympathetic amending of the Local Government Code alone could correct much of the imbalance.
Why do we have to open up a patient just to neutralize a bug that has been identified, located and for which an antidote is ready? What really is the ulterior agenda for strapping the patient to the operating table to undergo a life-threatening procedure?
Duterte has the queer habit of keeping his hands in his pockets while conversing. What is he hiding?
The experiment that he is rushing will regroup the country’s 81 provinces and 145 cities into 16 federated regions (still to be delineated) in addition to an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao and another in the Cordilleras.
While the country is being cut up into a jigsaw puzzle of sub-states, expect the entrenched political dynasties, warlords (and other *lords), secessionist groups, and a variety of political and economic cliques to scramble for continued control of their fiefdoms.
Duterte has been saying lately, btw, that with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front getting its own autonomous region (carved out under the just-enacted Bangsamoro Organic Law), he must also gift the older Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari a similar area.
What happens when (not “if”) other Muslim armed groups demand their own entitlement or the return of more ancestral land supposedly grabbed by Christian settlers who had migrated to, and now lord it over, Mindanao?
We are talking here only of dividing territory, not yet of other contentious issues. A treacherous rough road lies ahead on our way to 2022, after which “the permanence and indissolubility of the Federal Republic shall not be subject to constitutional amendment or revision.”
• Federalism to nip Muslim secession?
DUTERTE is gambling that giving Muslim regions no less than 50 percent of income, excise and value-added taxes, on top of shared legislative and judicial powers and other concessions, would dampen their aspirations for secession.
With so much power and discretion given the federated regions, the powerful bloc that firms up its claim on its bailiwick is likely to be able to perpetuate its hold on it and its proportionate representation in the federal legislative and judicial bodies.
Having grabbed the “KaPe” (kapangyarihan at pera, or power and money), the syndicate controlling a region would not need to line up dynastic officials to perpetuate its presence. Patronage politics in the Congress illustrates how the corrupt system works.
Who would referee the scramble for control of the federal regions – and the entire federal setup — as the country is cut up into fiefdoms? Despite his claim to be dying to retire, Duterte could do it by assuming near-dictatorial powers.
The power fight could create a crisis – resembling the “lawless violence” cited in the Constitution – that could be a cue for a budding dictator to step in to save Filipinos from themselves.
May the Armed Forces of the Philippines take over? It so happens that the Federal Constitution divests the AFP of its role assigned by the current charter of being “the protector of the people and the State.”
What to do? Honestly, I don’t know. As I said in my Postscript of July 8: “Whatever Duterte wants done will be done! The only force that can stop him is Divine Intervention or a Mass Upheaval, both of which seem unlikely at the moment.” https://tinyurl.com/y9qlaq9e