PHILIPPINE independence was technically won by us after the second world war. This was meant to free the country from American tutelage. But after several decades of self-government, it became clear that having done away with our foreign colonizers, we substituted them with those from within. Certain segments of our citizenry always thought of this “independence” as fiction as over the years since 1946, a greater part of our people was still manacled to perpetual poverty brought about by policies that served the interests of the new masters—the emerging and thriving oligarchy that had begun to control both the economic and political levers of power. Thus, several types of peasant uprisings, foremost of which was the Hukbalahap insurrection came into the fore to free the farmers and the downtrodden from the shackles of injustice. All of them failed. But the seething anger within continued to boil until the appropriate time.

 

Thus, in 1968 a call for upheaval was heeded by an academic activist, Jose Ma. Sison (Joma) who founded the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP); a year after, its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), was born.

 

It all began with a popular ideology, overlaid by a patriotic love to free the peasants from oppressive poverty and an idealistic young leadership. From an ember, the revolutionary fervor spread throughout. Six presidents have come and gone, each with a promise to solve the deep-rooted problems seeping into the country’s socio-economic and political fabric. Yet, the status quo prevailed.
The internecine war that ensued has resulted in thousands of deaths with a greater toll among civilians and innocent lives trapped in this madness. Today, the number of casualties continues to rise in the midst of yet another attempt at peace dialogue. But both sides have accused each other of duplicity. The conversation has deteriorated into the language of violence.

 

At this juncture, there can only be one end to this sordid narrative and both protagonists have staked their positions. The government on one end will require the total surrender of the communist rebels, with enticements to bring them back to the fold and quell insurgency thereafter. The revolutionary forces on the other hand, distrustful of government’s inducements has but one ultimate design and that is to take full control of government. Unable to arrive at a political solution, DU30 has of late employed a final gambit, one which the international community (the US and EU) unilaterally allowed itself years ago.
President Duterte recently declared the end of the peace talks with the CPP/NPA. Subsequently on December 5, 2017, he signed a proclamation formally declaring the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations pursuant to Republic Act 10168, or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2002.

 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said this was because of the “continued violent acts of the CPP-NPA which sow and create a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace.” The terrorist tag kills any hope of negotiations and reconciliation with the CPP/NPA.

 

To recall, during the campaign, DU30 did a song and dance with this group, culminating in his dramatic televised call to Joma Sison, exiled in the Netherlands, offering to restart the peace talks. As a sweetener, he offered cabinet slots to the CPP once he was elected President. The Deegong became the darling of the Left and it reinforced his street cred as the candidate for the “masa.” He went on to capture the presidency. True to his word, three cabinet slots were reserved for the Left and top CPP/NPA leaders were freed from incarceration to participate in the peace negotiations abroad, at a huge discomfort to the Armed Forces which had shed blood in apprehending these prisoners. All of these moves by the PRRD were done to end the almost five decades of the communist insurgency.

 

Today, a year and half into his presidency, all bets are off.

 

The terrorist label is of course not entirely new. Back in August of 2002 the US listed the CPP/NPA as a terrorist organization, followed by the European Union (EU). The Philippine government refused to tag them as terrorist as there was this hope of a real reconciliation. But over the years, the peace talks with the communists did not go forward and was instead eclipsed by the Bangsamoro peace talks. Also, it was seen that the CPP/NPA Maoist ideology was losing traction and the CPP/NPA had been reduced to acts of brigandage.

 

Earlier, with the euphoric start of the peace talks in Europe, it was obvious that the central leadership based in the Netherlands were not in control of the local CPP/NPA as sporadic attacks and the extortionate acts continued unabated while peace negotiations were going on.

 

With the recent government declaration, Joma is putting up a brave face saying that the terrorist tag means nothing. But it is undeniably a most shameful conclusion to their years of armed struggle. On top of this, the implications for their international standing and the sources of their funding could be damaging. The terrorist declaration by the government freezes and forfeits the property or funds of those designated as terrorist organizations; their support from China ended in 1976; and their various fund-raising activities in Europe have dried up following the 1990 collapse of communist regimes worldwide.

 

The CPP/NPA principally finances itself now by exacting “revolutionary taxes” from businesses, offering the latter “protection,” and by selling “campaign permits” to candidates for elective positions campaigning in the hinterlands. Worse still is their collusion with corrupt police and military personnel selling them small firearms and ammunition.

 

Ideologically, they have become irrelevant. They have been reduced to mere banditry. Impending arrest also awaits the communist leaders from abroad who may be repatriated to the country.

 

The implications on the peace and order situation in the entire country could still be deadly. The CPP/NPA is by far not a spent force. They still have the means to wreak havoc in the countryside and still capable of spilling blood and treasure of the Armed Forces and government. The Deegong’s job is up his alley—decapitate its leadership and those remaining few.

 

We are in for a tumultuous Christmas holidays and beyond. God help us!
First of 2 parts
THE ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) recently submitted to the House of Representatives its proposal for constitutional amendments. There has been a lot of apprehensions regarding our shift to a federal form of government. For example, Winnie Monsod fears that federalism will lead to the strengthening of political dynasties and more corruption in the regions. Sen. Ralph Recto is concerned that there will be more layers of bureaucracy and red tape and hence more taxes. Former senator Edgardo Angara Sr. has expressed some concern over the potential break-up of the country if, for example, one region discovers huge oil and gas reserves and no longer needs transfers from the national government.
Professors at the University of the Philippines rhetorically ask: “If federalism is the answer, then what is the question?” What would happen to the party list? What about the administrative capacity of the regions? Businessmen and investors are rightly worried how federalism, especially taxes, would impact their businesses. Would the shift to federalism slow down our growth momentum? Would a presidential, parliamentary or a hybrid form of government be suitable for Philippine-style federalism? Why do we need to change the Constitution and why not just amend the Local Government Code to give more powers to the regions?

 

The PDP Laban draft constitution—drafted by experts under the guidance of Senate President Koko Pimentel, the PDP-Laban president—recognizes these concerns as valid. The draft constitution in fact proposes the shift to federalism as a grand bargain, a package of reforms. These reforms include: 1) constitutional restrictions on political dynasties; 2) shift to a dual executive or semi-presidential form of government; 3) banning of political butterflies; 4) strengthening of political parties; 5) shift to proportional representation; 6) strengthening of constitutional bodies in the regions, particularly the commissions on civil service and audit; 7) reducing the duplication of work between the Senate and the House of Representatives; and 8) judicial reforms, including strengthening of the Sandigan Bayan, appellate courts and Ombudsman at the regional levels.

 

Tinkering with the Local Government Code alone would not be sufficient.

 

From political dynasties to political parties
One of the main apprehensions about federalism is that the transfer of significant powers to the regions will only perpetuate political dynasties. Not all political dynasties are the same, however. Some contribute more to the public good than others. Some political dynasties are fat-tailed—with many members of clans simultaneously occupying positions of power—while others are thin-tailed. Political dynasties themselves are not to blame. The proliferation and durability of political dynasties came about, in large part, because of the failure of the 1987 Constitution to pass a self-enforcing provision regulating these dynasties. This mistake has to be corrected. We need a self-enforcing constitutional provision regulating political dynasties, without which the transfer of more powers to the regions would be at risk of political capture.

 

But why do we need to regulate political dynasties? Why not just let the voters decide? There is a problem with this argument. First, voters decide based on what choices are available to them. If the only options are familiar names of political dynasties, then naturally voters choose the candidates they like most. Candidates do not have incentives to differentiate themselves on the basis of policies and programs. The solution to this is to give voters choices in terms of policies and programs and not just familiar names. This way they can hold political parties accountable. At present, politicians cannot be held accountable for failed promises because their policy positions are unclear. For this, we need to shift from elections based on personalities to one based on political parties with distinctive policies and programs. For this reason, we need to strengthen our political party system.

 

Most successful federal systems of the world depend on strong political parties and not families or personalities. To have strong political parties, we need to 1) shift to a semi-presidential form of government; 2) ban party switching or balimbing; 3) provide state subsidy for political parties as they do in Europe; and 4) ensure party discipline as they do in all parliamentary systems. What happened to the confirmation hearings of the appointees of President Duterte – Gina Lopez, Rafael Mariano and Judy Taguiwalo – is an instructive example. Members of the ruling coalition voted against them while members of the opposition supported them.

 

Semi-presidential form of government
Why would a semi-presidential form of government be better than a purely presidential or parliamentary system if we are to shift to a federal structure?
A presidential system of government is most familiar to Filipinos. It reduces uncertainties in the transition to federalism. Its main disadvantage is the over-centralization of powers, such as what we have now, the difficulty of removing the president if he becomes corrupt or abusive and the potential for gridlock with the parliament. The problem with gridlock has been partly solved via the pork barrel mechanism and a system of patronage with local governments.

 

A parliamentary system of government is more efficient in terms of lawmaking and policy implementation. There is no problem of gridlock and unfunded mandates because members of the cabinet come from the parliament. It also has strong mechanisms of accountability via vote of no confidence and question time. Indeed, most federal systems in the world have parliamentary governments—except, for example, the US, Russia and Mexico where they have popularly elected presidents. Its main disadvantages include the following: 1) strong parliaments rely on strong political parties which we currently do not have now; 2) most likely in the initial years of transition to federalism there will be a proliferation of political parties along regional, ethnic and ideological lines; therefore, parliaments can be unstable, especially if the ruling party comprise a coalition of parties. As a result, we could have a weak and unstable ruling government.

 

A semi-presidential form of government brings together the pros and cons of both presidential and parliamentary systems. In my view, this is the best system if we are to shift to a federal form of government. Let me explain why. First and foremost, the transition to federalism will be challenging and therefore, ironically, we would need a strong national leadership. There will be inherent resistance from national government agencies which will lose their powers and budgets. There is a need to strengthen the capacities of the regions—the middle government—to assume these powers. There will be many implementation issues to be sorted out. A decisive president is needed to ensure a successful transition to federalism.

 

Second, it is better to have a collective leadership with more horses pulling the wagon together—the president, prime minister, the cabinet, regional governors and local governments—compared to the current highly centralized presidential system. Collective and cohesive leadership has proven to be an effective arrangement for the rapid growth of highly decentralized developing countries such as Vietnam and China. Both countries have a president as the head of state and who looks after national security and foreign affairs, a prime minister and cabinet which looks after economic and social policy, and governors who execute policy on the ground.