This feature article by the editor in chief of MindaNews, Carol O. Arguillas, published Nov. 13, 2022, is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

DAVAO CITY: The president of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI) lamented the death of the "idea of federalism" in the Philippines, but urged fellow Mindanawons to "concentrate on how to make the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) successful" because "Mindanao's revenge against imperial Manila is for BARMM to succeed."

Lito Monico Lorenzana, CDPI president, chairman emeritus of Kusog Mindanaw and a columnist of The Manila Times, said there must be a "criteria of success" for the BARMM because while it is "not federalism per se," it can be the "start of something that may produce federalism."

"I am sorry to say that we federalists are a dying breed. More importantly, our idea of federalism is dead. Is dead. Please don't send flowers," Lorenzana said during the panel discussion on the "Roadmap for Federalism as a Mindanao Agenda," at the Kusog Mindanaw Conference on November 11.

The high-level panel, with another federalist, Michael Mastura, former congressional representative of Maguindanao and president of the Sultan Kudarat Islamic Academy, was tasked to "explore current developments and prospects in the House and the Senate on Charter change, particularly in the proposal for the shift to a federal system [and] generate steps that Mindanao advocates may take to help advance federalism."

The other panel members — Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, Senate majority leader during the Duterte administration and now Senate minority leader in the Marcos Jr. administration, and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Reforms — failed to attend the conference.

Lorenzana recalled how his fellow federalists, the late Abulkhayr Alonto and Reuben Canoy, opted for a Mindanao Independence Movement, noting that "if that caught fire, we would have been a federal Mindanao."

"The problem is we compromised. When we were in the cusp of an independent [Mindanao]," the national government feared it would lose the country's food basket and resource-rich area so it compromised, paving the way for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and later the BARMM, which Lorenzana described as "panakip butas" (substitute or replacement).

Duterte dropped the ball

"Federalism as we envision it is dead," Lorenzana stressed, adding that there was already a president from Mindanao "who went on to win because of federalism, after which he dropped the ball" and there is a president now, who ran under the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas but has not said anything about federalism.

Mastura noted how Duterte "started very well with that promise" of amending the Constitution to allow for a shift to a federal system from the presidential-unitary system. "But he (Duterte) did not pursue it," marking the "death of the federal advocacy."

On the fate of the federal advocacy under the present Marcos administration, Mastura said: "This president now... what is his party? Federal. Is he talking about federalism? Not yet, I think never. So what do we do with him? So I'm trying to rabble-rouse here. You know I am a rabble-rouser. Always been."

Mastura had advocated for a federal system while a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention.

He said he hopes Marcos "will pick up this idea of a federal setup immediately, while he is new in office."

Lorenzana said he does not see a silver lining, that they are "all frustrated" but hopes that from that frustration would emerge a seed of hope.

"That seed of hope is beginning to take ground. Or is that true?" he said, noting how the actor Robin Padilla, now an elected senator, is "on the right path" but has not called on the federalists to explain federalism to him.

"That guy never understood the wealth of wisdom between Mike and I for example... Robinhood has not even thought of talking to us. So, do you really think the guy will understand what federalism is? No, now if we have people like that in the highest echelon of government and does not even talk to those who understand federalism, then federalism is dead," he said.

Lorenzana's other woes are "there is no debate on federalism now" and "we have a president who ran under Federal and who does not know how to spell federal. Federalism is dead."

But in the latter part of his speech, Lorenzana said he saw some silver lining and "the silver linings here are the people."

'Good governance' root of federalism

He said the focus should now be on how to make BARMM succeed and a criteria of success of good governance in the BARMM must be made.

Among the "good governance" criteria he proposed are to "elevate" the poor in the region that hosts the poorest of the poor provinces by using simple poverty alleviation measures, peace and order, economic growth and food security.

"Talk about simple infrastructure build-up ... talk about how you can harness the OFW remittances, Simple things and that is how the BARMM will come up with something that is based on good governance" as this will "lead towards self-governance which is really the root of federalism."

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte, who gave the conference keynote address,, narrated her experience in Paquibato, Davao City, which was heavily influenced by communist rebels before.

"The antidote to war is good governance. And good governance builds public trust," she said. "That is something that I learned sa Paquibato. Good governance breeds public trust. When people see government officials working with integrity, with professionalism, and dedication to public service — they no longer see sense in causes that espouse violence."

Corruption is the enemy

At the turnover from ARMM to BARMM on Feb. 26, 2019, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, who would be referred to by his real name, Ahod Balawag Ebrahim while serving as interim chief minister, vowed that the region would be ruled by "moral governance," a government that will "really be free of all the ills of governance."

"Now we acknowledge that we are entering another level of our jihad. Our jihad will be more intense and more challenging, our jihad firstly will be against our own self," Murad said. "Our enemies are all the ills of governance... our enemy is graft and corruption, our enemy is the manipulation of government, our enemy is nepotism, our enemy is all those ills of government."

In his inaugural address on March 25, 2019, Murad had said: "Our leadership over the BARMM and the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) is an amanah, a trust given to us and a responsibility for which we have to account for. Let us always be conscious of the day when we shall be asked of how we fulfill the trust and discharge the responsibilities."

At the Kusog Mindanaw conference, calls were made for more transparency and accountability in the BARMM amid criticisms that some officials are engaging in "the ills of governance." MindaNews

The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.