Fellows Hub (2)

Why Sara slayed the Speaker

Wednesday, 07 March 2018 10:52 Written by
In politics there’s no such thing as being too big to fail. Ruling coalitions become ruling parties, at which point being bloated often results in a party split, as factions lose out in the jockeying and sense an opportunity to strike out — and strike back — by forming rival coalitions to contest the next election. In regional terms, the Visayas (Cebu in particular, with Pusyon Bisaya) and Mindanao (with the Mindanao Alliance) have their own tradition of regional parties standing up to Marcos’ KBL: even PDP-Laban traces its origins to that era. Regional barons don’t take well to being bossed around, and if a boss gets too big for his britches, a revolt is inevitable. This is why everyone seems to be expecting Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to fall, the beneficiary of his toppling being Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but the cause being widely attributed to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s sharp-tongued confrontation with him.

The clash between the mayor of Davao and the representative from the first district of Davao del Norte has been framed as a battle royale between the Speaker’s machinery and everyone else, under the umbrella of the President’s daughter. The Speaker’s take-no-prisoners approach most famously took on the President’s former patron, Antonio Floirendo Jr., with the President weighing in on the Speaker’s side after Floirendo supposedly was too uppity in response to the President’s efforts to smooth things over. But if it was necessary to teach Floirendo a lesson, it seems the time has come to teach Alvarez one, too, not least because a Floirendo-led effort to defeat the Speaker in 2019 is widely expected to succeed. But it is bigger than that as the presence of Sen. JV Ejercito at the launching of Duterte-Carpio’s regional party demonstrated. The Estrada home turf of San Juan has been rocked by a confrontation between the Zamoras and Mayor Guia Gomez, yet PDP-Laban took in the Zamoras despite JV Ejercito’s support for the President. What sort of treatment is that? And so, for every ally denied the blessings of the ruling party, there now glitters the opportunity to be associated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

In the meantime, aside from publicly being humiliated by Duterte-Carpio, the Speaker came under attack within his own party from members unhappy with his recruitment methods and for supposedly giving the cold shoulder to party veterans. Creating the impression of a civil war within a party is a tried-and-tested method for taking down party bigwigs a peg or two, and what matters most here is the hands-off announcement from the Palace when it comes to party matters. Those with sensitive political antennae will take it as the absence of a ringing endorsement for the Speaker, at a time when he has been accused by no less than the President’s fiercely outspoken daughter for being disloyal and disruptive.

PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago trying to outdo each other in being more “Dutertista” than the other only increases the chances of keeping the overall ruling coalition intact, and tying all factions to the Palace’s apron strings. It’s also a pointed reminder to the Speaker, even if he survives, not to be too piggish in the company of piglets. It does not do well for a runt to act too convinced that he’s an undefeatable wild boar. While he leads a big chunk of last-term congressmen, he has been too pushy with his no-election-in-2019 agenda, leaving no room for those looking forward to replacing last-termers, and bruising the feelings of so many players — and the public, too, which otherwise might give the President’s Charter change scheme the benefit of the doubt if only it weren’t so obviously stacking the odds in favor of people like Alvarez. Now the Speaker’s scheme is running out of steam, just when the President’s collection of consultative commission mummies are showing signs of life.

Still, all the factions could reunite by the State of the Nation Address in July, where the President could make a pitch for a plebiscite on a new constitution by October — the deadline for filing candidacies for the 2019 midterms. It will be the
balancing act of a lifetime.

Federalism is not heaven

Wednesday, 07 March 2018 10:42 Written by

I’m told that in public gatherings assembled by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and local government units, audiences are practically being promised heaven under a federal form of government, with hardly any serious effort to explain how or why. In a firsthand account from one who was in one such forum, the speaker asked the audience: “How many meals do you eat in a day?” Hearing answers saying they only have one or two, the speaker declared, “Once we have a federal form of government, all of you will be able to eat three meals a day or more!” It’s a real stretch, but certainly an effective way to win support for federalism among the uninformed, undiscriminating and uneducated among us.

Sad to say, it’s quite likely that there are enough out there for whom that reasoning is enough, and who can swing the referendum vote for federalism if and when we get to that point. Like it or not, those who would care to study the pros and cons of the federalism debate are grossly outnumbered by those who wouldn’t. It is thus incumbent on those who would to help those who wouldn’t, so the latter may know, think about, and evaluate the issues enough to make a reasoned judgment, whichever way one eventually goes. The important thing is that people are able to make an informed choice on something with such a profound effect on our nation’s future.

Sadly, the government cannot be relied upon to play this important role, as it’s already in the mode of campaigning for federalism, rather than informing the public fully and objectively regarding both sides of the debate. Acting Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has been quoted as saying, “The DILG through the Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform … [will] lead the nationwide campaign to inform and educate the public about the merits of federalism.” Nothing about demerits or options? The DILG website describes its role as “the focal organization for field level machinery for the awareness, acceptance, conversion and action of qualified voters to support a new constitution and a federal system of government.” One hopes that the Commission on Higher Education, which will reportedly mobilize its network of state colleges and universities nationwide, properly sees its job as to inform and consult, rather than to campaign for a foregone conclusion.

Many issues must indeed be considered for a reasoned judgment on a matter wherein the devil lies in the details. I recently listened to detailed presentations on institutional and fiscal issues on federalism by two scholarly experts (one from the University of the Philippines, and one from the government think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies or PIDS). They explained important points, two of which I share below, which merit much wider exposure as Filipinos decide whether or not to support a shift from our current unitary system to a federal one.
The first point is that federalism does not equate to greater decentralization. There are federalized governments that are less decentralized than unitary ones, and prime examples lie right next to us. Malaysia is described to have a centralized federal system where the constituent states play relatively limited roles in relation to the center. On the other hand, Indonesia has achieved highly decentralized governance under its unitary presidential system. Federal systems range from highly centralized (as in Venezuela) to highly decentralized (United States), just as unitary systems range from highly centralized (Singapore) to highly decentralized (Norway). If stronger decentralization is the goal, federalism need not be the answer.

The second point concerns the huge incremental cost that a shift to a federal system will entail, just by the sheer number of new legislators, officials and staff it will create. PIDS puts the additional cost in the range of P44-72
billion, not even counting changes in the judiciary. New legislators alone, let alone their staff, will number anywhere between 821 and 2,380, based on existing federalism proposals.

Won’t we simply be creating a government by politicians, of politicians, and for politicians? I shudder at the thought.