Analysis paralysis By Concept News Central Analysis paralysis By Concept News Central Concept News Central

Federalism overtaken by events Featured

IF we go by the headlines, federalism could be dead, or put in the back burner until some future date, perhaps in the next generations to come—a sad prospect. The election circus fever has caught up with us and the Yellow Army has won this one. The 1987 Cory Constitution by the grace of God, will now continue to guide our governance. This is a nightmare, true, especially for federalism advocates.

This conjecture is not without basis. As many suspected from the very start, the federalism champion, Mayor Duterte mined the frustration of the people in the periphery by pitting them against the center. This was an emotional and classic political strategy. It got him where he wanted to be — at the top of the heap. But let me quote one who has also arrived at a similar conclusion, but just a little too late. Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, a member of DU30’s constitutional committee, is quoted by John Nery in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “Let’s stop fooling ourselves,’ Aquino wrote. That necessary task begins with understanding that, for President Duterte, ‘federalism’ is only a political project: a reason to travel the country to project himself as a presidential candidate in 2015, an excuse to stay in power in 2018. No amount of prodigious writing or furious debating will change that.” (PDI, August 14, 2018). Ouch! Harsh words from an ally but look at what really happened and its implications on the unfolding Philippine political drama.

What really happened
To start fulfilling one of his flagship programs, as early as December 7, 2016, DU30 signed EO 10 creating the Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution (ConCom). But members were only appointed in February of 2018, an inordinate delay of 14 months. Meantime, the DILG tasked to conduct nationwide IEC managed only sporadic sorties as it was plagued by squabbles and purges at its top leadership and inconsistency in messaging. Civil society and federalism advocates urgently filled in the gaps, but the models presented to the public were incoherent, exacerbated by the President himself whose interpretation of freeing the regions, provinces and LGUs from the control of central government was slightly erroneous. For instance, he was passionately advocating for the adoption of the French model, when France is not even a federal system.

He was not perceived to be interested in serious political and electoral reforms save that of shifting from the unitary government to a federal set-up. He therefore never delved into more important reforms of our political party system which is the main derivative of patronage politics and political dynasties that proliferated in the country for generations. This is evinced by his nonchalant attitude toward the splintering of the PDP Laban and countenancing the rise of his original local party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) with his daughter as heir apparent.

Political dynasties ascendant
Without these essential reforms, shifting to a federal system would allow political dynasties to gain much tighter control of a much smaller population and area in alliance with the oligarchy — a scenario the President may have anticipated with his own children in active politics.

So, we see today the ascendance of progeny following a similar path. Mayor Sara has of late been leveraging her bloodline to build up her own constituency and power base on the carcass of her father’s erstwhile dominant political party; or at least with his acquiescence on the PDP Laban’s emasculation.

The Deegong, without lifting a finger, has allowed the castration of his top subalterns in the two houses of Congress; the reemergence of his ally Gloria Arroyo, an astute traditional politician, as head of the Lower House; and the rehabilitation of the Marcoses through a coalition with the charismatic Imee and the rebirth of the Kilusang Bagong Lupunan (KBL); and perhaps the forced appropriation of the vice presidency by the son and namesake of the dictator.

Such is the convoluted and fluid alliances now facing the country midterm. Also, the Senate, the other half of the institution singularly tasked to revise the 1987 Constitution, is not attuned to the President’s wishes, if he was ever serious in the first place, and may let the deadline pass. The window of opportunity for political climate change is closing fast. The mid-term election mode is upon us and is producing frenzied political jockeying, and this trumps constitutional revisions. And even the allies of the Deegong have pronounced federalism dead!

But the greater tragedy is that without Charter revisions, we will be condemned to the generations-old status quo of a unitary-presidential system. There will be no shift to the superior parliamentary system and no liberalization of the economy. Which means, the traditional political dynasties with their alliance with the oligarchy intact will continue to rule the roost.

One alternative in this almost hopeless scenario is for the DDS and fist-pumpers to just put their faith in the President. Go the traditional political route and pick the electoral alliance that can best push for a Charter revision agenda post mid-term. This “kapit sa patalim” scenario is in the hope that the people who are subsequently elected to power will adhere to the Charter revisions that the advocates want in the remaining half of the Deegong’s term. But going into the “lame-duck mode,” the elected ones may extract more concessions from the President as a quid pro quo for pushing his agenda, although he may have already anticipated this with the humongous insertions of “pork barrel” in the current budget.

Trad-pol track
This trad-pol track is double-edged at best as there is no guarantee that the next political players will not be co-opted by the system, perforce perpetuating the same political structures. In which case, the federalism adherents may have to drastically shed their expectations and go the long and slow but painful route.

This was the formula arrived at by the Centrist Democratic Movement (CDM) on its ambitious plans of creating a political party (CDP). The same recipe that PDP followed when it started in Mindanao in the 1980s prior to its coalition with Ninoy Aquino’s Laban in Manila. Perhaps, we need to go back to the basics and go long term; build a more responsible political community; restart a political movement and a political party of young still unadulterated minds based on ideological precepts; and hang on to it for dear life.

The alternative to this is simply unacceptable. The revolutionary government being proffered by the young hotheads is no guarantee that we can go where we want to go, not with the President now suspected to be half-cocked on the idea of constitutional revisions and the viability of revgov itself.

And the last alternative is for the federal parliamentary advocates to give up and leave things to fester so our people will suffer more and hopefully see the error of their ways. But by that time, we the advocates, are probably all dead and the country has become a province of China.000
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