Federalism in its death throes? Sunstar

Federalism in its death throes? Featured

THE President’s pronouncements that federalism is dead is both true and false. It could be dead in the sense that DU30 may no longer spend his political capital steering its complexities through his remaining three years. But if the 1987 Constitution could still be revised, as he has implied, then federalism could still be realized sometime in the future – but without DU30.

It is a pity that the President has abandoned this campaign promise. Such are the vagaries of politics and the impulses of traditional politicians. The proposition that federalism is not ripe because surveys show it remains unpopular and Filipinos don’t understand the concept is simply inane. The President knew from the very start that this complex idea needed to be explained to the public well as this was his main advocacy – the need for systemic change in governance, decentralizing political power and resources to the regions and bring the decision-making process to the lower echelons of government. And he staked his reputation and presidency on this. Having built a large constituency on federalism and having won the presidency as a result, he now has seemingly given up. Very sad! He failed to translate the idea of federalism beyond the sloganeering and could not inspire his bureaucracy to reach out to the citizenry to paint an alternative to the presidential unitary system that has plagued Philippine society for generations. But perhaps, all is not lost.

It appears that remnants of his bureaucracy continue to push through with educating the constituency despite PRRD’s declarations. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) tasked to shepherd federalism through the local governments and the masses has declared that it can still be done and has relaunched the campaign. This is a brave thing to do and the DILG could pull it off.

For what it’s worth, the advocates of federalism, including the Centrist Democrats (CD), of whom the author is a prime mover, has made it a lifelong commitment to push for systemic change. Oddly, the CD has always maintained that federalism will come in due time only after certain preconditions are met. And these must include revisions to the 1987 Constitution. All these have been disseminated to Congress, to Malacañang and to the public through the Centrist Proposals. I am reprinting in an abridged format the document (please access www.cdpi.asia and download Centrist Proposals).

When this columnist was asked to present the Centrist Proposals to the Malacañang press corps in September 6 2017, I suspect a copy found its way into the hands of the Deegong, and now I’m sure he read it and even perhaps internalized some facets of the proposals. The Centrist Proposals are unequivocal that federalism will take a little more time than DU30’s term allows and even beyond that of his immediate successor. But the ground work has to be laid down now — at the onset of the second half of his term through constitutional reform.

Grudgingly the President may have agreed with the Centrist position that federalism is a drastic idea whose time has come, yet it has to be translated in a manner that will not cause too violent a rupture in the fragile relationship between the political leadership and the governed. Such relationship has been a consequence of generations-long practice by traditional politicians to subvert the will of the citizenry every election using the proverbial “guns, goons and gold.” And to sustain this hold on power, political dynasties proliferated and an unholy alliance with the oligarchy was inevitably forged. This is a culture that grew out of the petri dish of the presidential unitary system — our current governmental system protected by the 1987 Constitution.

Indeed, every election cycle the governed are free only to elect those selected by this unnatural partnership between the tradpols and the oligarchs. This practice of selecting a menu of candidates for the country’s leadership is the biggest anomaly and deficit of a democratic state that we claim the Philippines to be. Whichever side wins, traditional politicians and the oligarchy remain at the top and in control. Political power shifts only between the two faces of the same coin. DU30 perhaps may be the only leader who broke away from this prototype.

Generations and decades of this dysfunctional symbiosis between the traditional politicians and the oligarchy have entrenched systemic practices perverting good governance. And the President steeped in the lore of traditional politics himself understands that the legacy he is now crafting will result in the ultimate destruction of the very system that allowed him to survive and flourish in the first place. He said so himself. And this is a noble act. He understands too that to destroy the old and usher in a new system of governance, he needed to apply the very tools of that system. This is his paradox. Assault the ramparts of traditional politics with the apparatus and the demeanor of a traditional politician. To make a good omelet, he needed to break a few eggs. But this has to be calibrated. Don’t go yet for the big enchilada — federalism. Go for the doable, the currently possible which the CD have always maintained from the very start is the right path to eventual change. There are preconditions to federalism. This will be discussed in detail in a coming series of articles.

In essence, CD proposals seek first to erode the fabric underpinning the current presidential unitary system. Clarita Carlos, an eminent UP professor and author has detailed this in her book, The Deficits of Democracy. Stark poverty, corruption, inefficiency and rent-seeking activities within government; the inaccessibility of the poor and the disadvantaged to a perverted justice system; and the general environment of malaise and a host of others are a systemic rot embedded in our type of government festering in the body politic.

These are the problems confronting our country today. The next articles in this column will lay down the doable parameters upon which the groundwork for federalism must be put in place. But first, the President needs the concurrence of the two houses of Congress.

Fortunately, the results of the midterm elections allowed him the opportunity to influence to some degree the two chambers of Congress from whence the legal framework for systemic changes must emanate. The Lower House may prove to be more malleable as the current fight for leadership are all headed by personalities who have displayed canine-like devotion to the Deegong. The Senate may be a little trickier as the term of many senators goes beyond his. And then there is the cliché that every senator once seated assumes an aura of self-importance and affectations of independence.

The agenda for systemic changes has a high probability of passage while we have a president endowed with tremendous political capital, however tainted and fractured it may be, and has the political will to act decisively. But this President’s enormous political capital as in anything that is valuable is likewise fragile and could erode. Therefore, the need to act now and fast before his presidency descends into that “lame duck” period, a bane to the powerful who must adhere to legitimate constitutional constraints where political power becomes almost illusory.000
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