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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Likelihood of federalism shift puts PH at critical crossroads, as dynasties infused with more "local" funds would predictably refuse to fade away. Current dynasties would prefer cha-cha via a constituent assembly, as they themselves would vote the new system in. But for such a historic undertaking, the best is to elect delegates across the country in a con-con.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez


Having been away for over two weeks, I find myself plunging right into the issue of the planned constitutional shift to federalism.  This is not new---we have been talking about it for years, but the fact that the party pushing it---the PDP Laban---is in power makes a lot of difference. 

With President Duterte having campaigned for federalism since he was mayor of Davao and making it the core issue of his presidential campaign, plus the fact that he enjoys a popularity rating not seen in recent administrations, MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. 

That Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III is vigorously campaigning for federalism in continuance of the family legacy begun by his father, former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. adds tremendous impetus to the current campaign.  

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Despite the above factors, however, a shift to federalism will not be a walk in the park. In fact, because of this planned push by the administration to federalism, the country is in a crossroads, with considerable implications on our political and economic life.

Further complicating an already complicated topic---the shift from a unitary to a federal system---is the naked plan of the party in power to do away with the mid-term elections of 2019 and simply extend the term of all current members of  Congress---as well as that of Mr. Duterte--- beyond 2022, by a vote of Congress convened as a constitutional assembly.   

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The parliamentary system has many adherents around the world---the US and  Germany are among the biggest federated examples, as are Canada and  Australia. In our Asian region Malaysia and India are successful examples of federations.

A shift to federalism from our current unitary form of government centralized in Manila would make an interesting---and imperative---case study, for there are factors present in our current set-up not found abroad in other cases of shifts in form of government.  Academics point to the fact that the Philippines has 7,000 islands,  28 dominant ethnic groups and 81 provinces---the fact is that in this diversity lies both the richness of our culture as well as the inherent difficulties in governance.

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For federalism to succeed here, however, we need, in addition to the intrinsic factors two key factors: A BETTER-EDUCATED PEOPLE WHO ARE BY AND LARGE ECONOMICALLY WELL-SITUATED. These are the reasons why federalism has succeeded in the countries cited above:  their citizens are  better-educated and enjoy improved economic status.

The poverty in our country would make our people quite susceptible to further machinations of the political lords in each province---entrenching the latter further and the derided dynasties just dance the rigodon among themselves. .

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Moreover, our being a country of many islands has helped Manila control power and wealth, earning the monicker of “Imperial Manila” (if I am not mistaken, that term was coined years back by former Senator John Henry OsmeƱa and it stuck).  As the imperial majesty, Manila has held the purse-strings and funds have merely TRICKLED DOWN to the LGUs, at their pleasure and discretion. 

The local entities are in a tight bind, inasmuch as they can only collect real estate taxes and business permit fees, not much else. 

Whereas, in a federal set-up the LGUs ideally could generate more income and retain them---to fund programs they need and determine by themselves. Note, for instance, that in 2015, 35% of the national budget went to Metro Manila, even if it represented ONLY 14% OF THE COUNTRY'S POPULATION. 
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With the planned devolution of more power and autonomy to the LGUs in a shift to the federal system. it is argued that the central government could now focus on the big-ticket items---such as foreign policy, defense, health care and taxation. That’s one positive aspect of federalism. 

But just as important, “Imperial Manila” could perhaps now look forward to badly-needed decongestion as the LGUs would be given more impetus and challenge to develop as population centers outside Manila. Hopefully it could be a race for meaningful and substantial development such as job generation, and not just the superficial, e.g., park beautification.  

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Right now, Metro Manila is bursting at the seams and rural folk continue to stream into it---as there's not enough movement in the provinces and rural salaries are abysmally low. To be sure, there are factors that have spurred some growth outside Metro Manila over time, such as the arrival of call centers and related industries. These industries, however, have yet  to produce ENOUGH MIRACLE EFFECT TO STEM MIGRATION TO METRO MANILA, especially of the untrained. 

Among the nuclei of growth---owing principally to the development of the internet-triggered industries there---are Cagayan de Oro, Davao City, Naga City, Baguio City, Iloilo City and Tacloban City. Academic nerve centers there have sustained businesses feeding on the internet. 

But the fact remains that there is still a heavy inflow into Metro Manila than outward migration. If you don't believe me, ask your housemaids whose clans are virtually in the cities already.

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I have been for federalism for some years now but there are nagging concerns that I’m sure many other Filipinos share. One is the fear that federalism, which will give more access to home-grown funds than ever before, would only  institutionalize political families in each province and city than we have seen so far.

I cannot shake off my mind the Parujinogs, the Espinosas, the Mabilogs and other local warlords who have ruled over their areas---soon to be even more empowered with fresh funds. 

The fly in the "Con-Ass" ointment is that it would likely be Congress---in a 3/4 vote in a constituent assembly---that would be passing all these constitutional amendments. Can we expect the miracle of the dynasties outlawing themselves?

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With more funds among the LGUs the petty warlords could just thrive in more hospitable climate----to the detriment of the townspeople who need real emancipation from poverty and lack of opportunities.  Historically, federalism thrives best in an area where the people are better educated and reasonably independent economically from the politicos. These two attributes are mutually dependent. and Switzerland is always cited as the ideal.  
   
Can the citizens of our LGUs who could be newly emancipated by federalism also derive better education and training,  so as to be independent from the dynasties that will seek to continue to rule over them? Could we truly claim we could say goodbye to warlordism in those "emancipated" areas?

Ultimately it is not more funding that we could fall back on to develop our people into more politically independent citizens---IT IS MORE AND BETTER EDUCATION. I have observed at close range how the American people live their daily workday lives:  at its core is a better-educated and trained, and more politically aware people.  

How soon could we produce such Filipinos in our soon-to-be federated regions?


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