Am I for Federalism? My answer is a qualified yes if it meets certain preconditions. No partisan color here, just a citizen’s assessment of what is best for the country given our present circumstances from over half a century of observation and experience.
Firstly, it must be a unifying model rather than a divisive one. We are a nation divided despite our being a unitary state. It’s a cultural divide that’s kept us from coming together as one nation.
We need to fix our culture first I would think that develops a compelling sense of nationhood in us, a sense of common purpose and a sense of urgency to build a nation better and stronger for future Filipino generations.
Today, like yesterday, we remain tribal or regional or parochial in our thinking and behavior. It translates to “me first before you” that fans the flames of exclusion and self-interest, ahead and above the common good and the national interest. That’s why the disparities in the distribution of wealth and social benefits are so wide that we distinctly have from an economic sense, two nations, one of “haves” and the other of “have-nots.”
Politically, we have the dynasties lording it over newbies. Socially, we suffer backwardness across-the-board as the consequence of those disparities, with poverty, injustice, and armed conflict at the tip of the spear.
We must ask ourselves this. In order for Federalism to succeed can we sensibly jump straight in without fixing those handicaps? Or must we first address those before we adopt Federalism to give it a fighting chance to work for the benefit of the nation?
Secondly, how will the people benefit from this? This point flows from the first. We need to scrutinize the final draft from the Constitutional Commission to find out how Federalism will directly benefit the lives of the people, how it can build a better Philippines — One Philippines, for all Filipinos — with no one left behind. For example, how will it be made to work for the economy to finally reunite OFW families? I’m hoping that there are excellent provisions there that address the question.
Most people I’ve talked to express the concern that the shift to Federalism is simply going to benefit politicians. They see this shift from a unitary state to a federal state as a convenient way of prolonging one’s tenure in office; that whatever new system and structure may emanate from it won’t principally take into account the people’s well-being. In other words, will Federalism be in our national interest if the personalities, policies, and practices that keep us divided don’t undergo a paradigm shift of fundamental transformation?
Thirdly, what will it take for the nation to make it work for generations to come? To this day, most of us keep hearing the word “federalism” but no one can say when asked what model it is that we’re looking at? I’m aware that the ConCom is proposing the same national setup comprising the same 3 branches of the government — Executive, Legislative, Judiciary — that will function at the federal level; while the regions would be transformed into federated states.
The Executive branch will likely have less institutions to manage to fulfil the requisites of deconcentration, decentralization, and devolution. The Legislature will likely still have two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. I’m not sure if the ConCom has a parliamentary setup in mind or whether the President will opt for it. The federated states will have the power and the leeway to build their own future.
The thing is this: what model will best suit our gene pool assuming Federalism will somehow be used as a transformative tool to change our culture? No one knows because there have been no strategic communications at all to inform the people what to consider and debate about the substance or the specifics of various models; and which one, or a hybrid, is best for us. If the target is to have the people decide this next year, is that enough time for the people to make the right choice with sufficient knowledge on how to make it work for everyone’s benefit?
Fourthly, I think that the transitory provisions will play an important role in buying time for government and society to adjust to the new system. Time is the most important factor because it will take some doing for it to take root. Surely, we can’t do it cold turkey. A rush job is the best recipe for tragedy, not with our current mentality.
We need time to settle down, get sober, and deliberate with reason on how best to move from the presidential to the federal form of government. Whatever we decide must have in mind that everything we failed to attain or achieve in a presidential form of government — inclusion, peace, justice, equitable growth, sustainable development, safety and security, social cohesion — will now have a better chance under a federal form of government.
Let me just squeeze this in before I sign off. Related to Federalism is the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) issue. I personally object to giving our brother Muslims a “homeland” which is a parcel of land in Mindanao. My reasoning is this: they are Filipinos and their homeland is the ENTIRE country. BBL is unnecessary because our Muslim brothers and sisters can freely reside, study, work and retire anywhere in the Republic of the Philippines, their one and only true HOMELAND.
ARMM, just like other regions in the country, needs to improve its state of governance and civics. It’s been deprived of a fair shake in the equitable distribution of powers and wealth creating measures to pick itself up from the floor to one that stands tall among its peers.
I want Federalism to work.
If both the government and society know its respective roles, rights and responsibilities to make it work, it will succeed far into the future. It starts from there, but without sufficient knowledge and maturity, our decision will have to wait. That would be best in our national interest.
Rafael M. Alunan served in the cabinet of President Corazon C. Aquino as Secretary of Tourism, and in the cabinet of President Fidel V. Ramos as Secretary of Interior and Local Government.