At last Wednesday’s forum at the University of the Philippines BGC, “Understanding Federalism and its Implications (Part Two), two of the most knowledgeable speakers on Federalism, Dr. Ronald U. Mendoza, Dean, Ateneo School of Government, and Atty. Florin T. Hilbay, Associate Professor, University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, lectured to members and guests of the sponsors: the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), with the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) and Judicial Reform Initiative (JRI).
Dean Mendoza stressed on the three emerging issues on Federalism: first, can we afford the cost? And inversely, can we not afford the reform? The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the first year of implementing a federal form of government will cost up to P253.5 billion, versus the P82.3 billion projected to be brought in by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN) during its first year. Can we gamble with the P170 billion shortfall, at this time of high inflation and the falling peso?
The second issue is Trust. Dr. Florangel Rosario-Braid deplores that with 67% of the people surveyed as not in favor of federalism — debates are just academic exercise as the administration appears to be dead-set on target dates to approve and implement its “Bayanihan federalism.” She warned of the possibility of Congress deleting or diluting many provisions pertaining to human rights and social justice, as the present Duterte draft now shows. Braid and other former 1987 constitutional drafters contend that the administration’s context and process, and politicians and people with vested interests pushing for it cannot not be trusted,.
And the third issue proceeds from the question of trust, according to Dean Mendoza: if the rush to federalism is not a sincere effort at reform, is this then the ultimate power grab? He recalled the 1972 charter change in the martial law of Ferdinand Marcos, where massive revisions in the 1935 Constitution were made to suit the “New Society.” Changes were ratified by the people in a plebiscite. The Marcos script can be reprised, today.
Atty. Hilbay, Solicitor-General in the term of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, said, Yes, Federalism can be installed in a dictatorship — no need for academic discussion on the pros and cons, on the why’s and how’s. Precisely, the present administration does not like the 1987 Constitution because it is anti-dictatorship. The US Constitution is 200 years old, Atty. Hilbay said, and instead of junking it for the benefit of the incumbent governance, it has been amended 27 times to adjust to changes in the needs and ways of the American people over the years.
Federalism is a concept, Atty. Hilbay emphasized. Look for details — what do you want? Is it only decentralization, and weaning from Imperial Manila? But decentralization and empowerment of the regions are already in the 1987 Constitution, and further directed by the Local Government Code. Why don’t we be patient and change weak points in these, amend piecemeal. We don’t need a totally new Constitution!
And Atty. Hilbay, like Dean Mendoza, warned of martial law being “easier” to slide into, under the cunningly-crafted “lawless violence” clause added to justify dictatorship in the proposed new Federal Constitution.
With 18 regions and their self-contained bureaucracies in federalism, political dynasties will thrive and truly entrench, both academics lamented. “We’re talking here of 12 members of a political clan holding elected office, or 20 of them in elected office. For example, the governor and vice governor, and three out of the five mayors in a province are relatives,” Dean Mendoza said. The Anti-Dynasty Law must be passed, before Federalism is installed, if ever. But although The 1987 Constitution states in Article II Section 26, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law,” the enabling law has been passed over by each Congress since 1987. At the UP-BGC forum, a question was asked from the floor: what if most Filipinos want political dynasties?
President Duterte’s consultative committee in its draft federal constitution has agreed to allow relatives within the second degree of consanguinity to run only for two positions in the same election. But Duterte who has his own dynasty said while he was “for” abolishing political dynasties, he doubts whether the people will want this.
“A few of the principled men, I would say, want this kind of thing about dynasty abolished. I am for it. Ang problema lulusot ba ‘yan?” Duterte said in a speech during the General Assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines. Duterte said some voters elect the relative of an outgoing official because they want continuity of policies, alluding to his own experience as 23 years mayor of Davao City succeeded by his daughter, Sara, Mayor since 2016, and his Vice-Mayor 2007-2010, and Mayor when he (Duterte) had to take the legal term- “rest” from mayorship 2010-2013. Son Paolo Duterte was Vice Mayor to Mayor Sara since 2013 until he resigned in 2017 after a very viral social media spat with his teen daughter (the one who had a controversial lavish pictorial at Malacanang Palace), who hinted that he had beaten her, according to a report (nypost.com/2017/12/26).
With population growing at the rate of about 2.34% per year since the early 2000s, there are now 100.98 million Filipinos (as of 2015) according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Of these 53.85% were registered voters for the 2016 elections, of whom 81.95% or about 44.5 million actually voted (www.comelec.gov.ph). Roughly interpolating that half of those who actually voted were lower-middle class to poor (20.5% of population), and less-educated than the upper crust of rich and/or more elevated in status because of talent and capability, then we can understand Duterte’s smug confidence that most Filipinos want dynasties. “Sa atin, pagkatapos mo, they would ask for your son, or your wife,” he said. (ABS-CBN News Mar 20 2018).
In a study by Dr. Clarissa C. David, UP College of Mass Communication, she concluded that “after incumbency, dynasty is best predictor of votes gaining on average 11% more votes than another candidate and first-time candidates of political families have 8% advantage. Dynastic candidates are 3.6 times more likely to win an election (http://ateneo.edu). Dr. David added that as a group, the highly educated elite is not a big enough bloc to change the outcome of an election; it is more likely the social class “D” (the poor) who will sway the votes to their envisioned and expected “padron” in the dynasties of political patronage.
The general conclusion and recommendation at the UP-BGC forum was for Filipinos to be watchful about the widely-suspected moves towards the declaration of martial law, and to try and stop railroading into approval of charter change and the installation of federalism as our national government. The administration’s P100 million nationwide pro-federalism info campaign, approved and led by Duterte himself, must be matched in volunteer efforts by concerned citizens and organizations to “shore up political and electoral knowledge through the formal education system and the media system” (http://ateneo.edu, op. cit.).
And the country looks to the Legislature, particularly the more-dependable Senate (so far) to pass the Anti-Dynasty Law.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.