I WAS invited to join the panel of reactors in the March 2 Panagtagbo conversation organized by the Assumption College of Davao together with other schools of the Missionaries of the Assumption in partnership with the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP). The third of a series, it focused on Constitutional reforms and the shift to federalism.
The main discussant, lawyer Ramon Beleno III of the Ateneo de Davao University (Addu) Political Science and History Department comprehensively tackled the different forms of government and elaborated on the advantages and disadvantages of the unitary and federal systems.
In the absence of a clear proposal from the Duterte administration about federalism months before the target of presenting the draft to president by July 2018, interested parties have been mostly discussing federalism in general and commenting on versions that had been put forward by the PDP-Laban and the output of the sub-committee on constitutional reform.
While these helped bring the discussion beyond the superficial mention that federalism gets in pronouncements of government officials, many of the different educational efforts might have inadvertently “sold” the public on conceptual versions of federalism.
My own contributions to the Panagtagbo were to bring in the views of Filipinos in general and Dabawenyos in particular on federalism and Charter change, what these might mean for public discourse, to bring up additional questions and concerns, and argue that instead of waiting for the government version, civil society should instead define the agenda.
For this piece, I am concentrating on the perspectives of Dabawenyos.
The Addu Social Research Training and Development Office has been conducting the City-Wide Social Survey Series (CWSS) since 2014 involving respondents in the three districts of Davao City. Questions about federalism and Charter change were included in CWSS 4, 6, 7, and 8 covering specific semesters in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Based on the CWSS 4 conducted in October 2015, Dabawenyos saw federalism as among the measures for attaining peace in Mindanao (29.8 percent part of “others”). Constitutional amendments also came out as a peace measure. It is noteworthy that non-violent measures were dominant; only a handful viewed military operations as viable for peace in Mindanao.
Dabawenyo awareness of federalism is fluctuating. Respondents who said “yes” to the question whether they have heard about federalism were at 62.38 percent in October 2016, slightly increased to 63.81 percent in April 2017, but went down to 59.41 percent in October 2017.
What is the basic understanding of Dabawenyos about federalism? In a multiple response type of question, facilitating the distribution of resources consistently topped the results. A decrease of 36 percentage points comparing the 2016 to the latest 2017 survey is noticeable.
Empowering the regions was second; but this time the difference between the 2016 and the 2017 surveys was at 51 percentage points. Solving the peace problem—steadily third—also had a drop in percentage points, although not as marked as the other two. Promoting accountability oscillated between fourth and fifth.
What accounts for these changes? What are its implications?
Information about federalism was not all positive with fears that it might lead to secession and encourage political dynasties. The figures for both dropped comparing October 2016 and October 2017 results. Fear of secession shrank from 10 percent to 4.3 percent in April 2017 but increased to seven percent in October 2017.
Where do Dabawenyos get information about federalism? Broadcast sources (TV and radio) consistently topped the list in the four CWSS; followed by the internet. Neighbors, friends, schools, forum, and Church did not register significant figures, although cited as sources in the surveys.
The category “other sources,” which only accounted for a small percentage, included seminars, President Duterte, barangay officials, and own research.
CWSS 7 (April 2017) asked respondents whether they favored federalism, the majority responded positively (82.58 percent agreed and strongly agreed).
But though an increase in percentage points compared to the October 2016 results (4 percentage points) indicated growing support for federalism, the shift was not dramatic.
Federalism did not rank high among issues that Dabawenyos wanted the president to address in six months (April 2017). It came in ninth.
Fighting criminality, employment generation, and higher salary of workers were the top three.
Of those asked in April 2017 whether they thought the president would be able to fulfill his promise about federalism, 56.67 of Dabawenyos said yes and 43.33 said no.
Those wanting to engage Dabawenyos on federalism and Charter Change should consider these figures.
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