Wednesday August 15, 2018

Wenceslao: Federalism woes

THE reception for the wedding last month of the brother of my wife was held in the function room of a pension house in Cebu City. While waiting for an elevator ride, I noticed a small group holding a meeting on one side of the ground floor. It turned out the affair was a seminar on federalism hosted by the local chapter of the Partido Demokratiko-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

I reckon the activity was PDP-Laban’s response to the result of a survey that showed majority of Filipinos are opposed to charter change and the shift to a federal system of government. The strategists of the Duterte administration must have believed the survey result was but a product of a lack of enlightenment.

I won’t begrudge the administration party for doing that. I think the Cebu activity was replicated everywhere, something that I say showed a determination by the government to change our political system, for good or bad. I doubt, however, if spending money (the activity was obviously funded) would make a dent on what seems to be an ingrained suspicion of politicians’ motivations on the issue.

The Filipinos’ stance against changing the 1987 Constitution has been consistent since the charter was ratified by the people under the administration of the late Corazon Aquino. Consider how many Philippine presidents have ruled the country after Cory, from Fidel V. Ramos to Joseph Estrada to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Benigno Aquino III to the incumbent, Rodrigo Duterte. Every survey conducted showed the Filipinos’ aversion to politicians tinkering with the country’s political system.

This must be because of our past experience with the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who forced a change in the constitution in 1973 after declaring military rule in 1972 and seizing all power for himself. The people do not want a repeat of that, whether the president is popular or not. This must have been a sobering reality for the Duterte administration.

Duterte and his party mates must have thought that he could do everything considering his high popularity rating. But changing the constitution and shifting to a federal system is a different thing. It concerns the country’s future and the people are not dumb enough to be won over by the schemes of politicians.

The aversion to charter change apparently did not change even with the Consultative Commission formed by the president already submitting a draft federal constitution. It didn’t change the opposition to it of the enlightened and it didn’t ease the suspicions of even the unenlightened. As I said before, I don’t think the current batch of politicians are the best persons to tinker with our political system.

The more the proposed federal setup is being discussed, the more questions arise and the more are the faults in the proposal exposed. Even some of the Duterte administration’s economic managers are opposed to it mainly because of the financial burden a federal setup conjures. And that is only for the economic aspect. What about the other proposals, like the subdivision of the country into federal states and the logic of the subdivision proposal?

And I am not even talking yet about Mocha Uson.