Malilong: ‘Imperial Manila’ is old hat

A FEW weeks ago, I bumped into Tuburan Mayor Aljun Diamante at the lobby of an uptown hotel. Diamante, who is the president of the league of municipalities in Cebu, joined the mass oath-taking of PDP-Laban recruits last year and is now the chairman of the federal movement in the province.

“We have to shift to federalism to free us from our bondage to Imperial Manila,” Aljun said. The line was not new but he said it with such conviction, you get the feeling that he actually believed that LGUs are being starved by the central government and that only charter change can save us from slow but certain extinction.

It was former governor Lito Osmeña, if I recall correctly, who popularized the name Imperial Manila in derision of the national government’s constant interference in local governance. He claimed that the intrusion has stunted the growth of the regions outside of the capital.

And yet it was during Lito’s term that Ceboom was born, a reference to that period of economic growth that became the envy of the other parts of the country. And he did it with little, if at all, help from the national government, proving that there is no such thing as a handicapped LGU if its leaders know how to wisely manage their resources.

Our infatuation with federalism stems from the belief that the grass on the other side of the fence is greener. But, as former senator Edgardo Angara pointed out, according to a story in the Inquirer yesterday, it is not necessarily so. The shift to federalism, he warned, could lead to an “unintended and disastrous consequence - the breakup of the Philippine Republic.”

Angara explained that in federalism, “you try to unify a nation by having different tribal and ethnic groups come together.” That is difficult to achieve, he said, given our lack of experience in bringing together the Tagalog, Bisaya, Waray, Ilocano, Moro and other people and convincing them to come as one.

He said he feared that we might just end up with ethnic groups who have a very strong sense of identity breaking away from the national government and declaring their independence. That, indeed, would be disastrous.

Angara’s misgivings underscore the need for a thorough and public discussion of the proposed charter change, something that a constitutional convention would have assured. But that point is academic now, given Congress’ adamance to do the task of amending the constitution themselves.

All that we can ask therefore is for the legislators to not rush the revision process including the holding of a plebiscite. Every provision has to be explained to the people to allow them to make an informed choice when they vote yes or no to the shift to federalism.

Haste makes waste and it will be a tragedy for that to happen in the making of a constitution specially when it proposes to create a heretofore untested (by us) government structure.
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