By JOHN TRIA
The remarks of former chief justice Hilario Davide challenging proposals to shift to a federal form of government aroused reactions here in Mindanao. Indeed, a chorus of oppositors like him suddenly emerged as the draft federal constitution was submitted.
Many called such objections against federalism “outdated” and insensitive to the long-held desires for autonomy and a better share of the resources they produce to help fulfill the developmental potentials of their regions.
What gets the goat of many here is the way these oppositors cast this long-held desire for the federal form as a foolish, if not devious political ploy to extend presidential terms, despite the President’s assurance that such an outcome will not happen.
They also try to frame the Consultative Committee’s work as a railroaded document that is not transparent to the public. Led by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the draft of the document is still subject to a public process of amendment and approval.
Also, ill-informed economic arguments have been given against the federal shift, from being too costly to saying it will cause hyperinflation.
Since the details of the economic transition have yet to be ironed out, many of the economists interviewed may be commenting on varied drafts that have yet to detail the specific economic measures meant to manage such outcomes. Thus, such comments may be premature.
Thus, for many of the more vocal in Mindanao, these objections cheapen the discourse that for once they hope will allow them to genuinely discuss ways to remove the long standing economic and political inequality they face, for which federalism is seen as an imperfect yet stronger solution when compared to the current unitary system.
It was hoped that the political saints born in EDSA 86 would led the growth of the regions through enlightened unitary, representative democracy to slowly undo this inequality, correct the imbalance, and control the dynasties, but they haven’t.
The unitary system cannot seem to solve the imbalance no matter who is elected. Because of this, the desire for the federal shift to change the system, not just the people, persists as an option for many.
Since this federal shift has gained the most attention today after years of being ignored, they hope that more deliberations can be made to address the following core issues:
First, fixing economic inequality. The Family Income and Expenditure Surveys of 2012 and 2015, and various other studies show a great imbalance favoring Metro Manila which earns double what they make, and continues to do so in great part by trading the products from the regions.
Second, building a more equitable and fair political system. Politically, the dynasties – that evil term they like to warn us about – proliferated under their watch and persisted, since they were kept in place by Manila’s political bigwigs to perpetuate control.
What’s worse is that they question the dynasties in the provinces without looking at Metro Manila’s own backyard. Some even have the gall to say that the families that control local politics in Metro Manila are the “good kind” while those in the provinces are those that need to be “controlled.”
The truth is that many of these oppositors worked hand in hand with these local despots to deodorize the local terror they perpetrate.
Those opposing the federal shift have now become some kind of old guard in defense of this status quo. Some of them try to suppress the voices of the margins that have only recently surfaced in the wake of the 2016 elections that have given many in the once silent majority in the “bukids” a voice.
In response to these oppositors, many political and business leaders and academics in Mindanao, even those who do not particularly like the President, have become bolder in expressing their long-held desire for a federal shift.
The truth is that no political system is perfect and federalism is no silver bullet, but the unbalanced resources and power favoring the capital, and long-standing inequality in the regions is a curse that many here think will be lifted with a federal shift. Their voices just got louder.
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