The federalism debate deepens

#MINDANAO
By JOHN TRIA

Admittedly, that video of PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson jolted the federalism debate.

The “unitarians,” or those who oppose federalism, wasted no time to pour their hatred on her as the messenger, inflaming the discussion. Senators chimed in, eager to gain political mileage ahead of the 2019 elections, further spreading discussion.

The resulting adverse reactions from politicians and the expanding cabal of commentators on social media poured fuel on the issue. A larger public suddenly got curious about a proposal that for too long languished in the margins of national political discussion. The word federalism is now found in street corners where tabloids are read and morning radio commentary is heard.

The recent reactions of some cabinet members further expanded discussion on important details, creating a new space for deeper and wider discussion of the details of this proposal.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez in particular calls for a dialogue on particular provisions in the Concom proposal that he and the President’s economic team feel need deeper discussion.

This and other comments will force deeper discussion that can open the door on economic provisions, resulting in measures and a transition program that will safeguard our economic gains and bring out the economic potentials of the proposed federal states to enable them to be self-sustaining regional economies.

At this point, federalism and the federalists just found the bigger audience and deeper discussion it needed. All over Mindanao where it has majority support, volunteer groups of academics, media personalities, and civil society actors, even those who oppose the President, have begun pushing further discussion on the issue.

Unfortunately, the “unitarians” seeking to suppress the proposal mave have lost out at this point and thrown all their cards too early, their ace being the framing of the proposal as a crass political ploy to extend the current President’s term. When the President himself doused cold water on that and the no-election scenarios, this card suddenly lost much of its value.

The unitarians will now be forced to play catch up with those who will take the debate deeper into the important nitty gritty of the proposal, such as the transitory and economic provisions, something their bias against the proposal will prevent them from doing. They will sound like hypocrites trying to insert thenselves in discussions they believe we should not have.

They will also need to own up and defend the unitary government’s failure to address the persistent conflict had plagued the Philippine south and the economic inequality that kept many regions poor while the greater Manila area (where many of them are from) area grew in affluence. Note that average family incomes in Metro Manila are almost twice as high as Mindanao.

Against the backdrop of this inequality, poverty, and conflict, they will have to explain very carefully to those in the Visayas and Mindanao why centralizing power in Manila is still a better option for them. With the recently passed Bangsamoro Law becoming a possible trailblazer for federal states, this may be tricky.

As the ConCom proposal will be discussed and parsed, it wil set off deeper discussions and gain interest. Faced with more facts, today’s audience simply cannot take a blind “no to federalism” for an answer. This more critical public that will likely have a better feel and will assert interests more strongly.

As reflected in the recent trust surveys and the same on federalism, the audience in the south, particularly Mindanao, thinks differently from Manila’s.

With this, Filipinos demand deeper, more substantive information because unlike the Filipino polity of 1986, today’s generation is more connected and more critical. They demand substance and consistency and can fact check statements and backgrounds and revisit skeletons and histories. This will fuel deeper debate.

The federalism debate has shifted and deepened into greater detail.

***

Kadayawan’s fruits are abundant this year

Unlike last year, street corners from Tagum to Kidapawan cities are filled with exquisite marang, durian, rambutan and mangosteen. These are wonderful fruits that reflect the region’s bounty and a kinship with the rest of neighboring island Southeast Asia. Kadayawan festivities will start this week and end with a floral parade on August 19th.

 
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