On Duterte’s Call to Federalism

Federalism is a simple but sophisticated promise. Its principles create a government that brings leadership closer to its people, that tempers sovereign powers with accountability, and provides an exclusive political framework for a cultural milieu as diverse as ours.

On structure

Federalism is leadership from below. It first principle is self-determination. Rather than creating an all powerful central government that controls everything, decisions are brought to the local level. It is now the local governments that decide what to do with the revenue they generate rather than apply for a proportion of a national budget. Crucial economic and social policies are developed at a level for which they are tailor-made for the unique circumstances of every locality. Fiscal oversight, then, is drastically reduced and compartmentalized. Such things essential to Federalism are impossible to a mere Local Government Code.

On economy

The problem with the current system is that it breeds political entrepreneurship. The act of statecraft has dire consequences for when it becomes a commerce of favors more commonly known as rent-seeking.

But, what is rent?

Rent is an economic benefit created by an act of government through any of its three organs of power. A Supreme Court sitting en banc might decide against a competitor. A piece of legislation might destroy certain industries while creating new ones. A local chief executive might carelessly clue a private citizen in on some juicy innovations for construction projects or the franchise of utilities. The ramifications are myriad, as rent can be both legal and illegal. Such being a question of laws and how willing we are to enforce the law.

When you seek rent actively, however, the doubt is removed. Since its practice began during the Commonwealth era, seeking rent turns every political act into an economic one. The special interest, suddenly, must play sycophant to a president. Conflicts of interest mildly considered, elections could make or break the employment numbers and growth as administrations change from hand to hand.

The political entrepreneur, then, becomes imperative. The building of a dynasty finds its foundations not on a warlord with a private army, but on the barong-sleeved hand holding tightly to a stamp engraved with these letters in bold, “APPROVED.”

Federalism breaks this system.

Rent-seeking flourished in the current system because all of the power was concentrated where it was easiest to court. Much to the delight of the oligarch, the Presidency became our round-robin game of who gets to have the biggest slice of the pie. Every six-years or so, the politics of its are brokered. Transparency might discourage this behavior, bot how do you scrutinize permits for mining in Surigao when all of the decisions that mattered were made far, far away from Surigao? A far, far away place that had never heard of the towns that would be leveled in exchange for one measly classroom from a socially responsible corporation. How can you establish a local car manufacturing company in Basilan when all of the documents proceed from and are processed in a far, far away place? Hence, the smart money is to build in close proximity to a national capital.

Federalism will reform the current dynamic. Its second principle is trust. You build trust on reliable and informed decisions, especially where these decisions have direct consequences for the next foreseeable years.To be reliable, the chief executive must be held accountable for his policies. To be informed, the executive must make his decisions in close proximity of the lives whom he directs and decides for. How then, can a congressman from Antique be held accountable, for decisions ha made in Manila? How would you ever even know when you have been robbed of your promised projects, when he is only in Antique once or twice ago.

To be reliable, your decisions must be made in the same locality where they are to b enforced. To be informed, the decision-maker must be kept abreast and in close proximity among those for whom the public servant decides.

Thus will rent-seeking be checked and fair trade protected.

On language and culture

Federalism is an opportunity for us to change what it means to be a Filipino and free it of its post-colonial baggage. Said baggage claims our political immaturity with no sign of progress or moving forward. It claims our continued role as victims of oppression. It claims that our only solution is our history of revolution and its stranglehold on our sense of self as a country. Its no wonder, then, how Manila remains our only narrative to nationhood.

What then of our claim to the Filipino?

Yes, our identity is an unfinished process, relatively young and fragile. But is not the stake of our claim to it a legitimate exercise of our place and obligations in this republic? Because, right now, at this very moment, that chance is ours.

The question of the Filipino remains open and we can answer it. With Federalism, every ethnolinguistic group and historical experience across our country is finally given a voice. In providing self-determination, we are assured a third principle: empowerment.

Federalism is a system of empowerment. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the diversity it allows in nation building and how leadership is organized. With Federalism, a Mindanaoan history of the Philippines becomes possible in Mindanao, a Visayan one among the Bisaya. No longer should any of us feel as strangers would when we speak Kapampangan in Pampanga, Akeanon in Aklan, Tausug in Jolo, Waray in Samar, or even Chavacano in Zamboanga. Our narratives may be different, but our history becomes a truly shared one. It brings us closer together in mutual respect of our unique heritage as many peoples and nations in one country; and we are finally able to move our sense of self forward. Then, we might say, that while we were forged in revolution, we found ourselves in triumph.