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SILING LABUYO: Moment of Truth for Federalism, Part 3

National discussion on federalism was picking up before the president’s State of Nation’s Address (SONA) last July 23rd but that has now been eclipsed by the sudden change in the Lower House’s leadership. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was unceremoniously booted out on the day of the president’s SONA earlier this week. This development is pregnant with meanings on a lot of things including the shift to federalism. Before that, Sen. Tito Sotto, the new senate president bragged about how the recently ratified Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will serve as a good model to follow. Sen. Franklin Drillon echoed a similar tune promoting the BBL as the way to go versus the ConAss way of adopting a new charter. Former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno painted a dire scenario for the Philippines during the “United People’s SONA” that chaos will ensue if the shift pushes through. Okay, enough. Without even considering the merit of the ConCom’s proposed charter, these personalities are engaging in wholesale demagoguery of the proposed charter clearly to poison the minds of the Filipino people. It seems that every time charter change (Cha-Cha) is proposed, there is an automatic negative accusation of proponents only wanting to perpetuate themselves in power. While there could have been some truth to this in the past, this, however, could not be the default response. It’s not like the proposed switch is from a democracy to communism or socialism. The switch is from a democratic form to another democratic form - presidential or unitary to federalism. True, there will be added expenses due to the duplication of certain agencies being regionalized like the police, courts, finance, agriculture, to name a few. And true, it will be chaotic as the employment line becomes robust and the local economy is jacked up from the infusion of fresh cash from the government expenditures. But people, there is a saying that fortune may come knocking at the door only once and federalism could be it. Open the door now, take a chance, and explore the possibilities. Or once again let misfortune hound the country for a long time. Duterte may not be the best president for this but if you believe in fate or destiny, Duterte could be the man that could deliver the undeliverable. To continue to wait for the right time to amend or change the Philippine Constitution, that day will never come. People will always come up with a reason not to. Hell, it is easy to just say “leave that sucker alone!” After all, we are masochists and quite “happy” with the burgeoning poverty, with more Filipino billionaires, with over population or increasing hunger and malnutrition, as long as we can proudly say that we are the only Catholic country in Asia and that we are a democracy albeit ruled by corrupt politicians and greedy oligarchy. Former presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and NoyNoy Aquino could not do it but Duterte might just do it. Here’s why. First he is convinced that federalism is the way to go. He promised it during the campaign and he has since delivered the draft work of the Concom. Did Duterte read the whole thing? I’m sure he did not but by submitting the draft to Congress, the ball has started rolling. Critics accuse him of trying to perpetuate himself in power. If this sounds familiar it is because whenever Cha-Cha or Con-Ass is talked about, people will be accused of trying to avoid term limits. Well, Duterte said no to term extension and wants to cut his term to pave way for an elected transition leader. These acts tell me of a man who is not interested in perpetuating himself in power. Duterte could really be ill and tired of leading the country but he recognizes that there are certain good things he could do for those with less. But to understand him is to know where he is coming from. Duterte curses a lot and fights with the Catholic Church. He does not pick a fight with a particular bishop or cardinal but with the Church. In his mind, the Church is just as complicit with the bad fortunes that befell his countrymen. If you try to understand the logic behind his calling “your” God as stupid, you might see why. Not that I’m agreeing with him but just rationalizing why he said what he said. Duterte was actually referring to the creation of Adam and Eve. His logic: if you created this beautiful couple, why tempt with an apple and made Duterte inherit the original sin? Unsaid was that God was smarter than that and that the apple eating was more a metaphor for sex, of eating the forbidden apple that resulted in the over population in the Philippines. Duterte envisions an authoritarian God that punishes, commands, and one who does not listen to critics much like the messianic Duterte. He looks at the drug problem with very little empathy for users. The opposition complains that more of the killings spare the drug lords, the big fishes. But that is Duterte’s point, the users are what makes the drug trade flourish and the government officials who are involved in it are just as guilty and must be punished. But Duterte lacks panache as Clint Eastwood would say. Duterte says it plainly just like a kanto-boy would. Duterte would like to go after the oligarchs but somebody told him to go slow because he could be biting more than Adam’s apple. They know that previous coups and election wins were financed by the oligarchy so Duterte is mindful of that. The closure of Boracay was unthinkable because of the well-connected and powerful owners of the businesses there. Former presidents would have not dared to close it but just like that, Duterte followed through despite the enormous losses from tourism money. There are conflicting rumors about Boracay. Duterte wants the resort island placed under land reform to help the landless but his supporters are against the idea – no money there. The other rumor for the closure is to make way for casino titans to make it a gambling resort but Duterte opposes. All these tells me that Duterte really wants to do something good but there are people behind him who has different agendas (i.e. term extension, bribe money, power, etc.) that Duterte recognizes, agonizes with, and needs help. He is continuing Operation Tokhang with version 2.0 – less killing but just as intense and he has the right man for the job. He hates Imperial Manila and sees the federated regions as his way of decentralizing power. He is not picking a fight with China because he needs an international backer for the time being who will not harangue him about his poor human rights record but will keep his friendship with the Americans because he does not want the Philippine military to turn on him. The NPA and Moro rebellions? Check. He is dealing with both hoping to put an end to these rebellions before his term is over. But there’s a new wrinkle that Duterte did not wish for but is probably a good thing for the proposed charter – Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Duterte has made an overture to the opposition (LP) by asking them to set aside politics for the good of the nation. VP Leni Robredo should call Duterte’s bluff if he is indeed bluffing. Filipinos deserve a better life and deliverance from the dire consequences corrupt leaders imposed upon them. This could be a turning point.

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