The Liberal Party’s Inconsistency with Federalism

The Liberal Party (LP) through its various spokespersons had made it clear that it opposes the switch to federalism. There are no concrete reasons provided other than it opposes the idea. This stand was once again reemphasized during the signing of the Ahon Laylayan Covenant by the Otso Diretso senatorial candidates. The covenant is part of the coalition’s People’s Legislative Agenda aimed at opposing charter Change among other things, federalism included. This stand is rather contradicted by the party’s support of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that found widespread support among Muslim Mindanaoans. VP Leni Robredo publicly praised the passing of the BOL during the first round of the plebiscite voting. This support is understandable given that it was then President Benigno Aquino III who initiated the basic framework of the Bangsamoro with MILF Chair Hadji Murad Ibrahim. But LP’s support of the BOL is not consistent with their opposition to federalism. Why the contradiction? Well, in the first place the main purpose of the BOL is to replace the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and establish a new political entity that will be called the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) which is quite more expansive than the previous ARMM. The new political entity now includes areas populated by non-Muslims. So what kind of animal is this new political entity supposed to be? People might be surprised to find out that for the first time, a parliamentary form of government (similar to England) is created within a presidential unitary system in the Philippines. BARMM will have its own parliament with a speaker to boot. ARMM was led by an elected governor before, now it is a Wali or Vali. Wali is an administrative title to designate governors during the times of the Caliphate and Ottoman Empire. At BARMM, this is an appointed albeit, ceremonial position. The real head of government is the elected Chief Minister and will also have an elected deputy and an elected speaker of the parliament. Each of the component districts will elect their representatives to the parliament who will then elect their chief minister, deputy chief minister, and speaker. This is precisely how it is also framed in the proposed federalism charter. Each of the regional states under federalism will have the same or similar set-up as BARMM. This set up is being legally questioned before the Supreme Court for lack of constitutional basis. The constitutionality of BARMM is not the issue of this piece. Rather, it is the hypocrisy and political inconsistency by the Liberal Party. They praise BOL to high heavens but derides the work of the Constitutional Commission tasked with transitioning the Philippines to a federal form of government. The LP leadership has nitpicked certain provisions in the proposed charter and has opposed the very idea of federalism. Now, the BARMM is really a state as created, with its own government. Yes, the overarching purpose of the BOL is to uplift the life of the Moros, put a stop to the centuries old Muslim rebellion and push the regions towards self-governance but so is federalism. As a matter of fact, BOL will easily blend under federalism. As signed into law, the BOL is empowered to do many things that are not vested on other regions in the Philippines. These powers and functions are similar to those proposed under federalism. The great state of BARMM will have its own seal and having a parliament, BARMM can craft its own laws (administrative codes) “for the benefit of the people and for the development of the region.” Now, isn’t this something that can also benefit Bicol or other poor regions under federalism? More specifically, BARMM enjoys more powers and functions compared to other autonomous regions in the Philippines – which is truly one of the bennies of federalism. While BARMM will be under the supervision of the president, in reality such power will be devolved to the Chief Minister who will then have executive supervision of the BARMM government. Yes foreign policy is under the domain of the president but with so many foreign countries as stakeholders in Muslim Mindanao (i.e. Libya, Indonesia, Syria, etc.) inevitably, the chief minister will be conducting its own foreign policy on the side because of its autonomy when it comes to tourism, education, trade and investments. National defense and security is under the cog of the president but with terrorism being a major concern in Mindanao involving al Qaeda, ISIS, and other international extremist groups, BARMM will be a major player in this and presumably the chief minister’s clout will cross international lines. Similarly, customs will be under the president but with BARMM having its own regional security force, this power will most likely devolve too especially with BARMM having the ability to administer justice through its Sharia Courts – think of corruption in Customs. For smaller crimes, Sharia Courts can expedite administration of justice but felony crimes will still find their way to the Supreme Court. Thus the speedy (or really delayed) administration of justice will just like be the rest of the country. Having regional supreme courts under federalism will definitely expedite adjudicating felony crimes. Perhaps even more important is the BOL provision that allows BARMM to “create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges,” and having the fiscal autonomy to budget and allocate its own sources of income. Again much like federalism. Under federalism, states rise and fall based on its own efforts. If VP Robredo believes that BARMM is good for Muslim Mindanaoans, why doesn’t she support federalism that could make the Bicol Region autonomous as a regional state? Why isn’t she and the party raising the possibility of political dynasty being a hindrance in BARMM which she raised with federalism? In the case of the Bicol Region, political dynasty will actually be lessened under federalism if not totally abolished. Each of the provinces is currently run by a governor. The regional state will only have one, so, how can the political dynasties of the Villafuertes, Padillas, Bicharas, or the Fuentebellas dominate the regional scene? Bicol should have cheap electricity because of its geothermal sources but it doesn’t because of an old Marcos proclamation directing Bicol electricity to go through the Manila grid first before rationed to consumers in Bicol. Federalism will cure this by having an autonomous state. Furthermore, regional states can offer its own sweeteners to encourage investors to come to their regions without the red tapes from Malacañang including allowing states to pursue nuclear sources that will help provide a long-term reliable source of electricity, as well as offer cheaper power. Ahon Laylayan is well-intentioned but its avowal to fight charter change is misdirected. Federalism is actually a better vehicle in fighting poverty and hunger because of the regional state’s autonomy to chart its own course much like what is envisioned under the BOL.