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Federalism opens up new opportunities, Part 1

The word “federalism” seems to be a toxic word to the opposition particularly in Bicol. The idea of changing or amending the current charter is a bad one because “we don’t trust the administration” is often the refrain. Deeper, I think, the very idea that it will be changed could mean that President Rodrigo Duterte will be in power forever, akin to the late strongman, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. who ruled for over two decades. By extension, the subconscious belief is that VP Leni Robredo will not be president, if Duterte will make himself president for life. Are these fears realistic?

The short answer is no and here’s why. By opposing the switch to federalism the opposition is saying that they like the current system of government where the president gets elected for one 6-year term. The strategy here seems to be that if the opposition will point out every little mistake that the administration makes and demagogue federalism or charter change to death, that Duterte will eventually outdo himself and loss favor with the Filipino voters. With Duterte discredited, Robredo will have a better chance of winning in 2022.

What is wrong with this picture? As I alluded to in my previous columns, I believe the opposition – the Liberal Party – is really beholden to the oligarch because they are their political lifelines through campaign contributions. Conversely, the oligarchs stand to gain the most by maintaining the status quo. Why? Because under the current set up, they are able to start and maintain monopolies like those in the power, construction, transportation and water sectors. With Robredo as president for the next six years after Duterte’s term expires, will assure the oligarchs of Robredo’s protection and the space to become a billionaire or move up higher on the Forbes billionaires’ list. It’s like a game of “who wants to be the next billionaire?”

The list of new Filipino billionaires is Exhibit A. For all his transgressions, at least Marcos did not allow the billionaire cottage industry to flourish, well, except him, because Marcos knew that businesses will be concerned about the bottom line and the profit margin at the expense of the poor. Marcos wanted the government to fulfil its role of providing basic services to the people. The oligarchs love the idea behind free market as embodied by capitalism because the Cory Constitution will ensure their growth and survival as long as they can put somebody at the helm who would protect the Cory democracy at all cost. They have learned their lesson from the dictator. Marcos did not allow them to acquire such wealth precisely because with so much cash in their pockets and bank accounts, they become kingmakers and a threat to Marcos. Duterte was and still is a Marcos ideologue.

One would wonder then, if this is true, why did the oligarchs abandoned Team Leni’s Otso Diretso at the last election? It’s elementary my dear Watson. Robredo was not running so they can afford to lay low. If they were overtly supporting Leni’s Team to the point of massive victories, it would have registered in Duterte’s radar and imperil their business empires. Throwing the cash behind Robredo’s candidacy in 2022 is a safe bet because surely there will be a new president.

Recently, Duterte has been threatening to go after the Lopez clan because of the water mess and negative reporting from ABS-CBN. Some will view this as political harassment or otherwise prior restraint from an undemocratic president. The Lopez’s empire seems limitless according to Vera Files. Power & energy: Manila Electric Company, Energy Development Corporation, First Gen Corporation, First Gas Corporation, FGP Corporation, First NatGas Power Corporation, Prime Meridian Powergen Corporation, and First Philippine Electric Corporation.

In Manufacturing: First Philec, Inc., First Sumiden Circuits, Inc., Real estate First Philippine Holdings Corporation, First Philippine Industrial Park, First Philippine Properties Corporation, First Philippine Realty Corporation, Rockwell Land Corporation, and eight others. Holding company: ABS-CBN Theme Parks and Resorts Holdings, Inc., ABS-CBN Global Ltd., ABS-CBN Global Hungary Kft., and seven others.

Money remittance: ABS-CBN Europe Remittance Inc., E-Money Plus, Inc., ABS-CBN Global Remittance Inc., and ABS-CBN Canada Remittance Inc.. They are also into trading (four companies), telecommunication (six companies), and the list goes on. You get the drift.

The Cory Constitution of 1978 was supposed to be pro-poor and a testament to the mantra of “Never Again” meaning, no more dictatorships. But the opposite has happened. First, Martial Law was declared twice in Mindanao and was upheld by the Supreme Court. The constitution mandated a six-term presidency to liberate the president from the pressures and temptations of politics that instead of worrying about re-election, they would be free to do only what was best for the country.

Personally, I find this rationale a bit revolting because it presupposes that voters are dumb. Furthermore, it implies that only the 6-term president has the monopoly of good ideas and therefore good deeds, instead of asking the electorate after four years in office, to be re-elected or be booted out. The idea was attractive at the time after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship and the 6-year term was accepted as a way of preventing future presidents from holding on to power longer than they have to.

Boy, were they wrong. Because Duterte is enjoying a 6-year term, he is not worried about reelection so he feels liberated to do unorthodox things like declaring Martial Law, the state engaging in extra judicial killings covertly with the war on drugs as cover, packing congress with his supporters, and the Supreme Court to shield Duterte from future legal entanglement – without much fear of revolt from the masses. He has a smart solicitor general who does the bidding for him in the courts. He doesn’t see the need to listen to the people. He has also felt empowered to attack the Church without the repercussions of election. This was validated recently by the 2019 general elections when the people went for Duterte candidates.

On the South China Sea issue, Duterte flaunted the idea of not invoking the arbitral ruling by a United Nations body in favor of a more cooperative relationship with China. It caused him some headaches because of China’s aggressive posturing but Duterte got the money for his ambitious infrastructure projects throughout the archipelago. The president managed to survive with just a little bit of tug on President Xi’s sleeves when China does something overt like ramming a Philippine fisherman’s boat. Duterte seems helpless with China’s overtures in the Philippines like online gambling and casinos but he would just take some narcotics and sleep it off.

The fear that Duterte might stay beyond his term could turn prophetic with the current form of government. His son Paolo or daughter Sarah can inherit the throne and continue the reign for the next 12 years courtesy of a pliant congress.

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