Federalism opens up new opportunities, Part 2

October 3, 2019

 

One of the remarkable things that the Duterte administration is doing is building more roads and bridges. Far flung barangays that used to be reachable only by riding a carabao or a long trek through muddy roads are now reachable through cemented roads. In Camarines Sur alone, several congressional districts are touting that progress is being made through these projects.

 

Earlier, the opposition was attacking Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program for the sticker price attached to these projects and homed in their scrutiny especially on Chinese funded loans checking for their onerous provisions. Presumably, the idea of such approach is to make the administration appear insensitive to future generations who will be saddled with such debt.

 

While this approach is admirable and appeals to the elite and highly educated, it will not help win elections because majority of voters could not wrap their brains around the complexity of a trillion peso project much less feel the pain of multi-year loan payments.  Many of these voters will only see the bennies they are bringing now and the ease of travel it gives them.

 

It turns out that the opposition attacks were premature because none of the promised Chinese assistance or loans has yet to materialize according to Foreign Affairs secretary Teddy Boy Locsin. The Chinese are blaming the Philippines for the holdup, as they usually do. Apparently, the Japanese Overseas Development Fund monies were released quicker for their intended purpose.

 

None of these is to say that scrutinizing these loans is wrong. On the contrary, lawmakers should do their due diligence when presented with such budget proposals. The problem is that nobody would really argue the need for such projects especially when their individual districts benefits. Now, if there are attendant anomalies then they should be brought to light. Since the election, we have not really heard of such allegations. Of course some districts get more compared to others but that is the reality of politics in the Philippines. Weather-weather lang.

 

One of the good outcomes from this renewed focus is that some areas like Siruma and Tinambac, Camarines Sur are finally getting their due with more concreted roads interconnecting their secluded barangays to the more modern civilization. Places like Caloco, Paradise, and Amuris Beach Resorts are finally becoming part of the daily lexicon in the province. Another is Tinambac’s Thursday market days are attracting more visitors for the fresh produce they offer at dirt cheap prices.

 

From a macro point of view, this kind of politics is what is wrong with the current system where many of the decisions are centralized within the executive department. Under federalism, the regional state has a lot more to say which provinces, towns or cities will have higher priorities when it comes to these projects. The federated state will be able to truly map out these infra projects to boost tourism, opening up markets, and invigorating the economy because of the money infusion directly to the state and the employment they bring to the locale. As it is now (and even before), those connected gets more of the largesse, even if such provinces (like Tarlac, Pampanga, Ilocos region) have been overloaded with such projects in the past.

 

Bicol is one of the poorest region in the Philippines and still is. Under friendly Aquino administrations, Bicol lagged in every economic indicator despite strong showing of support from Bicolanos particularly in the ballot boxes. Was it because Bicol had incompetent local administrators? Or Did Bicol lawmakers just enriched themselves at the cost of progress in the Region? Or was it because Bicolano lawmakers are soft hearted when it comes to political combat? Maybe, it is all of the above. Look, Bicol have a vice president to boot, some famous (or infamous) senators like Raul Roco, Francis Escudero, Antonio Trillanes, Gregorio Honasan, among others; and representatives like Edcel Lagman, Joey Salceda, etc. who made their marks as legislators but could only focus their pork barrel to their districts.

 

Senators are elected nationally and therefore cater to a nationwide electorate for their next reelections. Hence, their P200 million pork barrel can’t be solely earmarked in Bicol as they also have to show their names on some waiting sheds elsewhere. Despite their brilliance in lawmaking and support of democratic rules, Bicolano senators could not bring deliverance to the region.

 

As a federated state, Bicol will be entitled to two senators in every session of the parliament. These senators will be elected (or reelected) only in Bicol so they will have to show their relevance in the region to be reelected. Politically, getting elected as a regional senator will not be a walk in the park for political dynasts because they will have to compete with other similarly rich and influential families.

 

One of the fears heard among those opposing federalism is that it will promote more political dynasties. How they arrived to that conclusions escapes me. Political dynasty is bad, in general but how is the country faring under the current system? Political dynasty has become a cottage industry in the Philippines. The constitution prohibits it but without an enabling law, it will remain just a paper exercise. Lawmakers will not sell themselves short by enacting such law that will surely decapitate their dynasty. This is really in the same category as land reform that many land owners and rancheros in Congress will not commit to. It’s like, “You want me to give away my vast landholdings?”

 

Unless their clouts transcends across provinces, their individual fiefdoms will not be enough to ensure their victory. Presumably, existing dynasties will vie for these senatorial positions but without realigning themselves into a unity ticket, it will be a brawl. And if they do coalesce, then that really lessens the number of dynasties in power. Under federalism, those without the political pedigrees of these families can truly aspire to be one and have a better chance of success versus running for a national position that a senator is now. With a likeminded and literate electorate, a truly inspiring candidate that includes younger generations could just pull it off under federalism.

 

The other truism about federalism is that under it, there could only be one governor for the whole regional state. An awesome responsibility albeit a powerful one. Existing gubernatorial positions will go away and will be relegated to a lower position or done away with totally. City boundaries will have to be redrawn and will create bigger and more robust metros. More cities will rise but will also create new crops of politicians. The potentials are endless depending on how the regional state would like to constitute itself.

 

The good thing about this is that Bicolano politicians and their constituents, will be more invested to the regional progress versus the current parochial turf mindsets. In other words, the regional state is free to determine its own destiny economically. The state governor is now empowered to create a regional vision versus a provincial one.

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