Church official refutes report that 6,000 Bicolanos back federalism

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – The head of the Catholic Church's social action arm in Legazpi City refuted a report that 6,000 Bicolanos pledged to support federalism during a recent convention here.

Father Rex Paul Arjona, executive director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Legazpi, tagged as "fake news" a PTV report titled, "Over 6k Bicolanos pledge support for federalism." The Philippine News Agency carried a story with the same title.

"Most of those who came did so to listen, not necessarily to show their support. The attendance sheet they signed is evidence of attendance, not support to federalism. However, what is inexcusable is how Albayanos have been manipulated by PTV4 and, to a certain extent, by the organizers, into becoming a tool to railroad federalism," Arjona said. 

Arjona then challenged the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) in Bicol to clarify this report. "Otherwise we will consider you part of the Duterte regime's fake news machinery."

Arjona said what happened was like the style of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. 

"Parang Marcos lang noon. Tinanong lang ang audience kung sino'ng gusto ng pinamimigay na relief goods. Nang itinaas ang mga kamay, counted na bilang mga boto sa kanilang panukalang Konstitusyon," the priest said. 

(It was like during the time of Marcos. The audience was asked who among them wanted relief goods. When they raised their hands, they were suddenly counted as votes for the proposed Constitution.)

Invitation letter

The DILG earlier requested local government units in Bicol, as well as the academe, to attend the federalism convention there. The federalism convention was reportedly set at 2 pm on July 6 at the Albay Astrodome in Legazpi City. 

One invitation letter seen by Rappler was addressed by DILG regional director Elouisa Pastor to Bicol University president Arnulfo Mascariñas.

In this letter, Pastor requested Mascariñas "to enjoin a minimum of 200 personnel from the academe, composed of teachers and students, to participate in the said event." Pastor added, "The participants are advised to be in civilian attire."

Legazpi City was the 3rd destination of the federalism roadshow of the DILG. An estimated 5,000 people attended the afternoon session on Friday, July 6. Aside from local officials and lawmakers, the convention was also attended by public school teachers, students, and members of the academe and the business sector.

The convention featured administration resource persons who took turns lauding the Duterte administration and the importance of shifting to federalism.

In an interview with Rappler, political science professor Jess Barizo said the shift to federalism should not be done in haste.

Referring to federalism, Barizo said that "anything made in haste without undergoing comprehensive study from the context of nature, effect, and application is bound to fail."

"Furthermore, there's no perfect government. It always depends on sincere and honest government," he said. – Rappler.com