Federalism 'much deeper change' than war on drugs – analysts

MANILA, Philippines – In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte again made the pitch for federalism, and even expressed willingness to step down before the end of his term should Filipinos call for a presidential election after making the shift.

"I can commit today to the Republic of the Philippines and its people: If you hurry up the federal system of government and you can submit it to the Filipino people by the 4th, 5th year. Proseso 'yan e (That's a process). You call for a referendum and after that call for a presidential election, I will go. Sibat na ako. But you just have a president," he said on Monday, July 25. 

He urged Filipinos to copy the French system and to make sure a president with ceremonial powers is also elected – even if it would not be him.

"Okay na ako. Do not worry about me. I don't aim to that much ambition. Eh nanalo ka eh. Hindi ko nga alam bakit nandito ako ngayon. Noon nandoon lang ako, o. Totoo man. Sino man nagsuporta sa inyo sa akin dito? Wala man. Not a single congressman. Except for two provinces, governor. 'Yun lang. Wala akong barangay captain. Wala akong – wala lahat. Pero ngayon," the President joked during one of  his many ad libs in his SONA.

(I'm okay. Don't worry about me. I don't aim to that much ambition. What can we do if you won? I don't even know why I'm here. I used to be just part of the audience. That's true. Who among you here supported me? None. Not a single congressman. Except for two provinces, governor. That's all. I didn't have a barangay captain, I didn't have anything. But now.)

Duterte said he has directed the Department of the Interior and Local Government to start its nationwide information drive and campaign on federalism, with the help of local government units, civil society, and grassroots and faith-based organizations.

According to analysts, the shift to federalism is much more important than the Duterte administration's war on drugs.

"It is a deeper change, much deeper than the war on drugs," political psychologist Cristina Montiel told Rappler.

Former Ateneo School of Government dean Antonio La Viña agreed. "Constitutional change and federalism, hopefully a parliamentary system of government and a peace settlement are the big things that are much more important than the war against drugs, that could have really long term good consequences for the country."

La Viña said it should be the right form of federalism where power is reallocated to "a new set of actors called regions or states or whatever, intermediate with the local government, because that scale of governance is badly needed in the country."

But Montiel warned that the country should be careful with the process of shifting to federalism, since this will determine whether power will be decentralized or not.

In this regard, she said the composition of the Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) "will be very, very critical."

"One of the main criticisms is that [federalism] could fortify political dynasties, and so this thing about political dynasties can be passed in Congress already even before the federal transition. That would take care of a big chunk of the criticism against federalism," she explained.

"But then, on another track, if the Con-Con is controlled by whatever group, then the story line of the Con-Con can be easily shifted from federalism to something else," Montiel warned.

On the issue of uneven development among states under federalism, Montiel said details in the proposed measure will handle such concerns. The law, she explained, could set up a "superbank" that will give to other regions.

Initial steps have been made towards a federalist form of government. Duterte ally Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon "Bebot" Alvarez, elected as the new Speaker, has filed a Con-Con bill at the House of Representatives.  Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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