Philippine Daily Inquirer

1973 all over again


Ire­mem­ber it only vaguely. But soon af­ter the dec­la­ra­tion of Mar­cos mar­tial law, the dic­ta­tor rushed the com­ple­tion and vot­ing on the 1973 Con­sti­tu­tion. In lieu of a for­mal plebiscite, it was de­cided to sub­ject the new Char­ter to vot­ing in barangay or vil­lage as­sem­blies, with the peo­ple gath­ered asked merely to vote “yes” or “no” on rat­i­fi­ca­tion by a show of hands.

Of course, the “Mar­cos Con­sti­tu­tion” was rat­i­fied with lit­tle trou­ble. But hardly any­body I knew took the re­sults se­ri­ously. There were sto­ries, apoc­ryphal or not, that the peo­ple gath­ered at the as­sem­blies were be­ing asked whether they wanted free rice or other such goods, and pho­tos of the nearly unan­i­mous “yes” vote were pub­lished to “prove” over­whelm­ing sup­port for the Con­sti­tu­tion. And with such re­sults, the Mar­cos ma­chin­ery had all the le­gal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion it needed to rule with an iron fist.

The re­cent pas­sage by the “con­sul­ta­tive com­mit­tee” of a draft Con­sti­tu­tion re­plac­ing the present uni­tary sys­tem (un­der a na­tion­ally elected Pres­i­dent) with a fed­er­al­ist sys­tem seems a har­bin­ger for a re­peat of the 1973 farce. As news re­ports say, the “Con­Com” will sub­mit the draft to Mala­cañang which will in turn trans­mit it to Con­gress, and once it is passed, it will then be sub­ject to a plebiscite. This is ex­pected to re­sult in rat­i­fi­ca­tion and the adop­tion of a new con­sti­tu­tion whose high­light is the shift to a fed­eral sys­tem.

So far, there has been no word yet if that plebiscite will be done through a show of hands in barangay as­sem­blies. But the en­tire process and re­sult won’t seem to be any much dif­fer­ent from the mar­tial law mock­ery of the law.


Pres­i­dent Duterte has been say­ing all

along that one of the goals of his term is the shift to fed­er­al­ism, one whole­heart­edly sup­ported and cham­pi­oned by his po­lit­i­cal party, PDP-Laban. And he won’t even have to twist arms. Al­though pas­sage by the Se­nate is not a sure thing, given the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity that PDPLa­ban en­joys in the much big­ger House, pas­sage seems a done deal.

We could wake up one morn­ing— soon—and find our­selves liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, with po­lit­i­cal power scat­tered among 18 fed­er­ated re­gions. In re­al­ity, though, the mish­mash of re­gions is lit­tle more than a col­lec­tion of fief­doms. Stud­ies have shown that, while the “power of the cen­ter” now en­joyed by “Im­pe­rial Manila” will be dis­si­pated, the ex­is­tence of dy­nas­tic fam­i­lies en­trenched in the po­lit­i­cal struc­ture in many prov­inces would mean only that even more power will be en­joyed by fewer fam­i­lies.

In this case, shift­ing to fed­er­al­ism would not re­dound to greater democra- cy or au­ton­omy for the re­gions, but rather re­sult in a less vig­or­ous and dy­namic democ­racy, es­pe­cially for peo­ple in re­gions dom­i­nated by pow­er­ful clans. De­fend­ers of the Con­Com will say that there is an “an­ti­dy­nasty” pro­vi­sion in the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tion. But we all know how con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples can be so eas­ily sub­verted, es­pe­cially in a sce­nario where the tra­di­tional checks and bal­ances have all but been wiped out. A study on how fed­er­al­ism works around the world “sug­gests three con­clu­sions,” wrote DJ de Je­sus in a piece pub­lished in this pa­per. These are: fed­er­al­ism does not guar­an­tee de­cen­tral­iza­tion; de­cen­tral­iza­tion can be achieved within a uni­tary state; and “if de­cen­tral­iza­tion ef­forts in the Philip­pines are fail­ing to yield the ex­pected ben­e­fits, it is not be­cause of its uni­tary po­lit­i­cal struc­ture.”

Have there been enough in-depth stud­ies into how a shift to fed­er­al­ism could ad­dress the most ba­sic is­sues of our democ­racy? Will fed­er­al­ism trans­late into bet­ter eco­nomic per­for­mance and more eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion around the coun­try? Con­sid­er­ing that na­tional wealth is con­cen­trated in only three or four re­gions, how will the other re­gions with lit­tle re­sources or man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­ity fare once their sub­si­dies from the na­tional trea­sury are with­drawn?

The big­gest ques­tion of all: Do we know enough about what this pro­posed shift would mean for all of us? And have the de­bates and dis­cus­sions been open and com­pre­hen­sive enough? What’s the rush?


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