[OPINION] Personal agenda

January 18, 2018 at 13:24

Personal agenda

SKETCHES – Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) – January 17, 2018 – 12:00am


As of yesterday, the word from the super majority in the House of Representatives was that the chamber would not abolish the Senate in the proposed shift to a federal system of government.

The clarification was issued after senators said they would go it alone on Charter change. Last night the Palace rubberstamp House voted to convene into a constituent assembly for Cha-cha. It was the launch of a full-court press to rewrite the Constitution and shift to federalism, and House leaders are practical enough to see that this is going to be impossible with an uncooperative Senate.

Whether senators will trust the House remains to be seen. Noynoy Aquino, who served as congressman and then senator, opposed Cha-cha throughout his presidency partly because he didn’t trust lawmakers to stick to economic amendments. This time, the proposed shift to federalism is being used for self-serving political changes that have overshadowed the envisioned economic reforms.

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There are good examples of federal states, notably Switzerland and Germany. But those countries have different cultures and attitudes toward public service, and they have strong democratic institutions. The rule of law prevails and they have structural safeguards against political warlordism, which is prevalent in our country.

The same cast of characters, a number of them shady or downright rotten, will also be in charge in case the shift to federalism hurdles the national plebiscite that is required for any Charter amendment. How can this change anything?

Presenting federalism as a cure-all for the Islamic secessionist aspiration has also been a hard sell, even for the still hugely popular President Duterte. We’ve had the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for a few decades now. Which areas will constitute the planned new autonomous or federal region that will accommodate the wishes of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)? In plebiscites, residents of other areas in Mindanao have voted against joining the ARMM.

Even before the Bangsamoro Basic Law is implemented as part of a peace deal with the MILF, it already has a breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, also sowing violence and terrorism. One day when BIFF commanders are mellowed by age like their MILF elders and dream of spending time with their grandchildren, they will also want their own peace talks, with demands for control over their “territory.” By that time, the BIFF will also have its own violent breakaway group.

The planned shift to federalism has inevitably focused public attention on the self-serving agenda of lawmakers. Instead of focusing on the better excuse for Cha-cha, which is to lift economic restrictions so the nation can be more competitive in attracting job-generating investments, the debate is now over plans to lift term limits and abolish certain elective positions.

Many of the House members are perceived to be salivating over the prospect of staying in their posts forever, with their spouses, mistresses, kids and relatives to the sixth degree (plus cronies who know how to share) occupying every possible elective position – from youth and city councils to barangay posts and on to vice mayor, mayor, governor and congressman – in what would effectively be the family fiefdom under a federal government.

City or municipal councils, which are supposed to provide checks and balances to mayors, are headed by vice mayors. But how will this system be effective if the mayor, vice mayor and even several councilors all belong to the same big, happy family?

We are on our way to institutionalizing feudalism. It can kill a well-meaning Cha-cha initiative.

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Senators are fretting that they will be rendered irrelevant even before a new Constitution is presented to the public for ratification. The House reportedly wants joint voting by the two chambers on changes in the Charter, with each lawmaker getting one vote. Against the super majority in the House, 24 senators will serve merely as props.

Not surprisingly, the two chambers of Congress appear headed for a divorce. Several senators have announced plans to dance the Cha-cha on their own, focusing on economic reforms rather than an overhaul of the political system.

Skeptics wonder: a shift to federalism is supposed to be the answer – but what’s the question?

Is the current system so broken that we need a shift to federalism? If the same selfish, venal politicians will be in charge, what difference will it make?

I can see some logic in shifting to a parliamentary system, with the prime minister as head of government selected by his or her peers rather than elected directly by the people.

The argument is that lawmakers know each other well enough not to choose an incompetent or unqualified person among their ranks as their prime minister; the cream can rise to the top. This could spare us from populist clowns and unhinged psychos who ruin the nation with bad governance.

One problem here is that because our party system is a joke and political alliances are founded chiefly on self-interest, we could see a leadership change every three months. And we don’t have a stable, efficient bureaucracy such as the one in Japan to weather such turbulence on a regular basis, with minimal disruption to public service.

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The typical Pinoy politician thinks election to public office includes a license to do whatever one wants. This mindset can only be reinforced under a federal system of government.

We’ve seen the problems created by the independent republics in Metro Manila, where local executives can’t coordinate properly on services as basic as traffic management and garbage disposal.

We’ve also seen what happens when too many government functions are devolved to smaller units of government. Barangays, given a free hand to raise their own funds aside from their regular allocations, have become among the biggest hindrances to business and the development of micro enterprises. They have turned squatting into their private real estate business and the collection of parking fees into highway robbery.

A number of them, as President Duterte has pointed out, are into the lucrative illegal drug trade. The late, unlamented town mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr., warlord of Albuera, Leyte, was just a higher-level example of abuse of power in the smaller units of government.

Constitutions must be dynamic, and our 30-year-old Charter is ripe for changes. Unfortunately, personal a gendas, packaged as federalism advocacy, could doom the long-overdue necessary reforms.

Source: http://beta.philstar.com/opinion/2018/01/17/1778485/personal-agenda

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