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A Call for Federalism

(Author is former Human Rights Commissioner, IBP Governor and National Secretary. Presently, he is IBP Presidential Assistant on Publications and Media and OIC, Editor-in-Chief, The Bar, the IBP Newsletter. He is also Legal Adviser of The New Ranao Star)


By Atty. Nasser A. Marohomsalic

Muslims regard it as a matter of religious obligation to govern themselves by their own social system or to grant autonomy to sectoral minorities in their society. They believe that autonomy, as a system of political governance, is a natural order of political development in society. It does not only come along with the growing needs of an expanding society and the corresponding widening differences or divergence in ways and modes of living and outlook in life between and among various sectors of the community, but a political formula to keep the bond of unity among heterogeneous peoples.

In its ideal form, this political arrangement could come by only in a federal set-up where a state is a constituent unit afforded with the power of internal sovereignty.

PDP – Laban and NUCO-UMDP

Among the country’s political parties, the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) comes clear with its political platform for federalism.

The National Union of Christian Democras-United Muslim Democrats of the Philippines (NAUD-UMDP, the precursor of the Christian-Muslim Democratic Party (CMD), banners the ideal as a system of government under its basic principle of subsidiarity. Into the winding days of the Macapagal presidency, Fidel Ramos, who ran for the presidency in 1992 and won under the NUCD-UMDP-LAKAS TAO ticket in 1992, batted for federalism and opined that, on the 10th year reckoned from the last year of the term of President Macapagal, the country should have a federal form of government. And the 10th year will come in 2020.

Window of Opportunity

The country has had but little opportunity to go for federalism. Politics and internal contradictions vitiated developments.

PDP – Laban had only a goodly share of the political power in the Cory Government from 1986 to 1992. Catapulted to the presidency by the Political Opposition and People Power in 1986, the Cory Government was a spotful of incongruent and opposing interests. And PDP-Laban did not have its way clear to pot its political ball, so to speak.

For another reason, the Cory Government had no window of opportunity to embark for federalism, being then vastly occupied with the restoration of democratic institutions wrecked up by Martial Law and the resistance by the rightists and the traditional elite.

In fact, the government barely squeaked by at the several military coups launched against it.

Amidst these threats to the stability of government, the PDP had no recourse then but to play along by sidelining its federalist stance.

Other sectors of society picked up the issue, stoking up rhetoric for federalism. National political leaders like Vice President Laurel and business moguls, including Enrique Zobel, founded in 1988 the National Movement for Economic Reconstruction and Survival for the purpose.

Some Muslim leaders carried their political appellation, Muslim Federal Party, for their candidacies in the election of 1989 to popularize their cause and aspiration.

But their advocacy fell flat to the other concerns of state as explained.

Now the Filipino people have come around to the ideal of federalism resoundingly expressed last election through their votes for Rody Duterte as President of the country, who ran under the PDP-Laban and campaigned for federalism.

As explained by former Senator Nene Pimentel, the founding father of the Party, under a federal set-up the country will be cut up into individual states, with provinces and cities sharing commonalities, especially language, bunched up into one state. Metro Manila will be the seat of the federal government ala Washington D.C.

Indeed, there is no better time to pursue the structural change in our system of government from unitary presidential form to federal.

Unity in Diversity

Federalism is an idea whose time has come. It suits the culturally diverse nature of the country: 80 tribes scattered all over the more than 7,000 islands of our archipelago. Each tribe practically speaks a dialect or language different from the other and possesses peculiar culture, customs and traditions. They owe loyalty to their respective tribes and possess a situational sense of nationhood. Even as they integrate with the rest of society, they still keep to their individual identities and nationalities.

Spirit of Separatism

The indigenous peoples are most poignant in their assertion for their individual identities as separate and distinct from the Filipino majority. The Bangsamoro especially raised their stake and went to war against the majority from foreign colonial times down to contemporary times in pursuit of separatism. During the deliberation on the 1987 Constitution, leaders of the Constitutional Commission pushed for the grant of autonomy for the Bangsamoro despite the adoption of a unitary system of government for their “uniqueness.” Short of the aspiration of the Bangsamoro, the limited autonomy did not dampen in general their revolutionary spirit for freedom which only made headway in the momentary cooptation of a number of Moro revolutionaries.

In 1989, a Christian leader in South Cotabato found no commonality between the minority Bangsamoro and the majority Filipinos, obviously taking a shot at the kind of autonomy enshrined in the Constitution, which proved to be in the end as a tenuous kind of a bind to keep the loyalty of the Bangsamoro to the National Flag.

Islamism, it must be pointed out, only preps up the secessionist tendency of the Bangsamoro. It is not the be-all and end-all for their separatist spirit.

The neglect and iniquitous treatment by the Filipino majority of the Bangsamoro is a greater culprit, minoritizing further the Bangsamoro not only in terms of their cultural appellation but in the political and economic life of the nation. They are poor, sidelined from sensitive national positions in government and left to their own devices for their destruction by sufferance of the National Government.

In brief, the historical currents to their relationship--the majority lording it over the minority--has ordained the dichotomization of Philippine society into hostile classes, the oppressive majority class and the disinherited minority class.

Strictly speaking, homogeneity of people in socio-cultural terms does not guarantee political solidarity in a society.

“Social friction” is not only true among peoples of different ideological persuasions. Although it may not be as pronounced as it is among heterogeneous community, antagonism may even be an order of relations among homogenous people, especially when they have been kept apart by difference of language or dialect or natural barriers or historical experience or disparity in social conditions. As has been our electoral experience and barring complications, an Ilocano Filipino who is a Christian from the North will prefer a fellow Ilocano to a Cebuano Filipino who is also a Christian from the South as president of the country, and vice versa. Christian Catholic Ireland have been agitating for independence from Christian Anglican England. Muslim Kurdis in the North of Iraq have been battling for secession from the country whose government is controlled by Iraqi Arabs who are their brothers in Islam. In Spain, the Catholic Basque enjoy autonomy from the majority Catholic Spaniards. In Muslim Indonesia, Muslim Aceh is a special province.

It is truth with nary a doubt that a system of unequal relations is endemic in a society where a poor minority group exists. In the Philippines, this order of affairs wrought innumerable miseries to the minority Bangsamoro who took sanctuary therefrom in the security of their arms and in the care of their anger.

To Keeping the Country Intact

Certainly, the present structure of political power and mode of relations serve as a fetter to the full expression of freedom and enjoyment of prosperity, peace and harmony by the Bangsamoro. If this persists for long, the country may even break up into petty independent fiefdoms of political dynasties. Only federalism may keep the country intact.

Government should not allow developments to take their natural course in the march of history. It should intervene and direct developments towards democratization and federalism by the rule of law. (The New Ranao Star)
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