Federalism is a bad idea. The development of Mindanao is not. The latter does not flow from the former and ought not.
Mindanao is essential to the nation’s well-being. Ending the long wait, the country’s Mindanao moment has finally come. A President Duterte is that moment. He is the opportunity! He is the embodiment of that opportunity. He must succeed. We all have an obligation to make sure he does. Again, pro patria, regardless of one’s political/partisan sentiments.
Before Mayor Duterte, the most prominent contemporary proponent of federalism was former Senator/Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. Both are from Mindanao. The principal unbending animo and eloquent cry is the neglect of Mindanao by the metropolis, the underdevelopment and underutilization. And, of course the resultant insurgencies of all besetting varieties. How rightly so!
Having said that, however, when the full potential of Mindanao has been irreversibly unleashed and its development already an ongoing momentum—an acknowledged feather in the Duterte cap--would federalism even be relevant?
Federalism as a battle cry may have been attractive and attention-capturing during the hustings, especially when orated upon with dirty jokes and profanities Duterte-style. Federalism is nonetheless an untried political novelty, possessing its own allure. Like all novelties, it is not unfading. In fact, its embrace can be fraught with fatal and dark-sided consequences. Those could be sadly irreversible. It possesses the lethal capacity to break up the nation! (More on this in a bit.)
Mindanao is the Philippine gateway to a credible participation in the unstoppable growth of the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines economic corridor which is predominantly Muslim. What if the Bangsamoro Basic Law happens? It would be utter foolishness to defer it and render precedence to federalism!
What if a trans-Mindanao railway system becomes an aborning reality before 2022? How about Villamor Air Base (plus an Air Force Academy/civilian aviation school) being relocated somewhere in the elevations of Bukidnon?
What if Mindanao were to host a couple of Cabinet/executive departments like the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)? Agrarian Reform or even the Department of Agriculture itself? Heck! Transfer the Department of National Defense to Mindanao, instead of its present location which only adds to the congestion along EDSA. “Defending” what in Metro Manila?
The reality is that the foregoing entities (and others as well) do not require a Metro Manila presence to pursue its respective missions or to justify its existence. The advances in Information Technology has brought us to the age of cyber communications. Businesses can now be conducted over vast distances without need for proximate personal contact. War can even be waged without physical presence in the combat area!
There is no law that prohibits the physical relocation of government agencies, more so that it brings the source of services and benefits closer to the greater numbers of its needing clients! Also, methinks there is likewise no need to go through the legislative mill to shake up things. So, why doesn’t presidential cojones go ahead show us the way to tomorrow!
I draw inspiration in thinking out of the box, remembering a conversation I had with Ping de Jesus, then recently appointed as DPWH Secretary by President Cory. My usual constructive critical curiosity: “Ping, if you had the authority, where will you transfer the principal offices of DPWH?” He said, “I will transfer it to Mindanao. That is where the action is!”
A similar conversation I had with then-Commanding Officer of the Philippine Navy, Vice Adm. Mariano J. Dumangcas. “Nano,” I asked, “where would you transfer the Navy HQ if you had the opportunity?” “Somewhere in the Visayas,” he said.
I have since been espousing, promoting, sounding off on this and I will never tire. Transfer the Philippine Navy as far away as possible from Metro Manila. Why not Iloilo? The Philippine Navy HQ repositioned elsewhere can be more useful in untold ways than luxuriating in its irrelevant location along Roxas Blvd and portions of Fort Bonifacio. (I promise to revive an out-of-the-box pragmatic fantasy of what to do with that piece of Manila Bay-cum-Sunset frontage, with a huge Duterte content!)
Federalism possesses the capacity and the opportunity to destroy the nation.
In pre-colonial times, when there was no Filipino nation, sections of the archipelago were strewn with and run by datuships and some sultanships, mostly with competing interests and rarely in comity. We of course did not yet possess nationality. At the start of the last century when we began our tutelage in democratic self-government, a loudly claimed critical observation was the problem of casiquism (bossism), in the municipal and provincial levels throughout the country. Its eradication was regarded as political maturity, an advance in democratic governance.
As we progressed, this was tamed but never fully expunged. Responsible for the control of regional political fiefdoms is the oversight provided by national authority imbued with control and supervision, assisted by a judicial system cum constabulary that is supposed to owe no allegiance to local powerbrokers and political overlords. It was never smooth sailing.
Today there is already multiplication of political dynasties and its accompanying warlordism. There is nothing that federalism can offer to stem the return of caciquism, preventing the hardening of, entrenching further political dynasties and the proliferation of more. Worse, emboldening private armed groups in the employ of the local warlords.
It has been said that there are three study groups under the Duterte dispensation preparing federalism scenarios. To be fair, let us wait for their presentation. Let us be ever mindful, nevertheless, that the devil is always in the details. And speaking of the devil, eventually the people’s choice will be between the devil we know and the devil we do not know!
RISKING A PREDICTION
I can hardly wait until the day when I can sincerely sing praises to President Duterte. That is when he has been able to even dent during his 6-year term the national malaise which is Metro Manila, exemplified by the people’s daily calvary--the world famous humongous traffic congestion. They have announced that they will call it a crisis. In fact, it has been a burgeoning one for a generation now. Hence, the demand for emergency powers!
(The final relocation of all bus terminals along Cubao and EDSA/Pasay ought to be “Emerency No 1.” One in the northern edge of Metro Manila and another in the South. Why not reclaim Laguna Lake foreshore lands for the purpose. And of course, enforce inviolable loading and unloading points. Passenger/pedestrian discipline and civic consciousness.)
Allow me this risk, then. If such emergency powers do not contain the elements of finally addressing decongestion and intelligent population dispersal, and recognizing these as the ultimate and exclusive solution to Metro Manila, Duterte’s emergency powers will be unable to deliver solace to an abused and overburdened limited space. And I will be unable to recite my psalms of praise!