PRRD entered into the national political establishment by throwing out the playbook and winning without the praetorian guards’ approval. Change was supposed to be coming. In some instances, yes, we felt the change but it has been few and far between, mixed with anger against those who perennially baited him, distracting him from the urgent task of governing and his opponents intently showing how Duterte is after all, just a simple mayor.
One area where he has not done much is political reform. One that is very much needed to rein in the transactional nature of politics in this country. One that is needed to get vital legislation pre-federal. One where even his Waterloo can be remedied to straighten the priming made against his battle against illegal drugs.
Last week saw the submission of a draft Federal Constitution by the PDP political party to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the concomitant media offensive made a play of explaining to the public why their version, supposedly done by several study groups of academicians, is better. Earlier, the Centrist Democratic Party took centerstage with a presentation of its version before the Malacañang press corps. Critical to that presentation are the a priori political reforms needed: passage of the anti-dynasty bill, political party reform, election administration reform and FOI for the entire branches of government. In between, the DILG under the leadership of Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing is quietly putting the dots and crossing the t’s in its version culled from patient engagement with various groups on federalism around the country.
The difference among the drafts cited are: one is done by individuals selected by the Senate President in what is called study groups. Very exclusive. Transparency only came when they were parading a model they branded as the Philippine model. CDP is working with a 2005 draft of a Consultative Commission created per Executive Order 453 by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. No wasted energy there and still relevant today. The DILG, on the other hand, is working with contentious groups but agreed to work together for the common good.
In all these movements, PRRD does not even have a presidential adviser on federalism. He does not have his own technical group to drive the debate instead of just reacting to a party where Duterte is said to be chairman and yet it is not the party-in-government.
The 17th Congress will come up with a version which would reflect their own biases. Would they be ready to adopt a transitory provision in which the members of the 17th, in both chambers, cannot run in the first election under the new federal Constitution? How about including all elected local officials? Now, that would be real change!
But before we go to that very vital transition, those involved in federalism work would do well to go back to a November 1974 seminal work by the Task Force on Human Settlements submitted to the President. Executive Order 419, drafted by the Development Academy of the Philippines, presented the basis for 11 regions in the country. It identified growth centers per region and suggested that a policy of dispersal be implemented. Mind you, this was a 1974 framework plan for the nation. And yes, done by Marcos. DAP could perhaps assist PRRD in crafting the federal alternative.
Locational and spatial development is important in federalism. The report included eight supporting technical reports which would be the basis for regional development: agricultural and natural resources; infrastructure, industry, tourism, social services, investment, major settlements and social equity. It recognized that “the Philippine experience of ‘development’ has actually evolved into an over-concentration of people, activities, technology, government services, etc. in the Manila areas.” It likewise noted the uneven distribution of consumption.
As early as 1974, there was already agreement in the characterization of growth in the country: “While gross national product may increase, these benefits are shared by only a few, usually families residing in the primate city. Unless a better distribution of fruits of development is ensured, the country will remain basically underdeveloped.”
Consequently, in putting the 11 regions of the country, the objective of resource utilization was proposed. The initial thrusts were food self-sufficiency and related industries. The Philippine map pinpointed the growth centers and adopted a methodology using settlements, scoring settlements on the certain key factors like population, land area and density. Soil type and erosion; climate; land capability and land use were factored in. Most important was the map on proposed transportation networks.
To those who claim expertise on federalism, where are the growth centers? Would the existing 17 regions have growth centers that can handle the transition? How many growth centers per region? Can it be a magnet to disperse population from the highly urbanized cities? Forty-three years ago, it had been a policy to disperse population via employment-generation capacity of centers outside of Manila. Have we finally established the population range on the economies of scale for industries, commerce and services? If we have, we should not have malls and more malls along EDSA, right? We should not have gridlocks in Baguio, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao, among others.
How do we allocate dam and reservoir projects? How about irrigation systems? How about power development, housing and education? How about public work linkages of land, sea and air? Where are the studies?
Merely renaming the 17 regions as the federal regions of the country does not transform the nation into a federal Philippines.