The 16 million votes that catapulted Rodrigo Duterte to Malacanang in May 2016 are seen representing three challenges he has to face–criminality, illegal drugs, traffic congestion, red tape and corruption; peace in Muslim Mindanao and with the National Democratic Front (NDF); and development.
These challenges, according to Christian Monsod, a lawyer and regarded as an expert in government, politics and economics, cannot be hurdled through federalism alone.
“I believe that the shift to a federal system is a leap of faith, that it will somehow work. That means that we will be taking a big risk [in]that federalism will strengthen the political dynasties, landed elites and warlords and will result in the removal or weakening of the provisions on social justice and human development,” Monsod, a framer of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, said during a recent forum at the Far Eastern University-Makati campus that was organized by the university’s Public Policy Center.
“Federalism is a slippery slope and is virtually irreversible,” he added.
With federalism, Duterte has said, would facilitate better delivery of public funds and services to the people in a way not disproportionately biased toward the capital city of Manila.
The federal government is also envisioned to address long-standing ethno-religious conflicts in southern Mindanao.
Through it, Duterte plans to privatize tax collection and abolish Congress to make way for a unicameral legislature.
Monsod, a former chairman of the Commission on Elections, said everyday concerns of Filipinos can be handled under the 1987 Constitution by the central government through a strong leader with the political will to get the job done.
He added that federalism is not necessary in passing a new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and forging a peace agreement with the NDF.
“The Constitution already provides for the creation of ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] and the NDF has not taken a hard line on Charter change. The President has said that the BBL takes precedence to federalism and should be a model for others. Since the President is familiar with the political terrain on the ground, personally knows the key figures both in Bangsamoro and the NDF, and he has a super majority in the Congress, he will likely succeed in achieving peace on both fronts,” Monsod explained.
He said, development–sustained high growth rate plus equitable distribution–was not achieved by previous administrations not because of the Constitution but because of poor implementation of provisions on social justice and local autonomy.
“The Constitution is not the problem, it is part of the solution. The choice is not between federalism and continued mass poverty and inequality. This is a false dilemma,” Monsod added.
“We are, in fact, told that a number of factors account for our laggardness, but foremost are flawed policies and weak institutions that are rooted in a feudalistic system that has been impervious to change for generations and, of course, corruption,” he said.