COMMENTARY

Federalization and the revision of our history

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THE revision of history is a hot topic now because of the way the Marcos regime has been depicted.

Revisionism is also evident in the discussions on the proposed conversion of our government from the unitary to the federal system. The major justification for this proposal is the claim that our unitary system of government is not working and that if we shift to the federal structure, we will have a more efficient form of government. In this manner, the development of Mindanao will be hastened, and this will in turn solve the peace and order problem in the region. The danger of revisionism is that it could lead us to the wrong path of development with dire consequences for our country.

The unitary system of government actually worked very well for us in the past, from the time of the Jones Law in 1916 up to World War II in 1941. During this period of colonial rule, our local leaders were given sufficient autonomy by the Americans to run our own affairs. The fact that we emerged from World War II as the second most advanced country in Asia after Japan is proof that the unitary system worked well in our country in the past.

Unfortunately, this golden era of unitary government was erased from our history books. We allowed “nationalists” with leftist agendas, to revise our history. They were able to depict that everything about the US colonial rule was bad. Thus, the accomplishments of our leaders like Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmena and all those who ran our government from the time we were given local autonomy by the Americans under the Jones Law until World War II, were expunged from our history books.


The author studied at the University of the Philippines in the 1950s and the Philippine history books we used as reference then did not discuss the efficient government which operated during the Commonwealth era. The author did not get the correct perspective on the accomplishments of our leaders during this period until he attended graduate school in Boston and took a course on the history of colonialism. It was only then that he came across articles written by foreign authors on the good work of our leaders before World War II.

The obliteration from our history of the accomplishments of our leaders before World War II resulted in the loss of a model of governance that our leaders hence could follow, and in the country operating under a corrupt and inefficient government.

And as a further consequence, we are now being subjected to propaganda by the administration about the need to adopt federalization based on false premises. If we apply the facts of history correctly, we should be asking: Why don’t we change the people running our government and retain the unitary system which worked well for us in the past? We were the most advanced colonial people that gained independence after World War II. It is, therefore, our contemporary leaders, not our system of government, which created our present mess.

Another danger that this revision of our history has exposed us to is that we may retrogress to a system of government which we already avoided. If one reads the writings of our revisionist historians, after Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the First Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898, had there been no American invasion, this republic would have prospered and developed in peace.

Such would not have been the case. In common with all other Spanish colonies, our First Republic would have followed in the footsteps of our Latin American cousins. Spain did not maintain a large colonial army. Spain governed its colonies through the hacenderos (to use our own terminology; the correct term in Spanish is hacendados) who were the beneficiaries of Spanish land grants. These hacenderos maintained their own private armies in support of the colonial government. When Spain was ousted from the New World, these hacenderos became local caudillos. The central government of each of the newly independent Latin American republics governed their respective countries in loose alliance with these caudillos.

This arrangement resulted in many coups once the existing alliance fractured. However, there seems to be an unwritten rule among these caudillos that despite changing circumstances, they will not change the social structure of the country. It was only Fidel Castro who broke this rule by executing the traditional caudillos of Cuba.

Having said that, the installation of a highly centralized system of government by the Americans diminished the role of the potential caudillos in the Philippines. However, this is the danger we now face, if we federalize. This early, we can identify the potential caudillos in a federal system of government we shall install. They are the present ruling political dynasties. Conferring on them additional powers of government in the form of the autonomy that will be guaranteed in a federal Constitution, each with its own state militia, will mean a revival of the caudillo system which we escaped from with the American occupation.

Thus, instead of forging national unity as the proponents of federalism claim, we could instead end up balkanizing our country. We can safely assume that in the northern state if Ilocos, Ferdinand Marcos will be depicted as a hero. There goes national unity. Education will be one of the autonomous powers devolved to each state. We hope our countrymen will carefully evaluate and not readily accept the proponents of federalization, that this route will foster national unity and hasten our national development. It is based on a false premise: the unitary government is no good and not suited to our country.

The Gabaldon schoolhouses, the buildings of the Supreme Court, the National Museum, the Post Office and the Agrifina Circle were all constructed in the American colonial era, but they still stand in all their majesty. By way of contrast, the schoolhouses and government buildings built since 1946 are toppled or need reconstruction after every calamity. The reason for this is the buildings constructed in the past were built to specifications. There were no kickbacks then. Their modern counterparts were sloppily built because of kickbacks. They are stark proof that the unitary system of government works because it did very well for us in the past.

It is an established rule in reorganizations that you not only restructure the organization, but also at the same time, you lay off personnel and bring in new blood. There is a small group of existing staff whom you may retrain. But the majority you lay off, more so in our present case when a sizeable number of policy-level personnel are tainted with corruption. Under the current proposal by the administration, we will restructure our government, but the same politicians that failed to make the unitary system work since we regained our independence in 1946 will remain in office. It is a deeply flawed approach. It is difficult to conceive of any management consulting agency which will uphold this approach. If you have a play with bad actors, you will get a consistent lousy outcome if you just keep changing the play but keep retaining the bad actors.

Hopefully, our countrymen will study our history incisively and consider when we vote on a new Constitution, whether what we need is to change our government structure, or whether we might be better off changing the politicians running our government. In this respect, we can start by voting out of office the members of the political dynasties and ensure that in the next Constitution we draft, we will have strong sanctions against political dynasties.

Retired Ambassador Hermenigildo Cruz served as ambassador to Chile and Bolivia. He holds the degree of Master of Law and Diplomacy (MALD) major in International Development jointly conferred by Tufts and Harvard Universities.

Ambassador Hermenegildo C. Cruz

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2 Comments

  1. The cuadillo system of government has been with us since the dawn of civilization. Europe was plunged into unending feudal wars during the Middle Ages precisely because of this cuadillo system of government you mentioned. This cuadillo system of government was placed under wraps by the emerging monarchies of Europe as they applied the enlightenment of the defunct Roman and Greek civilization in the governance of their monarchy. Thus, each monarch in Europe had her own legislature – something that was practically absent in the East. Most of the time the legislatures met to deliberate on important laws; but sometimes they met to deliberate on important constitutional principles. This gave European monarchy that needed flexibility to stay tune with the times. This was the main characteristic of monarchy in Europe compared to monarchy in other continents. The enlightenment of the Greek and Roman civilization adopted by these monarchies was the main reason why they became viable in Europe for more than a millennium until it was disrupted by the French revolution before the close of the 18th century.

    The instability of South American republics cannot be compared to the Philippines. In the first place, these republics grew under the tutelage of the Spaniards while we grew under the tutelage of the Americans. The basis of the American system of government is the rule of law while the basis of the Spanish system of government is might is right. Because the Spanish system is based on the principle of might is right, the frequency of coups in that continent is the outcome of such principle of government.

    For example, when the debate centers on reform, we think of changing our constitution. In South American, when the debate centers on reform, they think of changing the leaders.

    The fact that the American philosophy of government is essentially based on the rule of law does not mean that that government is perfect or superior to other system of government. At the start, the election of the American President was through the two-tier system of voting prevalent of republics at that time. The two tier voting was changed eventually to direct vote. There is a constitutional proposal in the USA to do away with the Electoral College in favor a President elected by popular vote. There are many pros and cons in the use of an Electoral College versus direct vote of the President. This is being hotly debated in the USA. Ex-President Obama wants a proportional system of representation in the USA to make elections there more democratic.

    The reason why Dr. Jose Rizal was against the independence of the Philippines because there are many things we can adopt from Spanish culture that we can immensely benefit in which we have no local substitute. Since we have become a colony of the USA, we have inherited the American philosophy of government in which we do not have yet any better substitute. During the American period, many Filipino nationalists were against independence for the same reason that Dr. Jose Rizal was against the independence of the Philippines. The poor leadership of those wanting colonialism against the better leadership of Quezon and Osmeňa eventually brought our independence. In Puerto Rico, the better leadership of colonialist who wanted to remain a colony of the USA against the poor leadership of those seeking the independence of Puerto Rico placed that country under the colonial tutelage of the USA.

    While our philosophy of government is heavily influenced by the rule of law of American government, it does not mean that our system of government cannot be changed. It is under this principle of rule of law that we have to devise a constitution that fits our situation and unique character as a people. A federal government will not degrade our country into anarchy as you contend because our way of thinking is always through the rule of law imbedded in our psyche.

    We need a federal system of government because the people of Mindanao should have greater say on how to deal with the insurgency there that affects their lives intimately more than us. President Quezon was against the federal system of government because it will weaken government at the time when we need a stronger government for our development. But the insurgency in Mindanao and the rise of President Duterte who thinks that the solution of insurgency there is through federalism shows that the people of Mindanao are willing to take more responsibility of what is happening in their region. President Duterte is not seeking the independence of Mindanao; what he wants is greater decision making powers of the people of Mindanao on problems that deeply affect them.

    Only Mindanao will remain a separate federal state of the Philippines. The rest of the country will remain a unitary government. Hence, we will have both a federal and a unitary government at the same time. Hence, there is no fear that a federal government will produce anarchy in the country, the same fear that prompted Quezon to use all his political clout to oppose federalism here.

    I do not mean to say that your conclusions have no validity. If something does not go right in the federal system proposed by Duterte, its time to consider your viewpoints. Maybe things will go well if some of your observations are implemented when a discussion of a new system of government becomes due. In the mean time, it is a question of trying the federal system of government and hoping for the best.

  2. What ph needs are:
    World class high quality public education, free tuition & all other fees to all students, from pre-k of 4-year old kids, up to all state colleges & universities.
    More representation in the legaslative branch by having election of 1 senator per province every 3 years, 1 provincial board member per town & 1 municipal councilor per barangay