Opponents of federalism are on high gear. They launched a movement against Charter change in a show of force. In attendance were the remnants of the jaded guards of the 1987 Constitution, including those who had a hand in its crafting.
At the outset, let me state that federalism is not a panacea. It has its own pitfalls, and any arguments pushing for its adoption are mere hypotheses whose strength and validity are based on the experience and studies from other countries with cultural and historical realities very much different from ours.
But if we are going to oppose it, the basis for such should at least rely on valid arguments, and not phantom fears that are products of partisan political spins, and should not border on intellectual dishonesty.
One of the main arguments to discredit federalism is the faulty claim that it nurtures political dynasties, making it appear as if such is an inevitable outcome embedded in an iron law of causation.
And to give it a further spin, political dynasties are now imaged as causing poverty and underdevelopment. Many political scientists and other scholars of political systems have produced volumes of arguments that paint dynasties as a scourge in our political landscape, effectively preventing democratization and development.
Ergo, by mathematical transitivity, the logical claim would be that federalism is anti-development.
No less than the framers of the 1987 Constitution have enshrined in its text an anti-political dynasty provision. Until now this provision has not been enabled by any legislation from a Congress most of whose members belong to dynastic families, whether in its “fat” manifestation of having relatives simultaneously occupying elective posts, or as a “thin” one of having inherited the post from a relative.
The difficulty in legislating against political dynasties is not just because of the recalcitrance of politicians. More importantly, it is simply because doing so would be inauthentic and would go against the Filipino habitus and worldview, one that is immersed in familial and communalistic ethos. Family-based social engagements are so organically rooted in our consciousness and our actual social relations.
There is no question that some dynasties have become retardants of economic growth and development. But there are also those that have enabled such in their own localities. In fact, a study conducted by a team headed by Ronald U. Mendoza, together with Edsel L. Beja Jr., Victor S. Venida and David B. Yap entitled “Political Dynasties and Poverty: Evidence from the Philippines,” has revealed that there is less evidence that political dynasties exacerbate poverty. What they found is that it is in fact poverty that breeds the condition for political dynasties to thrive.
Thus, it is not political dynasties that should be controlled, but the prevalence of poverty. An anti-political dynasty provision will only eliminate the symptom. Considering that political dynasties do not contribute to poverty incidence, but in fact is an outcome of it, and further considering that it is an organic social institution that performs other functions, outlawing it can even inadvertently lead to some adverse effects. For example, dynastic power relations are outcomes of well-entrenched patron-client relationships which may not necessarily be dysfunctional, but in fact are well-tested institutions that provide social insurance to local communities in times of need. In localities where state agencies are weak, people have no choice but to rely on political patrons.
The solution therefore is not to eliminate political dynasties, but to bring forth policy innovations that will address problems of poverty, landlessness, lack of access to health care and credit facilities and other social exclusion issues. Having a robust developmental infrastructure will make citizens shift to state institutions instead of relying on patronage mechanisms which political dynasties enable.
The claim that federalism nurtures political dynasties is another big lie that should be corrected. In fact, it can even be argued that a federal form of government, when properly structured, can break up the base for the concentration of power to a few political families. It is empirically supported by evidence that political dynasties are local in character, and usually thrive from the barangay up until the provincial level. A federal system of government that is organized along the current administrative regions will dilute the power of local political dynasties. For example, in the Bicol region, the political dynasties in Camarines Sur will now have to contend with those from the other provinces.
A federal system with regions as the basis for forming the states can also provide an appropriate setting for the strengthening of governance mechanisms that are autonomous and independent of control by any single political dynasty. All major government departments have well-entrenched regional offices, and regional development councils already exist to provide grounds for more professional and less partisan modes of governance that can mediate the reforms needed to push for local state development in a federal set-up.
Thus, the claim that federalism almost automatically breeds conditions favorable for political dynasties is nothing but a baseless spin. It is worsened when the study of Mendoza et al is spun inconsistently with its findings, conveniently timed to support the anti-federalism position.
Perhaps, this is aggravated by the views of the lead author himself, who is known to be crusading against political dynasties. While accurate in saying that political dynasties are indicators of poverty and underdevelopment, Mendoza appeared to have misrepresented the core of his study team’s findings when he said that dynasties, especially of the “fat” kind, should be the target of anti-political dynasty legislation. The study revealed that there is weak evidence to prove that dynasties cause poverty, and that it is poverty that enables political dynasties. It is therefore terribly off the logic of rational policy design that the effect is the one targeted for legislation to promote social inclusion, and not the cause.
Obviously, the opponents of Charter change are giving the wrong diagnosis of the problem of political dynasties in relation to federalism. And they are now banking on a remedy that targets political dynasties even if these are only the symptoms of the problem.