July 2017

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Duterte-and-the-MarcosesIn a major setback for Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, she failed to secure immediate relief from the Supreme Court (SC) against the House of Representatives’ (HOR) inquiry into the Ilocos Norte’s alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco excise tax funds.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta administers the oath of office of former first lady Imelda Marcos and her son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as Ilocos Norte 2nd District representative and senator, respectively.

Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta administers the oath of office of former first lady Imelda Marcos and her son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as Ilocos Norte 2nd District representative and senator, respectively.

While the SC did not specifically reject Imee’s petition, it was re-raffled since the justice in charge of the case, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, recused himself from the case. Interestingly, it was Peralta who administered the oath of office of former first lady Imelda Marcos and her son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as Ilocos Norte 2nd District representative and senator, respectively, in 2010. But here’s the rub: Peralta is a relative of Ilocos Norte 1st District representative and Majority Leader Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas, one of the respondents in the case.

In addition to Peralta, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and newly appointed Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. inhibited themselves from the case. No reason was given for their recusal.

With the three magistrates inhibiting themselves from the case, there will only be 12 justices who can vote on the case, which would require seven votes for approval of the petition. Does Imee have the support of at least seven justices? The fact that majority of the SC justices voted to allow the re-burial of the remains of the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery), indicates the strong influence of President Rodrigo Duterte on the High Court. The interment of Marcos at the Libingan would certainly help Bongbong in his quest for the presidency. Indeed, Duterte had made it known that Bongbong was his preferred successor. But that was before the “Ilocos Six” scandal erupted, pitting Imee Marcos against Rudy Fariñas.

Ilocos Six

Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The “Ilocos Six” controversy might seem complicated and complex in legal terms; but one can see politics at the crux of the matter. There are two groups of very powerful politicians who are involved in the imbroglio. One group is the powerful Marcos political clan of Ilocos Norte, which is led by the former First Lady and Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Imelda Marcos, her daughter Governor Imee Marcos, and her only son, former Senator Bongbong Marcos. The other group is led by a triumvirate of the top HOR leaders consisting of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas, and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chair of the HOR’s Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

While the Marcos siblings defer to their mother Imelda Marcos, who is used to wielding the power that she and her late husband had during the heyday of their conjugal dictatorship, the HOR triumvirs are political protégés of the “Godfather” in Malacañang, President Rodrigo Duterte. They occupy their high positions because the Godfather placed them there to make sure that he has a grip on the HOR. Although nobody would admit to it, they serve at the pleasure of the Godfather. That is the reality of Philippine politics.

The system of “three independent government branches,” as stipulated in the Constitution, doesn’t work in Philippine realpolitik. What works is the “padrino” system that we had inherited from the Spanish colonizers. Duterte is the padrino or godfather of the HOR triumvirs. And by the same token, Imelda Marcos is the padrina or godmother of the Marcos clan.

Now the picture is crystal clear: the “Ilocos Six” is a proxy war between Duterte and Imelda Marcos. But what is not clear is why are they fighting each other when not too long ago they were the best of friends?

There is chatter in the grapevine that the Marcoses and Duterte had a falling out. Speculation is rife that a “broken promise” might have been the cause of their estranged relationship. Well, like they say, “In politics you don’t know who your friends or enemies are.”

The presidential election is still five years away and loyalty could shift from one side to the other at the drop of a hat. And as usual there would be the balimbings – political opportunists – who would jump sides if it satisfied their own agenda.

Political opportunism

Third generation of Marcoses:Bongbong Marcos, sons, and wife.

Third generation of Marcoses:Bongbong Marcos, sons, and wife.

In my last column, “The politics behind the Ilocos Six” (July 21, 2017), I wrote: “It’s interesting to note that both Imee [Marcos] and [Rudy] Fariñas will be termed out in 2019. Which makes one wonder what their political plans are in the 2019 midterm election? Imee could run for Fariñas’ 1st District seat, after all she’s now officially a resident of Laoag City, which is in the 1st District. Bongbong’s eldest son Sandro is now primed to run for office in the province. Why not the governorship that Imee would be vacating? Bongbong’s second son, Joseph Simon would be in a position to run for mayor of Laoag City against incumbent Chevylle Fariñas. And Bongbong’s youngest son Vincent would qualify to run against Laoag City’s incumbent vice-mayor and Chevylle’s husband, Michael Fariñas. That would certainly stack up the cards against the Fariñas clan right in their own backyard.

“Meanwhile, Bongbong’s electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo is now before the Supreme Court convened as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). If Bongbong wins and takes over the vice presidency, it would certainly make the Marcos clan the preeminent political body in Ilocos Norte. And this could cause the downfall of the Fariñas clan.”

Duterte vs. Marcos

 Duterte and Imelda Marcos.

Duterte and Imelda Marcos.

With the elimination of the Fariñas clan from the political power structure of Ilocos Norte, Bongbong can then work in securing the support of the Solid North. And with the Visayas and Mindanao getting behind whomever Duterte fronts in 2022, Bongbong is probably salivating right now because he is very confident that he is
Duterte’s candidate – or as they say in the street, “manok,” a fighting cock — in the 2022 presidential election. And he was. What happened?

With the proxy war that is going on between Duterte and Imelda, the calculus for the presidential election in 2022 is going to change. And this begs the question: If Bongbong were not going to be Duterte’s candidate, who would it be? Last June, amid speculations about his health, Duterte stressed that Vice President Leni Robredo will be his “only constitutional successor in case his term ends prematurely.” Is that a veiled endorsement that Leni could be his anointed successor to the presidency? Why not?

And what’s in store for Rudy Fariñas, who has loyally stood by his godfather?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Imee Marcos vs. Rudy Fariñas.

Imee Marcos vs. Rudy Fariñas.

In Philippine politics, it’s hard to determine who the real enemies are. Their enemies today could be their allies tomorrow or vice versa. Which reminds me of Benjamin Disraeli’s popular mantra: “We have no permanent friends. We have no permanent enemies. We just have permanent interests.” But the Ilocano psyche goes beyond that mantra. To Ilocanos, blood is thicker than water, but politics transcend blood relationships. So don’t be misled when brothers face each other in an election. The truth is: no matter who wins, power remains within the family. And that’s to keep others from getting into their “exclusive” domain.

Ortega political clan’s centennial, 1901 - 2001.

Ortega political clan’s centennial, 1901 – 2001.

Take the Ortega political clan for example. They’ve dominated politics in La Union for the past century. They have occupied the governor’s office, won congressional seats and provincial board seats, served as city and town mayors, and sat on city and town councils. They may be running against each other in these elections, but they remain “family.”

The Marcoses of Ilocos Norte are now in the same situation. After three generations in politics since World War II, they control the political pendulum in the province. Their patriarch, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, occupied the presidency for more than 20 years. When the People Power Revolution of 1986 deposed him, the family went into exile in Hawaii. But in the 1990’s they were able to come back and eventually, one by one, run for office. Daughter Imee Marcos is now the governor of Ilocos Norte while son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr. won a Senate seat; however, he lost in his vice presidential bid last year. The matriarch Imelda Marcos won the 2nd District congressional seat where her late husband began his political career.

Third generation Marcoses

Third generation of Marcoses:Bongbong Marcos, sons, and wife.

Third generation of Marcoses:Bongbong Marcos, sons, and wife.

In May 2015, Imee officially notified the Commission of Elections that she was a resident of Laoag. In September that same year, the three sons of Bongbong – Ferdinand “Sandro” Alexander III, 23, Joseph Simon, 22, and Vincent, 20 – registered as voters of Laoag City, claiming their dad’s house in Barangay Suba as their residence. Imee’s youngest son, Matthew Joseph Manotoc, 27, ran for the Ilocos Norte provincial board in 2016 and won.

Three generations of Marcoses: Imelda Marcos, Matthew Joseph Manotoc, and Imee Marcos.

Three generations of Marcoses: Imelda Marcos, Matthew Joseph Manotoc, and Imee Marcos.

It’s interesting to note that Manotoc topped the race edging Ria Christina Fariñas into second place. Ria Christina is Rudy Fariñas’ daughter. Manotoc’s lead over Ria Christina was of significant importance, which has raised a political red flag in the province. Rudy Fariñas is the patriarch of the powerful Fariñas family that had dominated politics in the 1st District for over half a century.

With the province split into two districts, one controlled by the Fariñas clan and the other by the Marcos clan, the two clans managed to coexist peacefully since the 1980s when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled the country.

In 1980, Rudy Fariñas, whose family owns and operates Fariñas Trans, one of the oldest fleets of northern Luzon buses, was elected mayor of Laoag, making him one the youngest mayors during his time. In 1988, Fariñas ran for Ilocos Norte governor and won in a landslide. He was reelected in 1992 and 1995. He served as governor for 10 years. After that, he ran and won in 1998 as the 1st District’s representative. He served for only one three-year term.

Fariñas’ alliance with the Marcoses lasted until 2007 when Fariñas was defeated by a political neophyte, Michael Marcos Keon. Keon was backed by the Marcoses, after all Keon was a first cousin of Imee. But three years later, in 2010, Fariñas and Imee resumed their alliance. Imee tried to stop Keon from running for reelection but Keon wouldn’t withdraw. It was then that Imee decided to run against Keon. She won and it prevented the Marcos-Fariñas alliance from disintegrating. However, the alliance didn’t last too long.

Ilocos Six

Ilocos Six refuse to answer questions from House committee.

Ilocos Six refuse to answer questions from House committee.

Last year, a scandal erupted in Laoag City over the missing P85 million from the city treasury. The rift between the erstwhile allies, Imee Marcos and Rudy Fariñas, came to a head when the House committee on good government and public accountability started to investigate the alleged misuse of province’s tobacco funds in 2012. It was alleged that that P66.4 million worth of buses and multi-cabs were purchased without public bidding.

The House committee summoned six Ilocos Norte officials – called the “Ilocos Six” — to answer questions concerning the missing funds. The officials showed up but they refused to answer questions. This prompted the House committee to order them detained. If they continue to refuse to answer questions, they could be detained until the end of the current Congress in June 2019.

Their boss, Governor Imee Marcos was furious! She lambasted House Majority Floor Leader Fariñas and dared him to bring the fight back to Ilocos Norte. She also sought relief from the Supreme Court. At a press conference, Imee blamed her political rivalry with Fariñas for triggering the House investigation.

Marcos vs. Fariñas

ALLIES TURNED RIVALS. In this photo taken on May 11, 2012, Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas joins Governor Imee Marcos in distributing red mini-cabs to barangay captains. (Photo from Governor Imee Marcos)

ALLIES TURNED RIVALS. In this photo taken on May 11, 2012, Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas joins Governor Imee Marcos in distributing red mini-cabs to barangay captains. (Photo from Governor Imee Marcos)

It’s interesting to note that both Imee and Fariñas will be termed out in 2019. Which makes one wonder what their political plans are in the 2019 midterm election? Imee could run for Fariñas’ 1st District seat, after all she’s now officially a resident of Laoag City, which is in the 1st District. Bongbong’s eldest son Sandro is now primed to run for office in the province. Why not the governorship that Imee would be vacating? Bongbong’s second son, Joseph Simon would be in a position to run for mayor of Laoag City against incumbent Chevylle Fariñas. And Bongbong’s youngest son Vincent would qualify to run against Laoag City’s incumbent vice-mayor and Chevylle’s husband, Michael Fariñas. That would certainly stack up the cards against the Fariñas clan right in their own backyard.

Meanwhile, Bongbong’s electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo is now before the Supreme Court convened as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). If Bongbong wins and takes over the vice presidency, it would certainly make the Marcos clan the preeminent political body in Ilocos Norte. And this could cause the downfall of the Fariñas clan.

Ria Christina Fariñas.

Ria Christina Fariñas.

Rudy is rumored to be vying to be the next Ombudsman after the retirement of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in 2018. Rudy also wants his daughter Ria Christina Fariñas to succeed him in the 1st District in 2019. Ria Christina is currently serving as a Member of the Ilocos Norte Provincial Board. However, she gained some national recognition when she was elected as the new president of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines (PBMLP) last February 28.

With Imee terming out in 2019, she might run for a Senate seat. Where else is she going to go? And with Rudy Fariñas terming out too, he might run for a Senate seat. It would certainly be an interesting face-off between the two former allies, now bitter adversaries. Or, Rudy could instead run for governor, which might be easier to win than a Senate seat if Sandro Marcos wouldn’t run against him. But there will always be someone from the Marcos camp who would challenge him. Matthew Joseph Manotoc comes to mind. And if he runs, he could give Fariñas a good run for his money.

Which makes one wonder: Is the “Ilocos Six” scandal being used to achieve a political end? Or is it to punish the corrupt?

Machiavelli lives!

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Abu Sayyaf militants show ISIS flag.

Abu Sayyaf militants show ISIS flag.

Like most rebellions, the Marawi rebellion couldn’t have happened without the financial support of someone who has the wherewithal to sustain a long siege. More than six weeks after the attack, the militants are still entrenched in Marawi City. No amount of ground assault by the Philippine Marines or bombing by Philippine Air Force warplanes could dislodge the militants consisting of members of the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Two faces of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Totoni Hapilon.

Two faces of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Totoni Hapilon.

The Philippine military had been after the ASG terrorists for several years now. Yet, most of the leaders of the ASG managed to evade capture. The most recent one was Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Filipini. He is believed to be linked to ISIS. He was formerly leader of ASG before its battalions pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. An April 2016 issue of ISIS’ weekly newsletter Al Naba said that Hapilon had been appointed as “emir of all Islamic State forces in the Philippines.” [Source: Wikipedia]

Maute leaders (top, left to right): Cayamora Maute, Ominta “Farhana” Romano-Maute, mother of the Maute founders Omar and Abdullah. (Bottom left to right): Maute group members.

Maute leaders (top, left to right): Cayamora Maute, Ominta “Farhana” Romano-Maute, mother of the Maute founders Omar and Abdullah. (Bottom left to right): Maute group members.

What is interesting to note is the role of the Maute matriarch, Ominta “Farhana” Romato-Maute, mother of the Maute founders Omar and Abdullah. Last June 7, she was arrested in Masiu, a town about 34 kilometers from Marawi City, as she and two wounded men and seven women were trying to escape the government troops. She is believed to be the “heart of the Islamic State-inspired Maute group,” directing its movement and operations and taking care of finances and international networking. She and her husband Cayamora are said to be the “masterminds” behind the Maute attack. Farhana is reputed to be a “fiercely astute” businesswoman and politician. She manages several business interests including several rental houses in Quezon City, Iligan, Catabato City, and Davao City. She once served as assemblywoman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Before her capture, Farhana tried calling President Rodrigo Duterte to talk about peace and negotiate a ceasefire after the heavy bombing and fighting in Marawi City. Duterte turned her offer down, saying the government forces have lost too many soldiers in the Marawi attack. The question is: Is Farhana really the mastermind of the Maute group or is someone much higher in the food chain calling the shots?

Farhana’s niece Monaliza “Monay” Solaiman Romato.

Farhana’s niece Monaliza “Monay” Solaiman Romato.

Last July 5, government forces foiled a possible bombing in Cagayan de Oro when they arrested Farhana’s niece Monaliza “Monay” Solaiman Romato. Monay reportedly replaced Farhana as the Maute’s matriarch. However, it didn’t take too long for the government forces to capture Monay, which begs the question: With Farhana and Monay in detention, who would take over the Maute’s financial operations? Or could it be that Farhana and Monay were just figureheads? Is the matriarch’s role to shield the real power behind the group? Meanwhile, the real power can lead a normal life conducting his business empire – probably illegal drug trade — out in the open without any fear of scrutiny from the government.

Back-channel talks

 President Rodrigo Duterte flanked by AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año (L) and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (R).

President Rodrigo Duterte flanked by AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año (L) and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (R).

Recently, Reuters reported that President Duterte initiated a move to negotiate an end to the conflict with the Maute group. However, Malacañang said that it has no information on Duterte’s reported attempt to hold back-channel talks with the Maute terrorists. The Reuters report said a senior Duterte aide approached Agakhan Sharief, a prominent Muslim leader, to use his connections with the Maute group’s leaders to start back-channel talks. The report said the talks failed as the Maute leaders “did not show sincerity and continued to attacks on government forces.” Two other sources familiar with the matter confirmed that Duterte had worked behind the scenes to hold talks with the Maute brothers, Omarkhayam and Abdullah. Marawi City Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra also confirmed that back-channel talks were started but said he was not privy to details.

The back-channel talks did not push through when Cayamora was caught on June 6 in Davao City, three days before Farhana’s arrest in Lanao del Sur.

Chinese financier

Authorities recovers P10-million worth of shabu from the house of a former Marawi City mayor Omar Solitario Ali last June 23. June 23. Ali is on the list of 125 alleged Maute members ordered arrested by the government. (Credit: SunStar)

Authorities recovers P10-million worth of shabu from the house of a former Marawi City mayor Omar Solitario Ali last June 23. June 23. Ali is on the list of 125 alleged Maute members ordered arrested by the government. (Credit: SunStar)

A few days ago, I received an interesting – and intriguing – information from one of my sources in Manila. He said, “How can you crush the ASG (Abu Sayyaf aka Abu Shabu) when it’s an open secret that the Chinese financier of these bandits is close to so many powerful people? He’s believed to instigate the Mautes to create a situation in Marawi to divert the attention of the AFP who are almost done in apprehending all of them to put closure to ASG. This Chinese who uses his being a converted Muslim to lord it over basically owning all big businesses Sulu and Mindanao wide, wants to protect his puppet Hapilon by floating the disinfo that he escaped the military cordon in Marawi.

“If the concerned people of Marawi is serious in finishing this tragedy, they should act asap like the Boholanos helping the PNP and AFP in getting all the remnants of ASG. Huwag na tayo maglokohan, kawawa mga sundalo at peaceful Muslims na nadadamay sa kalokohan ng iilan na may hidden agenda. Sobra na. (Let’s not fool with ourselves. It’s a pity the soldiers and peaceful Muslims are dragged into this foolishness of a few people with hidden agenda. It’s too much).”

Link to drug lords

During a recent media briefing, PNP Chief Ronald ”Bato” dela Rosa confirmed the Maute group’s link to drug lords. He said that the Maute group is known to have “protected” the drug lords as early as last year.

During a recent media briefing, PNP Chief Ronald ”Bato” dela Rosa confirmed the Maute group’s link to drug lords. He said that the Maute group is known to have “protected” the drug lords as early as last year.

My source also said that some of these militants have business relationships with some government officials, which makes one wonder: Are the Maute militants working as mercenaries for those behind the Marawi attack and are paid through the “matriarch”?

During a recent media briefing, PNP Chief Ronald ”Bato” dela Rosa confirmed the Maute group’s link to drug lords. He said that the Maute group is known to have “protected” the drug lords as early as last year. He said that he received information that majority of the drug lords in Metro Manila, Luzon and Visayas went to Marawi City a year ago to hold a “drug summit.” He added that the drug lords were protected by the Maute group and narco-politicians. Surmise it to say, Marawi appears to be the “Vatican” of the illegal drug cartel in the country.

Underground fortifications

One of the Maute group’s underground bunker/tunnels discovered by the Philippine forces when they breached the Maute’s defensive positions in Marawi.

One of the Maute group’s underground bunker/tunnels discovered by the Philippine forces when they breached the Maute’s defensive positions in Marawi.

When the government forces breached the Maute’s defensive positions, they discovered bombproof tunnels used by the militants as bunker and bomb shelters. The military spokesman said that the roughly 10 percent of Marawi held by the Maute militants has many tunnels and basements that can withstand 500-pound bombs.

Clearly, the underground fortifications couldn’t have been built in the short time since the “Marawi attack” commenced last May 23. They must already have been constructed long before that date, which is to suggest that the Maute’s presence in Marawi may have been a common knowledge to the city residents. The question is: Is the military aware of their presence long before the siege? I believe so. But for as long as the Maute group stays out of “trouble,” the military would stay out of their way. It was a de facto coexistence between the Maute group and government forces.

But on May 23, the military decided to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, who was believed to be in Marawi City. Hapilon is on the FBI’s “most wanted terrorists list” with a $5 million bounty offered for his capture, which was a good enough reason to arrest him. It was then that the Maute group purportedly “entered” Marawi and clashed with government troops.

 Armed President Duterte was all set to visit the troops in Marawi City on July 7 but bad weather stood in the way. (MALACAÑANG PHOTO/ VIDEOGRAB)

Armed President Duterte was all set to visit the troops in Marawi City on July 7 but bad weather stood in the way. (MALACAÑANG PHOTO/ VIDEOGRAB)

The botched attempt to arrest Hapilon led to open warfare between government forces and the Maute group. With Hapilon out of sight — either dead or out of the country — and the Maute group leaderless and in disarray, it’s just a matter of time for the fighting to come to an end. But it would a devastated city and grieving people that would suffer for a long time from the atrocity of the “Marawi attack.”

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Apolinario Mabini and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

Apolinario Mabini and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s top legislative agenda is the federalism of the Philippines. Actually, federalism was not the idea of Duterte, two of our national heroes, Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini, were the first to suggest dividing the Philippine Islands into three federal states: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

More than a half century later, former president of the University of the Philippines Dr. Jose Abueva proposed and argued that a federal form of government was necessary to more efficiently cater to the needs of the country despite its diversity. He said that the primary goals of a constitutional amendment is to increase decentralization, greater local power and access to resources most especially among regions outside Metro Manila which has long been dubbed as rather imperial. Aside from Abueva, senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. was a prominent supporter of federalism who had advocated federalism since 2001. He saw the proposed system as a key component in alleviating the Mindanao crisis and appeasing Moro insurgents. He argued that federalism will also hasten economic development since resource and financial mobilization is upon each states’ or provinces’ discretion without significant constraint from the central government. [Source: Wikipedia]

During the presidential elections of 2004, president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo campaigned for constitutional reforms. After winning the elections, she created the Consultative Commission, headed by Dr. Abueva. The task of the commission was “to propose the necessary revisions on the 1987 Constitution that included a shift to a unicameral parliamentary form of government, decentralization of national government, and empowering local governments by a transition to a parliamentary-federal government system.”

Rally against Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Charter Change movement in 2004.

Rally against Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Charter Change movement in 2004.

The proponents of charter change, while agreeing on a parliamentary system, are divided between the supporters of Federalism and those that decry Federalism as an unworkable political system. Instead, the anti-federalist group is pushing for the adoption of a unitary parliamentary system.

President Rodrigo Duterte campaigns for federalism.

President Rodrigo Duterte campaigns for federalism.

Today, President Duterte is pushing hard to change the government to a federal system using the model similar to the one proposed by Abueva in 2004. He has been pressuring the House of Representatives to pass legislation to effect a charter change. Well, it doesn’t seem as easy as it sounds.

While a unitary government – the central government — has all the power, federalism would seem to be more democratic. But don’t be fooled by it. There are lots of variables and unknowns before the House could responsibly fashion the necessary amendments to fit the fundamental tenets of a Philippine democratic system as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

Australia divided into six states.

Australia divided into six states.

Allow me to share excerpt from my column, “The Folly of Federalism,” which I wrote in October 2005. I said, “To get a pretty good ‘feel’ of how Federalism works, let’s look at Australia. In 1901, Australia adopted the Federal Parliament and government with the six States giving up some of their powers, but remaining independent. The Australian Constitution states, ‘The legislative power of the commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament.’ In addition, the constitution gives a range of powers and responsibilities to the Federal Parliament. Powers not identified in the constitution reside with the States. Each of the six States has its own constitution, parliament and government.

“But there is a lot of overlapping between the Australian Federal and the State governments. A history of competition between the Federal government and the State governments exists. Since the Federal government controls tax collection, it has established its dominance in the political system. The States became dependent on Federal financial assistance. [www.AustralianPolitics.com]

“In terms of tax collections, the website says, the Federal government gets 70-80% of all tax revenues. The Federal government then divides the expenditure of the tax revenues between the Federal and State governments. This created ongoing financial negotiations — and haggling — between the Federal government and the States.

“There are advantages and disadvantages of Australian Federalism. However, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages, some of which are: duplication of government; overlapping or conflicting policies in different parts of the country; State education systems with differing curricula and grading methods; financial inequality which leads to unhealthy competition and rivalry between the States; neglect in important areas of, to cite a few, public policy and public transportation; and over-government. The website claims, ‘It is often argued that a nation of 19 million people cannot afford to have 15 houses of parliament, plus hundreds of local governments.’

“According to a study conducted by the University of Sydney, the question was asked: ‘Has Federalism outlived its usefulness in Australia?’ The study concluded: ‘It is obvious that the advantages no longer exist and the advantages are overweighed by the numerous disadvantages. It is truly time for Australia to make major reforms for it to remain an effective government process.’ “

Federalism for the Philippines

Philippines’ GDP from 2007-2016.

Philippines’ GDP from 2007-2016.

Given the advantages and disadvantages of Australian-style Federalism, it begs the question: Should the Philippines pursue a Federal system of government?

In my opinion, Federalism for the Philippines is a folly. Let’s look at some numbers. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was worth $304.9 billion in 2016 and the GDP per capita was $7,728 (ranked 118 by International Monetary Fund) compared to Australia’s $48,899 (ranked 17). Simply put, the Philippines would not be able to afford the cost of Federalism.

First of all, most of the big industries and manpower resources are concentrated in Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces, Cebu City, Davao City and a few other places. Provinces that are agricultural-based would be hard-pressed to collect taxes to maintain their government structure, which would consist of a legislative body, judicial system, education system, health professionals, law enforcement, social services and several other agencies. After the Federal government has taken its bigger share of the tax revenues, the amount left for the regional governments would not be enough to sustain their existence.

ARMM and CAR

Map of the expanded area of ARMM.

Map of the expanded area of ARMM.

In 1989, the law creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was passed. It was composed of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan. The political intent was to satisfy the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people for self-rule and self-determination. It was created to address the “Moro problem.” But instead of solving the “Moro problem,” ARMM divided Bangsamoro into several factions run by regional warlords.

Map of Cordillera Autonomous Region.

Map of Cordillera Autonomous Region.

In 1997, the Philippines passed Republic Act 8438 creating the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR), which states: “The Cordillera Autonomous Region is a territorial and political subdivision administered by the Regional Autonomous Government consisting of the regional government and local government units under the general supervision of the President of the Republic of the Philippines.” However, it failed to pass the approval of the Cordillera peoples in a region-wide referendum in 1998. Today, CAR exists as Cordillera Administrative Region.

On paper, ARMM and CAR are ideally suited to address the “needs” of the Bangsamoro people and the cultural minorities in the Cordillera region, comprised Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province. However, ARMM and CAR do not have the financial independence or the ability to create revenue-generating industry. As a result they become pauper entities that depend on the central government for all the things they need to function as “autonomous” regions.

Some people argue that a Federal government is the only way to give freedom and independence to the Filipinos. In today’s globalized economy, what is freedom and independence? In my opinion, freedom is “financial freedom” and independence is “financial independence.” Real freedom and real independence can only be achieved with wealth and the ability to compete in the global market. If we free the Filipinos into creating their own country without financial freedom, then they will become slaves of their own country.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)