‘Is federalism a Trojan horse for other agenda?’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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‘Is federalism a Trojan horse for other agenda?’

LeAnne Jazul

Constitutionalist Christian Monsod says President Rodrigo Duterte's rush to amend the Constitution 'is dangerous demagoguery'

MANILA, Philippines – Lawyer Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, questioned the push for federalism in the Philippines under the watch of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

“I believe that President Duterte’s heart is for the poor, and he is good at addressing the everyday concerns of our people. But critical thinking on strategies, policies, and programs for development is not exactly his expertise,” Monsod said on Thursday, October 20, in a forum on federalism.

Referring to Duterte, Monsod continued: “He is in a hurry to make far-reaching structural changes in our Constitution by exploiting his high approval rating and asking the people to trust him totally on this urgency and scope, the full range of which he has not even disclosed.”

He said: “This is dangerous demagoguery, and raises the question: Is federalism also a Trojan horse for other agenda? It is time for us to think more deeply about our future.”

On whether a shift to federalism is timely, relevant, and necessary for the Philippines, Monsod said, “The answer is no.” (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? Pros and cons of making the shift)

Monsod spoke at the Global Autonomy, Governance, and Federalism (GAGF) Forum 2016, which gathered 30 experts from 15 countries to discuss federalism.

Monsod explained that the Philippines is facing 3 major challenges, which the 1987 Constitution can address:

  • Everyday concerns of people, such as criminality, the illegal drug trade, traffic, corruption, and red tape
  • Peace-related issues involving Moro rebels and the National Democratic Front
  • Issues involving development 

Killings ‘state policy’?

“President Duterte says that our problem of governance in those challenges is mainly caused by ‘imperial Manila,’ with central control of powers and resources that have stood in the way of development of the rest of the country, to the detriment of the poor. Hence the solution is federalism,” Monsod said.

Referring to federalism, he added: “We see a rush to implement it, in two years, via a constituent assembly, by which time, he says, he is willing to step down with his legacy in place. But he has also talked about shifting to a parliamentary system, changing the limitations on foreign ownership, the need for national powers to address lawlessness, and special powers to address the traffic problem.”

“These moves are not those of someone who’s thinking of stepping down soon,” Monsod said.

At the same time, he cited problems such as extrajudicial killings under Duterte. He said the main question asked is if the killings comprise “state policy.”

Monsod said that “more people appear willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt,” as they did with Marcos at the start of the Martial Law years in the Philippines.

‘Constitution not the problem’

He then explained: “I believe that we have failed not because of the Constitution, but because we have not fully implemented it especially in the provisions of social justice, which is the heart of our Constitution and local government. The Constitution is not the problem. It is part of the solution.”

Lito Monico Lorenzana, chairman of the Centric Democratic Party, said in the same forum that federalism requires electoral reform and a ban on political dynasties, among others. 

“We need real political parties in the Philippines,” Lorenzana said, stressing the need for a law to “penalize turncoatism.”

University of the Philippines political science professor Clarita Carlos, for her part, said, “We need a strategy because we cannot do things in fragments.” She said these things include the push for federalism. 

Earlier in the same forum, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said Congress should first pass the stalled Bangsamoro Basic Law before shifting to a federal system. 

“The prospective Bangsamoro government shall serve as template of a Philippine federal state,” Ebrahim said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com