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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why limit perks, powers to Bangsamoro? Federalize!


THE debates on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law should serve as forum, a fulcrum even, for the long-delayed shift to a federal form of government.
The Aquino administration can’t convince the nation to agree to the grant of its own parliament, police force, fiscal privileges and even its own prime minister to the Bangsamoro autonomous region without explaining why it can’t grant the same to other people in other regions. It should explain why this is good for the Bangsamoro but not for others.
It seems no such explanation is forthcoming and there could only be one reason – it can’t justify the omission of other regions in such a grant. If it says the rebellion or secessionist movement has impelled the grant of a liberal dose of powers, wealth and privileges to the Bangsamoro that will give those from other regions the incentive to mount similar moves against the central government.
Many legal experts are questioning the constitutionality of a parliamentary form of government for the Bangsamoro substate. No such question will arise if the Constitution is amended. The only way to “spread the sunshine,” to make other regions enjoy similar powers, is by shifting to a federal form of government, be it parliamentary or presidential. If a federal-parliamentary government is good enough for the political and economic development of the Bangsamoro, then it should also be good enough for the other regions.
Several legal experts are questioning the constitutionality of establishing a parliamentary form of government in the substate of Bangsamoro thru the Bangsamoro Basic Law, or Babala as former Sen. Kit Tatad calls it. No such legal question will arise if the Constitution is amended to provide for a federal form of government. Many congressmen, especially from the Visayas and Mindanao and the poorer regions of Luzon, are for such a shift. In the previous Congress, they sought to include Charter Change on the list of priorities. It didn’t move an inch because of opposition from the Malacañang tenant. I hope our lawmakers will now use the questions on the constitutionality of the Babala as leverage to press for constitutional amendments.
But why a federal form of government? I’ve been blessed to be covering the Senate where I heard intellectual giants debate on the merits of federalism. Former Senate President Nene Pimentel, who has been clamoring for federalism since the ’80s, believes that the shift to a federal government provides the comprehensive solution to the Mindanao problem
“There will always be Muslims in Mindanao who will defy and take up arms against the government unless the government adopts a comprehensive solution in the form of the establishment of a federal system.
“Muslim rebel leaders, ulamas, academicians, young people and leaders of nongovernment organizations suggested that the only solution that will work is the one that will respect their culture and identity as a people, which is the adoption of a federal system,” Pimentel said.
I recall that Nene decided to run under the Senate ticket of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004 only after FPJ had agreed to include the shift to a federal form of government in his platform. It might interest readers to know that then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also had a similar platform, as did candidates Ramon V. Mitra, Fidel V. Ramos, Danding Cojuangco, Erap Estrada and Jose de Venecia in earlier presidential campaigns.
Nene’s campaign for federalism is now being continued by his son, Sen. Koko Pimentel. Senator Koko echoed Nene’s brief that peace in Mindanao can only be permanently attained by adopting a federal system of government
“Federalism will prevent the dismemberment of the country while providing the Bangsamoro a legal and political structure to preserve its own culture and identity,” he said.
A clearer rationale for the shift is contained in the joint resolution Nene filed in the First Regular Session of the 14th Congress. That resolution sought to convene Congress into a constituent assembly to propose the shift by amending the Constitution. It said in part:
“The concentration of such enormous power in Manila has created only one center of finance and development in the country resulting in a highly centralized system of govt.
“The highly centralized system of government has brought about a spotty development of the nation where presidential treatment has been given to localities whose officials are friendly with or have easy access to an incumbent administration.
“This lopsided arrangement has spawned a host of problems including massive nationwide poverty to runaway insurgencies and rebellions that feed on the societal inequalities in the nation.”
The joint resolution, signed by 15 senators, didn’t make any headway because of fears that it would result in the extension of GMA’s term. There are no such fears today under the Aquino administration. Let the debates begin.
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