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Charter Change - A Facade To BOGUS FEDERALISM

Just like a pernicious, malevolent, and virulent strain of cancerous cells, another call for Charter Change has been coming out of the woodwork of Philippine politics. For this round, the protracted deadlock in peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is being used as the dangling “bait” to the Filipino People. Where before the proponents for Charter Change were all from the Majority Party, this time there are additional proponents from the ranks of the Minority Party. One can not help but suspect that there could be “Trojan Horses” in the Opposition.

The pitch is anchored on the “federal system being the only feasible solution to the centuries-old rebellion in Mindanao” as contained in a recent press release from no less than the Office of the Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Nene” Q. Pimentel, Jr. Subsequently, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced that the government is prepared to discuss the federalism proposal when the peace talks resume. And as if pushing the stakes higher, Pimentel even warned that the peace talks should not be derailed and delayed any longer in view of the increasing restiveness among the ranks of Muslim rebels which may lead to the revival of the separatist war. Joining the bandwagon is a well-known staunch proponent of the concept of “Federalism” since the early ‘70s, Dr. Jose B. Abueva, U.P. Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Public Administration and former Chairman of the 2005 Consultative Commission on Charter Change.

Pimentel said a federal system setup will put an end to the recurrent Muslim secessionist conflict because it will not only give the people in Muslim Mindanao a measure of self-rule but will also enable them to assert and preserve their cultural identity, specially their Islamic faith and way of life. He said that the creation of a Bangsa Moro Federal State is the collective wish of the Muslims in Mindanao which was conveyed to him through conversations he had with practically all the known Muslim rebel leaders, their ulamas, and their business, academic and youth leaders. “To a man, they prefer the establishment of a Bangsa Moro Federal State over the autonomous region. Otherwise, the threat of secession still hangs in the air as the ultimate way of out of the Moros of the predicament they find themselves in.”

In concert, Dr. Abueva declared “And I respectfully appeal to all local government leaders and the legislators to seize the moment for transforming our highly centralized and stultifying unitary system into a devolved structure of autonomous regions that will release the creativity and energies of local leaders and citizens all over the country. Mindanao, the cradle of regional autonomy and federalism, has a historic opportunity to lead our country in regional autonomy and federalism.” In addition, Dr. Abueva is proposing the shift from the presidential government into a “unicameral” parliament.

What the Filipino People should be reminded about is that the Honorable Senator Pimentel was appointed after EDSA ’86 as the Minister of Local Government and Presidential advisor/chief negotiator with the Muslim insurgents in Mindanao. The Filipino People must also remember that he was elected Senator (1987-1992), and he authored the seminal Local Government Code. Rather than listen to his pitch about “Federalism”, the Filipino People should ask the Honorable Senator why he failed to resolve the Muslim insurgency during his stint as Presidential advisor/chief negotiator more than 20 years ago. Most importantly, the Honorable Senator must be asked about the implementation of the Local Government Code with regard to “maximum devolution” of the National Government’s functions, power & authority to all the Local Government Units: province, city, municipality, and barangay.

In the case of Dr. Jose B. Abueva, the Filipino People should remember that he served as the Secretary of the 1971 Consitutional Convention that was responsible and accountable for the 1972 Philippine Constitution that was adopted the Dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. The eminent Dr. Abueva should be expected to recall the deliberations that resulted into neither the adoption of “Federalism” that he had been espousing even at the time, nor the adoption of the “Unicameral” structure for the CONGRESS of the Republic of the Philippines. Most importantly, Dr. Abueva should be reminded that even after 35 years, there has been no significant change in the political landscape that indicates any need for changing the “form” or “structure” to achieve good governance. The real problem remains the same: the issue of moral ascendancy of the “people” in all three (3) branches of the Government of the Philippines – the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary.

With regard to the issue of “greater autonomy” for the “regions”, there is NO need to amend, much less revise the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. All that must be done is for CONGRESS to REVIEW the IMPLEMENTATION of the “Enabling Law” - "Local Government Code of 1991", which was crafted to ensure the “greatest autonomy” possible to all Local Government Units: province, city, municipality and barangay levels.

In Section 2 – Declaration of Policy, the following are stipulated:

(a) It is hereby declared the policy of the State that the territorial and political subdivisions of the State shall enjoy genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more effective partners in the attainment of national goals. Toward this end, the State shall provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure instituted through a system of decentralization whereby local government units shall be given more powers, authority, responsibilities, and resources. The process of decentralization shall proceed from the national government to the local government units.

(b) It is also the policy of the State to ensure the accountability of local government units through the institution of effective mechanisms of recall, initiative and referendum.

(c) It is likewise the policy of the State to require all national agencies and offices to conduct periodic consultations with appropriate local government units, non-governmental and people's organizations, and other concerned sectors of the community before any project or program is implemented in their respective jurisdictions.

What is the basis for the contention that CONGRESS has the OBLIGATION to REVIEW the IMPLEMENTATION of the “Local Government Code of 1991”?

In Book IV – Miscellaneous and Final Provisions, Title Two – Provisions for Implementation:

SECTION 521. Mandatory Review Every Five Years. - Congress shall undertake a mandatory review of this Code at least once every five (5) years and as often as it may deem necessary, with the primary objective of providing a more responsive and accountable local government structure.

Thus, the FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION is “Was the IMPLEMENTATION of the Local Government Code of 1991 reviewed EVERY five (5) years by CONGRESS?

The SECOND question is: What were the FINDINGS/RESULTS of the REVIEW/S that should have been conducted by CONGRESS, if any?

The THIRD question is: What ELSE can be done and therefore must be one in order to ensure the “greatest autonomy” possible to all the Local Government Unitsprovince, city, municipality and barangay levels? The MOST IMPORTANT angle of this question is on the “role” of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Even on just a very cursory or superficial level, there are outright indicators that the DILG has become an abominable mutation: instead of “maximum de-centralization” or “total devolution” to the LGUs, the thrust in implementation has always been to “centralize functions right there in the DILG! Accordingly, it looks like that the only thing that must be done is to DISMANTLE the present DILG, nothing less and nothing more.

At this point, it should be obvious that “Federalism” is just a decoy for something else which is the real agenda for Charter Change: “UNICAMERAL Parliament”. And this one should not take more than two (2) statements to refute: The pitch for the advantage of a “Unicameral Parliament” is negated right at the outset by the actual proclivities, machinations, maneuverings and manipulations of the legislative process by the current Majority Party in the present BICAMERAL Congress. The long and short of it is: a “UNICAMERAL Parliament” will simply be a “ONE Political Party DICTATORSHIP”.

And the Filipino People already learned the lesson the hard way and so NEVER AGAIN, NEVER AGAIN, NEVER AGAIN!

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