Last March, Social Weather Stations found that only 25 percent of voting-age Filipinos classified themselves as aware of what a federal system of government was. The same survey found that only 37 percent said they agree (sumasang-ayon) with a federal system—presumably as the new form of government for the Philippines. (The survey questions are vague on this point.) The survey findings show that a large majority of voting-age Filipinos (75 percent) do not know what federalism is, and that almost two-thirds either disagree with the federal system or are undecided about it.
The implication is clear: There is no clamor for a shift to federalism; there is no groundswell of support for a change in the Constitution to allow the shift to a federal system of government. On the other hand, the Duterte administration is intent on effecting the change, and hence the shift.
This is the context in which the members of the consultative committee appointed by President Duterte convened to draft a proposed federal constitution last February; it is the same context in which they presented the completed draft this week. They have, to put it mildly, their work cut out for them. The need to explain the proposed new charter, and the benefits as well as the costs of adopting the federal system of government, is part of the burden the members share.
At least one member of the committee, however, does not seem to see the need to engage the 75 percent who are not aware of what federalism is, or the 29 percent who disagree with or the 34 percent who are uncertain about the proposed federal system of government.
On Facebook, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, a legal scholar but not a lawyer, laid down the law. “If you oppose federalism, the presupposition is that you have studied it, and your studies show you that it is not good for the country. To which I must now retort: Really, now? Have you studied it? Upon being named to the committee, I started studying it and that meant NOT JUST reading constitutions, but reading constitutional law treatises of Germany, Canada, Malaysia (2 volumes) and South Africa (12 volumes). I also studied the constitutional law of Spain because of its Autonomous Communities and of Italy because its regions enjoy a wide latitude of self-governance… Now, when you oppose federalism tell me what studies you did that I did not do, or studies that the likes of Reynato Puno, Antonio Nachura, Virgilio Bautista, Rodolfo Robles, Aquilino Pimentel, Edmund Tayao or Julio Teehankee did not do.”
Pardon the extended excerpt, but the defensive, brittle condescension of this unchristian priest, this undemocratic nonlawyer, must be put on the record.
In the first place, there is no lack of experts from federal systems, not merely those who studied the treatises but those who actually lived in federal regimes, who have warned that minimum conditions must be met before attempting a shift to federalism. In other words, there is no guarantee that just because Aquino read all those books, he has the best interests of the Philippines in mind.
Secondly, the fundamental principle of democracy remains the same: one person, one vote. Aquino’s alleged learning does not invalidate the opinion, and thus the vote, of an ordinary citizen who does not understand why, if the shift to federalism is so important, it must be rushed; or why, if federalism supposedly solves poverty, learned men like Aquino cannot offer proof, only insult.
If Aquino thinks the answer to a debate is to look down on the lack of learning of those unlucky enough not to be him, he is not genuinely seeking a shift from presidential to federal, but from democratic to aristocratic.
Thirdly, political circumstances are a determining factor in the success or failure of any shift to federalism. Already, we have seen that the Duterte administration is engaging in propaganda to make the federalism project a little more acceptable. The other day, PTV4 ran a false story alleging that 6,000 Albayanos in Legazpi City had pledged support for the proposed shift after a two-day consultation with the committee. But participants themselves said there was no such signing and pledging of support.
This Marcosian tactic of fabricating public approval is a potent counterargument to the federalism project, because the weight of history is heavier than all the books that Aquino belatedly studied. If the proposed federal constitution, presumably enriched by Aquino’s scholarship, is good in itself, why is the government lying about support for it?
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