On Senator Pimentel's Version of Shift to Federalism

Federal Fol-de-rol
By Antonio C. Abaya

My American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘fol-de-rol’ as ‘foolish talk or procedure, or nonsense.’ And that is what this recurring advocacy for federalism is: foolish talk and nonsense.

Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel is principal author of a Senate resolution calling for a debate on Charter Change (again), for a revision of the Constitution to shift from a unitary to a federal system of government. And Pimentel wants this debate to happen before the presidential elections in 2010...

The motivation supposedly is “to spur economic growth.” The implication is that economic growth is not possible, or is not fast enough, under a unitary state.

This is a lot of nonsense. The empirical evidence is that of the most successful countries in East and Southeast Asia, only one – Malaysia – is a federal union. The others – Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand – are all unitary states. So, contrary to what Nene Pimentel and his 11 apostles apparently believe, economic progress – even spectacular economic progress, in the cases of Japan, China and South Korea – is achievable and has been achieved under unitary states...

... [They] should also know that the empirical evidence is that archipelagic countries, of which there are only three – Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines – are unitary states, rather than federal unions, for pragmatic reasons. Being made up of islands, they would be vulnerable to centrifugal forces if they were to spin off into federal unions...

... [They] are no doubt motivated by patriotic reasons when they advocate a shift to a federal union “in order to spur economic growth.” But economic growth is a function of economic strategies, not of political systems. Our GDP grew by 7.3% in 2007 under our unitary state, better than the growth of Malaysia under its federal union...

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Read also. "Cha-cha thrust, counter-thrust" by Mon Casiple.

Like Senator Pimentel, I, being also from an island province far away from Manila, understood his concern of how many of the farther regions of our country are left out to stagnate in terms of progress and development because of unfair prioritization of national resources and of the inefficiency of the overall government machinery in bringing progress and development to the countrysides.

The concept of federalism in an archipelagic country may not be totally a bad idea. Surely there are major and serious setbacks in their version of federalism that need to be considered very carefully. But since there is a significantly large number of our population (especially in Mindanao and also in Cebu) who are inclined to support the proposal, that makes the idea worthy of a big debate in order to shed light on the concept.

When is the right time to start the debate? We are still in the middle of a crisis and people are yet preoccupied with how to cope up with the current situation -- at least those people who are mostly affected (the poor) by the crisis and those leaders who are truly concerned of helping them.

Maybe the advocates of federalism have thought that it may be good to take actions concerning their advocacy while some of them are still in office. If in case Cha-Cha (Charter Change) will push through, they will have a good chance of pushing for their version of federalism if in case also a Constituent Assembly (Con-As) will prevail over a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con).

Reading from Mon Casiple's analysis, one would think that these advocate senators may not be really sincere in their intention at this point in time. It could indeed be a "brilliant" move -- by those who oppose ChaCha to happen under GMA's term of office -- to preempt moves for ChaCha by administration allies. No timing is more [im]perfect to talk about ChaCha (unsuspectingly disguised "kuno" as shift to federalism) than in the midst of a food crisis. T
hese anti-ChaCha-under-GMA senators that composed the team knew very well that any mention of ChaCha in the midst of many crisis would be [mis]interpreted by the people as being an insensitive maneuver by GMA and her allies to stay in power, and hence could trigger a very hostile reaction by a crisis-pressed citizenry against the administration thereby setting the atmosphere initially charged beforehand for another round of impeachment in the coming months.

Perhaps the proper time to start a serious debate on this proposal is after 2010. Some of those leading advocates of federalism may no longer be suspected of having a hidden agenda since they would no longer be in office by that time and also it could prove the sincerity of their intention if they would still be willing to push for their advocacy after putting it off for another more years and revived later within the period of a new set of leadership.