Information dearth on federalism
Judging from the recent moves of President Duterte’s allies in Congress, it’s likely that the 1987 Constitution will be changed before his term ends in 2022.
The principal thrust of this action is to do away with the centralized system of government in favor of a federal system. The President blames the Manila-centric government system for the country’s poor economic progress, insurgency problem and secessionist movement in Mindanao.
Mr. Duterte believes government decentralization, where the proposed federal states are given meaningful authority to implement economic and social policies within their territories, will spur economic growth. He also considers federalism as an adequate response to the demand of the Bangsamoro people for self-determination or autonomy in their homeland.
With the two legislative chambers in agreement on effecting Charter change through a constituent assembly, the issue that remains to be resolved is how the changes shall be discussed and voted on by the lawmakers: In joint session or meeting separately?
For now, the discussions on the federal system of government have been confined to Congress, a few academic institutions, some radio and TV programs, and columns and commentaries in the mainstream and social media.
The lack of knowledge by the public about federalism may explain the survey finding last December that the majority of Filipinos, in particular those living in the Visayas and Mindanao, are not ready for this form of government.
This finding is surprising because these areas are the President’s political bailiwicks and warmly received his campaign promise to reduce the powers of so-called Imperial Manila.
Mr. Duterte has acknowledged that this finding poses a serious problem to his federalism plan. This issue must be so critical to him that he has expressed willingness to set aside his personal grudge against radio-TV giant ABS-CBN if it agrees to conduct an information campaign on federalism.
It’s a puzzler why the President had to figuratively eat crow in his dispute with ABS-CBN when he has at his disposal the government’s extensive radio, TV and other communications resources that can promote his message on federalism nationwide. And if these facilities are inadequate or lacking in the kind of credibility that would encourage the public to tune in, the government can enter into arrangements with private radio, TV, newspaper and other media entities to broadcast or carry information materials on the issue.
Going one step further, the internet-based messaging portals of the administration’s media office can be tapped to communicate with its constituents and educate them on federalism.
In these activities, it is essential that the messages are tailored to the listening capacity of the target audiences in our society. There is no one-size-fits-all promotions module that can reach out to the collective heart and mind, especially of those living in areas that are beyond the reach of modern media facilities.
Thus, for example, an infomercial designed for Tagalog-speaking residents in Central Luzon would not be as effective or may not attract attention (or worse, be understood) in Cebuano- or Ilocano-speaking areas.
Although English is widely spoken in the country, it would be presumptuous to assume that the man or woman in the street will be able to understand the general concept of federalism when written or explained in English.
The conversion to a federal system of government would result in a monumental paradigm shift in Filipinos’ decades-old concept of national governance. It is akin to reinventing the wheel of government that Filipinos have been used to for ages.
It remains to be seen whether or not the proposed change in government system would push through—and, if it does, result in the benefits touted by President Duterte. In the meantime, the government owes it to the people to be informed of its nature and the possible impact on them if it is adopted.
Raul J. Palabrica (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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