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‘It’s not the system, it’s the people’

05:05 AM February 19, 2018

Tons have been written on federalism — for, against; voluntary, hired. But its import still escapes us. Most of us don’t belong to the 27 percent who know the Constitution, let alone federalism.

I thought former chief justice Hilario Davide’s words — that a shift to federalism would be “a lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death, and a leap to hell” — was rather wordy. But not after I read his speech on Nov. 21, 2017, before the country’s business clubs. His speech and Christian Monsod’s opening statement at the Senate hearing on Charter change last Feb. 1 are the most enlightening papers on the subject. Both are thorough and easy to read and understand. As techies say, “Google.”

I’m plucking a very common axiom peeping through both papers: “It’s not the system, it’s the people.” Let’s liven that up from the conceptual to the concrete.


There are two casts of characters in this drama: first, the framers and probable administrators of this customized federalism, and second, we, the people, who are set, or set up, to accept it.

Who are its framers? The same people in control of the executive branch and of Congress, and their subalterns, political dynasties and/or the ruling 200 clans and scions and members thereof, sundry advisers and sycophants. Collectively (there are always exceptions), they make a powerful, wealthy,
venal body salivating for more of the same.

Davide says what is first needed is “authentic and genuine change in the hearts and minds … of our leaders … that they truly be genuine, authentic public servants.” Is this possible? Maybe, when the moon turns blue again. Monsod wonders if “changing the structure of government will change the behavior of our politicians.” A gentleman, he conveys a very refined slur on the character of our legislature: “The only way that amendments or revisions can be limited is through the prudent restraint of the constituent assembly itself … Are our legislators capable of doing that? … No, because that is not the culture and our historical experience with our politicians.”

Now, picture the “ways and means” of the shift. What can be neat on paper can be chaos in implementation. Eleven and a half years is how long even the pros admit: for division into 11-18 regions (10 or more of which can’t stand on their own), each with its own executive and legislative branches, a hazy judiciary, regional code, tax system, titles for their officials, a “horrible … bloated bureaucracy,” etc.

Imagine the discussions that each item will raise at every step of the way. Replicate the jockeying for positions, political appointees and proteges, dynastic scions; so glaring now. Pass the “border” and you’d have to deal with different levels to transfer a title or get a permit. How about foreign policy and the national debt? This is a very abbreviated rundown of its complexity.

Who presides over the 11-year transition? Guess who. What’s rankling about this shift is its needlessness. The promises of federalism—decentralization, strong local governments, regional development, etc.—could/can be done under the 1987 Constitution, except that as Davide says, “Congress has been sleeping on its solemn duty to pass laws to implement its mandates.” Monsod adds: “This is the legislature that wants to rewrite the Constitution.”

The second cast of characters is us. Davide also requires the “same kind … of change in our people” to be “vigilant and assertive as the true … masters of these public servants and always unyielding to the whims and caprices of false or fake public servants ….”

How do we rate? Do we let things slide? Because we bend like the bamboo, we survive any government or leader, we don’t care? How many institutions will “hold fast”? How many individuals will “push back”? (John Nery, Opinion, 2/6, 2/13)


Democracy, dictatorship, parliamentary, federal? “It’s not the system, it’s the people” who hijack it, and the people who consent or not. “They” will lead on, but
only as far as we allow them.

* * *

Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Asuncion David Maramba, charter change, Christian Monsod, federalism, hilario davide, Inquirer Commentary
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