Is Manila still imperial to warrant federalism? | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Is Manila still imperial to warrant federalism?

After Imelda Marcos’ not guilty verdict in New York in 1990, the codictator repaired to a Filipino pub for a victory fête. Filipino supporters came in humongous droves. To say that it was SRO was an understatement. Media recall: “Hindi ka makahinga sa dami ng tao.” (It was impossible to breathe with the number of people inside.)

That was 1990. Note the major elements of the narrative: Marcoses, multitude of supporters. In 1990, many Filipinos had not learned their lessons from the profligacy of a family regime that thieved them of the basic necessities of life. Today, that is still where we are.

We often hear the idiom “Imperial Manila.” I live in Mindanao out of choice. Mindanao keeps me grounded. It is my lens of the world, and yet it has not narrowed my view of the world which I have traversed quite a fair number of times. The quality of life in Mindanao is nowhere near Manila’s harsh dog-eat-dog world. Mindanao is tranquility. I can create in it my center, not a margin.


What is the genesis of the term? When Manila inundated Mindanao with an ocean of migrants beginning in 1913, “colonies” were established. The first were in Pikit, Silik, Peidu-Pulangi, Pagalungan and Glan in Cotabato. The official language of that project was “to lead to an amalgamation and Filipinization of the Moros and pagans and thus remove the danger of a possible separation of Mindanao.”


That sounds bizarre. It meant Manila looked down upon Mindanao and that the standard of society was only Manila’s, medieval by today’s expansive global canons.

In 1926, the US Congress was deliberating on a bill authored by New York Republican Robert Bacon to separate Mindanao from Manila. The paramount leader of Cotabato, Datu Piang, wired Bacon gleefully: “Allow me to congratulate you on a bill for the separation of Mindanao from the government in Manila. Long have we hoped and long have we prayed that the people of the United States after conquering us would not turn us over to those who do not understand us.”


Was Datu Piang politically correct? Unlettered by Manila standards, he was. He had native intelligence. One’s culture and how it is received by the centers of power is a yardstick of the center’s bigotry.

Ninety-two years later, federalism echoes in the country stage-managed by a president who comes not from the imperial center but from remote (by Manila’s reckoning) Davao.

Is federalism the answer? That’s not the pivotal question. The more fundamental one is: Is Manila still imperial?

Our state formation in the last hundred years has in fact seen the fruitful export by Manila to the provinces of its devious political trade. What Manila has created—dynastic families—is now firmly entrenched in the country’s 42,036 barangays.

What used to be behind-the-scenes deceit Imperial Manila had generated among lawmakers is now successfully replicated in all our political centers. Why does one Cebu congresswoman walk and talk like a screaming poodle? No need to ask.

There is no more Imperial Manila; there is Imperial Manila all over the archipelago.

Rodrigo Duterte, locally bred from that same imperialist mold, was legally elected. But was the 16 million who elected him discerning of the oligarchic roots of his family and all it incriminates? The answer is no.

We must hark back to that victory party of Imelda. We elected a president from a city where the mayor, vice mayor, city councilor (January, Paolo’s second wife; yes, even with his resignation, his own nuclear family is still in power) are all Dutertes. Were there no other candidates who qualified? No, because we have not yet learned to discern evil from good governance. Dynasties and the wealth they generate from public office do not factor into our political morality.

If we replicate the fragmented polities where we used to be in the 14th century, then we must still be in the mind of the Dark Ages. Dynasties keep us in poverty. That singular point alone must keep us in sober assessment. We haven’t yet.

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Filipino dynastic governing is being judged. The verdict cannot be federalism.

TAGS: Antonio Montalvan II, charter change, federalism, Imperial Manila, Kris-Crossing Mindanao

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