By Richelle Mae Tabigne (ZNNHS)

Blood, sweat, and tears. These are the sacrifices our past presidents made to ensure the stability, unity and harmony of the diverse culture that is our country, Philippines. With the Unitary Government as the current government system we use, past leaders made every ounce of effort to unite the different individuals, different ethnic groups, different people, to create a harmonious and peaceful land for all the citizens of the Republic of the Philippines. Now, a new era is to be started by our current leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, with Federalism as his new ray of hope to creating a better future for our country having his ruling party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino- Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-LABAN) behind him as support to raising awareness of this system to all the Filipinos. Duterte, specifically stated that this government is his “ticket” towards the peace in Mindanao, especially within the lands of our Muslim brothers and sisters in exchange for implementing Bangsamoro Basic Law. He also stated that this is his “solution” towards the poverty that is the common root of all dilemmas within our country. But the main question would be, is Philippines ready to accept this proposition of a government as her remedy towards the inside wars that is about to break out? For us Mindanaoans, since we are one of the target concerns of this proposed government, what implications would this cause us and are we ready to embrace this change as our paved road towards a much more peaceful society?

Long before our president has owned the presidential seat, he has been evidently vocal about his interest in turning Philippines into a Federal Nation, giving power to regions as a state. Federalism, according to Random House Legal Dictionary, is a means of structuring government by dividing power between individual states and a national government. In the newly proposed revised constitution, Philippines will be divided into 18 federated regions, all having increased power to raise their own revenues, using such funds for the development of their state and the power to create their own legislation. With this in mind, President Duterte aims to bring more prosperity to its neglected regions and present this as a possible remedy towards the impending revolt of some of the Muslim societies, with Senator Aquilino Pimentel by his side seeing the same result to the change they are about to bring.

Philippines, since the dawn of its civilization, has awakened and prospered under its current government system, Unitary form, with majority of its power under the command of the central government. Duterte mainly targets Mindanao and its issues as his reasons with his persistence into implementing Federalism and changing the roots of our development to this new, unexplored waters of change. According to the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) for the country’s first trimester, Mindanao, the breadbasket of the Philippines, currently houses the 9 poorest regions of the Philippines with the top 3 still owned by Mindanao, which led to the president’s vision of Federalism as the solution towards the poverty rooted in Southern Philippines. With the brewing discontentment of the Bangsamoro, he hopes that giving them a state of their own could quench the thirst for creating chaos within their system. President Duterte’s reasons for implementing the said system is truly a work of a loving mind and a nationalist embracing heart but we must see the practicality of such notion, are we, the people of Mindanao, truly going to be benefitted in this change with us as his target product?

Federalism, practically speaking, would not be the pattern of solution that we need, especially in Mindanao. This system aims to use their own revenue to produce development within them, which would mean that since Mindanao houses most of the poorest regions in Philippines, how would they be able to generate enough revenue to support their “state” if federalism is going to be implemented? Lanao del Sur is the country’s poorest region with 74.3% of poverty followed by Sulu with 65.7% of poverty and Sarangani upon their heels with 61.7% of poverty. During Federalism, Duterte aims to create friendly competition within regions for the development of each of their regions. With these statistics, how does the government expect these regions to produce their own income that would be able to suffice them, let alone support them in a “friendly competition” in growth with other well-performing regions?

Under this system, top performing regions such as Metro Manila will have more resources to enhance their competitiveness and widening the gap between the well performing regions and the financially unstable regions here in the Philippines. Since Metro Manila produces more than one-third of the country’s entire GDP or Gross Domestic Product, and with Federalism stating that they keep 70% for the consumption of their own regions, then Metro Manila and other similarly stable regions are going to be Philippine’s elite forces of regions, with a wide gap between these regions and the current poorest regions in Mindanao such as Lanao del Sur or Sulu. Even for the prosperous United States of the America or U.S.A., who has been using Federalism for the past two centuries, did not manage to find cure for narrowing the development gap between the coastal states and New York which is known as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world. In simpler words, Mindanao will not be able to support its own developmental needs and would ask for the assistance of the whole country. If such system shall be approved and pushed through making Philippines undergo a constitutional reform, we can probably buckle up and expect to see the collapse of some of the regions and the slow progress of their economical and developmental standing, depending on how they will be able to handle the situation they shall be in or how well their government can drive them towards their goals. Not to mention the future effect of such situation in the Filipino citizens of these regions and how their life would be patterned if their own soon-to-be state could not be able to provide for them.

Another concern that should be assessed carefully by our leaders is that if federalism is not handled carefully and effectively, it could lead to a chaotic breakout and could even develop into a genocidal war. Let us peek in Yugoslavia, a once mighty kingdom who came into existence during World War 1. Now, what is left are bits and pieces of broken up kingdoms with no Yugoslavia in sight because of it collapsing into a genocidal civil war. With this in mind, we can see that as of today, there is no equality or fair treatment to every filipino individual in our country. We can even see the clear distinction of each region due to diverse cultures and unity is an element that is hard to determine among the people of our country. With the President’s statement of Federalism, he aims to create a friendly competition among regions for their development, now competitions are possible barriers to the unity of regions especially if not handled well. If Filipinos implanted this in their minds, the tendency would be that they would give their best efforts to ensure the rise of their region, which would really be easy for the highly industrialized regions such as the NCR, but what would happen to the poor regions in Mindanao? How will they survive on their own? How will they show their faces to the world if they cannot compete to aimed competition of the government?

Like it or not, there will be evident discrimination to the slow performing regions, especially in Mindanao. Even as of today, there is already racial discrimination from Filipinos coming from Luzon to us, Mindanaoans. When they hear the magic sentence “I came from Mindanao”, their initial reaction would be that the person who claimed to be from is a muslim which makes him or her dangerous. The direct assumption further proves that there is already a line of racial discrimination upon us, and Federalism is a tool that could make the situation worsen. A strong nation is a nation that is united, hand in hand in facing the challenges that shall be encountered by the country. If the little line of discrimination shall be expounded, then the already-weakening-unity of the Filipino people will shatter, and a possibility of civil war will erupt, especially with the rebel groups finding this disposition as a chance to showcase their disagreement through guns and ammos.

In addition, Federalism is a system that allows a region to operate on their own, meaning, they will have free reign to the legislation that shall be made and implemented, they will also have control on the defensive unit of their region. Now let us put in our minds that there are regions in Mindanao which do not agree with how the government operates or that they have a different set of ideals to be followed. We can remember what happened during the Mamasapano clash, wherein the police operated under Oplan Exodus. Their goal was to capture or kill wanted Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli Abdhir and other Malaysian terrorists or high-ranking members of the BIFF with Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) leading the operation. Armed in their combat gears and wits, they managed to neutralize the target but was met by an unfortunate fate. They got engaged into a bloody battle with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other unknown muslim groups which led to the death of 44 respected and acknowledged Special Action Force (SAF) members. During this time, The Bangsamoro Basic Law was already undergoing hearings for its approval but where they able to cooperate with the government’s mission? No, instead they fired their guns which resulted to deaths of the soldiers. The government was not able to infiltrate the region effectively with the executive branch still under the central government. If this is the case in a unity-centered government as of now, how will the federal state in the upcoming change intervene in such missions again if the state government will also not offer their cooperation?

Marawi Siege, a war between the government and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with the Maute and Abu Sayyaf Salafi jihadist groups which lasted for 5 months and was considered the longest urban battle in the modern history of the Philippines. Maute groups within Marawi already had a stronghold to the city and the people which made it hard for the government to intercept. This is a concrete evidence that if cooperation is not given by the state during federalism, the federal state will have a very hard time in acting upon its task meaning that federalism will be more of a hindrance even for national security rather than a help to our country.

Another impending problem to Federalism would be the strengthening of the political dynasties in our nation. If we look at the history of our country, the modern leaders where just children of the previous leaders. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was the daughter of Former President Diosdado Macapagal, Former President Benigno Aquino III is the son of Former President Cory Aquino. Even in Mindanao, cities are governed by powerful families within our areas. In Zamboanga del Norte, Dapitan City is ruled by Jalosjos and we can also see Dipolog City under the Uy Family.

Corruption is also a never-ending issue in our country. Now what if the current family that holds the local government practices corruption, and passes this practice on to the generations to come, will Philippines escape the grasp of this society-wrecking action if the same family shall hold our government to place? What if the families in Mindanao are bloodlines of corrupt officials with stealing from public as their family hobbies. Would Mindanao be able to catch up to Luzon’s development and can the poor regions here grow into a booming region? Philippines is proud to declare to the world that we are a democratic country, but what happened to “power belongs to the people” if the elected officials chosen to govern our nation are coming from one family, running our society as if it is just a family tradition? Where does democracy stand if the future states in our country are under the claws of the same powerful families, following a monarchy-like set-up deliberately mocking the very essence of democracy? How can we proudly announce to the world that we are a democratic country valuing the “of the people, by the people, and for the people” government if our version of democratic ruling is tainted with centuries old of political dynasties? With this in mind, can we truly trust Federalism as a conduit towards strengthening the democracy, or will it just be another play tool for the powerful families to once again pave their names as “leaders” of our nation?

Blood, sweat, and tears. These are the sacrifices that our past presidents made to ensure the stability, unity and harmony of the diverse culture that is our country, Philippines. Now, as the current body of government who can help decide the fate of our country, we need to analyze every situation that we want to take for the betterment of our nation. Changes are good, calculated risks are advisable, but to take a risk that can cost us everything that we have been fighting for should be considered thoroughly before making such humungous adjustments. Federalism is a good government system, if handled properly and its target results are truly endings that could give huge benefits to us, especially to us Mindanaoans and the promise of peace it can offer. But before taking such drastic changes, we should always ask if our country can handle it, if our nation can bear the load. For us, Filipinos within the bounds of Mindanao, Philippines’ breadbasket, would Federalism be the answer to the echoes of cries released by our land?