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THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Trapos not the best exemplars of Federalism

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/17 May) — We should be wary about traditional politicos who want to shift to the federal system of government but who cannot claim to exemplify its workings.

If anything, federalism stands for decentralization, for making people at the grassroots the center of gravity in politics—with reforms anchored on their sovereignty, not on the imperious authority of an official or his dynasty.

Federalism exemplifies the coming together of self-governing units of society that desire to be bound by common rules and decide to enter into a federation within the framework of local autonomy or self-government.

Thus a federal system is not compatible with the habit of wielding power from the top or the center, as is the style of strong-arm leaders and oligarchs.


Federalism cannot be properly served by a leader with a pronounced dictatorial streak, especially one with a penchant for dynastic succession.

He cannot effectively decentralize the system or empower the people; it’s his dynasty that will be empowered!

If he expresses impatience at the slow pace of reforms and espouse a revolutionary approach to hasten changes, he’s likely to employ fascistic methods, or resort to a simplistic approach like Martial Law or dictatorship.

Unfortunately, societal change entails complex processes; thus, to resort to shortcuts is not a good idea. It would be folly to establish democracy by means of dictatorship.


Change induced by manipulative methods is not only dangerous, it is antithetical to the avowed aim of strengthening or institutionalizing democratic processes.

People craving change should not pursue it through a cult of personality, preferring it to the complexity of people powered reform. It would be ill-advised.

Such was the case with Martial Rule in the early 1970s when a lot of Filipinos thought they finally found the right combination for achieving reforms.

They adopted a simplistic formula for social progress, namely: Marcos + Martial Law = Peace and Order and Prosperity. They even applauded the execution of a drug-dealer without due process. Simple and simplified justice!

Fortunately, not all fell for it; the rest of society knew better and decided to bide their time. And sure enough, things started to turn sour before long.

The sleazy side of Martial Law soon emerged and Marcos and company embraced the siren song of plunder, corruption, and unspeakable abuse.

That shortcut-motivated “reform” drew out the worst that fascism induces in gun-wielding agents of the State. It drained our wealth, eviscerated our self-respect, and blew away what little innocence remained in our hearts up till that time.

So we had better be very wary today. It’s easy to advocate federalism and claim that it will wipe out corruption, crime, unemployment, or poverty. But other systems make the same claims too—and it rarely works out that way. There is no evidence that a federal system eradicates corruption or conduces to good governance better than other systems.

What is generally true is that, regardless of what system is in place, political parties are the essential infrastructure for good governance.

We’re talking here of a PARTY SYSTEM, not of an individual with a Dirty Harry reputation, to preside over a democratic way of life. One ambitious individual campaigning for a shift to the federal system just won’t do; not even if he becomes president.

The problems of our society are social/political issues; they cannot be readily solved by individual prescriptions. Societal attention and mobilization are needed; not a Lone Ranger problem-solver.

It’s our democracy that is being challenged, our very way of life; only by letting it operate properly can things be fixed.

Thus we must be wary and tread carefully. Let’s keep away from leaders with a penchant for centralism, usually incumbents with a Messianic complex and a heavy-handed way of governing, oligarchs who are uncomfortable if they’re not making the decisions.

The prospect of ceding central power in favor of federalism—a bottom-up system of government—is not congenial to them; it will soon be violated by their accustomed heavy-handedness.

On the other hand, it’s clever strategy for a trapo to advocate federalism now. It gives him visibility and front-runner status in forthcoming elections.

If he gets the vote and the federal movement gains momentum, he gets to “own” the issue, take charge, and co-opt the movement’s leadership. Then he and his dynasty can manipulate the system from a dominant position.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. and author of books on governance.   valdehuesa@gmail.com)

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