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ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Suitability of the Federal System in Mindanao

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 11 June 2016) — My gut feel is that this is the political structure that suits us at this stage of our political life as a nation. No, I am not adding to the noise that calls for an amendment in the Constitution. I want to propose, first, a thorough review of our political system. I think the unitary, presidential system has served its purpose of taking us through the initial stages of unifying our country. Now that we are thinking as one nation — I hope the Bangsamoro advocates would take this as an invitation even if they insist on a distinct nationality — we can now go back to the unresolved issues of our basic differences and unify ourselves from there.

This will call for another century of revolution, one directed not anymore towards creating a single nation but towards creating a new country composed of as many component nations as may wish to be so.

Enough of this Manila Imperialism sloganeering. The only reason nationalism is suspected to have revolved around Manila is because that was the center of both political and economic power. And that was so because the external units called roughly the regions of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were too weak to assert themselves. I think that these external units and the provinces therein have come of age. With a number of years of experience in local government autonomy which generated new impulses towards political maturity, it is now reasonable to suppose that we may more confidently talk about a federal system, something that sounded so idealistic and abstract a number of years ago. Even threatening. I am not suggesting that we imitate other federal systems in the world. We are quite capable of making one according to our own taste and conditions.

It is an unquestioned reality that we are a diverse people, each language group being aware of an identity and interest distinct from those of the immediate neighbors. Take a quick swing from north to south, east to west of Mindanao, and we will see what this means: at least 18 Lumad ethnolinguistic groups … I have increased this to 35; 13 Moro ethnolinguistic communities.

The colonial systems we had, Spanish and American, led us towards the unitary presidential system. The Muslim sultanates were grafted into this. So were the various Cordillera groups, among others, which were never conquered and colonized by the Spaniards.

While the unitary presidential system has served the purpose of unifying the country, it has also brought to the surface very concrete reasons why it may have outlived its usefulness at this point in our political history.

The unitary system tends to centralize everything, and I mean everything, and make everything uniform, regardless of basic cultural and/or religious differences: Education curriculum, national language, economic system, political system, judicial system, government accounting and auditing rules, taxation, landholding system, forestry laws, mining laws, marriage laws, history. We even glorify national bird, national tree, national this, national that.

One very concrete accomplishment of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is to question and shake the very foundations of our political system. They say they do not wish to destroy the Republic of the Philippines, they merely wish to assert and re-claim the self-determination that is rightfully theirs.

So, there was a GRP-MNLF (Government of the Republic of the Philippines-MNLF) Peace Agreement but this does not erase the fundamental issues raised by the MNLF. Also those asserted by the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). That the Bangsamoro have their own distinct identity and vested interest that must be respected and cannot be satisfied by a continued subscription to political uniformity. With the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the central government has allowed, albeit grudgingly, a departure from the stranglehold of central authority. The passage of the Local Government Act of 1991 further chips away powers from central authority; the local government units from the regional autonomy to the barangay are able to exercise greater self-determination.

The Indigenous Peoples, too, from the north to the south, have persistently expressed their own preference for self-determination, having seen that their absorption into the unitary political system has brought about the establishment and solidification of a threat to their very own existence and the integrity of their distinct cultures.

My gut feeling is that with a federal system, we just might be able to design a political system that can provide an assured socio-political space or structure that will allow greater room for our differences, at the same time that each part contributes to the strength of the whole. As components of a single country, the parts ought to complement and not be a threat to each other’s fundamental interest.

Deeper Look into Diversity

Diversity is reason enough for diversity. Diversity is its own logic. Let me explore the concept further.

In the history of human societies, communities may be likened to individual human beings.

Just as each human community is distinct from the other within the global mankind, so each individual person is distinct from the other within a family.

Each person is distinct from the others, yet all have something in common with one another.

Maturity does not come to each at the same time; it comes at different times to different individuals.

One sure sign of maturity is the level of self-determination an individual expresses. Falling in love, getting married is nowadays one sure sign that one is ready to establish his own family even as he maintains his connection and interrelationship with the original families.

The situation becomes more complex where several families constitute a community. Or where several communities constitute a bigger unit called a nation-state. Or more so where several nation-states constitute a federation.

In each case, there is the assertion of one’s distinct character, identity and interest as well as the recognition of commonality of character, identity and interest with the other.

Self-determination comes in many forms. In the political sphere, it comes in the form of semi-independent units. In the Philippines: sitio, barangay, municipality, province, regional autonomy, nation. Self-determination grows with increased political autonomy or the ability to stand on one’s own feet.

In the political history of the world, greatest autonomy to political units is experienced by the states of a federal state.

If we apply the federal system to Mindanao, what would constitute the states or the appropriate political units?

In determining sub-political boundaries certain guidelines may help. The central issue – and I believe this to be the most sensitive — is socio-cultural and/or religious identification among the people. Other factors like natural resources will follow. Let us try clustering them.

Important Considerations:

1.Self-determination is the principal norm in defining or redefining the boundaries of the different states. First, the self and/or the different selves constituting the bigger self must be defined. This is the main basis of unity. There ought to be dignity in diversity, not uniformity. Other bases of unity can be added.
2.Moro and Lumad ancestral domains should be upheld within each state. Self-determination among Moro communities should be respected down to the barangay level where feasible. Same goes for Lumad communities. Present political boundaries need not be taken as fixed; we should be open to re-delineation depending on our definition of Self.
3.The present form of democracy in the country, the democracy of number as in one man, one vote, has been found to be detrimental to the basic interests of the Moro and Lumad communities. We should seriously explore other modes of political decision- making. Smaller groups should not be drowned in the name of democracy.
4.We may have to consider redesigning the national flag, the symbol of national unity. The present does not reflect the role of the Muslims and the Lumad and the Cordillerans in our history.
5.Political maturity of the whole nation or of the parts therein should be a major reason for federalization, not the tendency of the central government to arrogate unto itself all the political and economic power, including the power to decide on budget allocation. Being pro-active seems to be more inviting; being reactive (e.g. anti-Manila imperialism and the like) tends to be threatening and counter-productive.

Suggested Clusters:

1.Muslim Groups. They can be subdivided into five major states: Sama in Tawi-Tawi; Yakan in Basilan; Maranao in Lanao Norte and Lanao Sur; Maguindanao in Maguindanao. These are the places where the Muslims constitute a decisive majority.
2.Mixed Communities of Muslim, Lumad and Settlers. Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Cotabato & Kidapawan City, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Gen. Santos City, Sarangani. Zamboanga City, Pagadian City. Davao City.
3.Mixed Settlers and Lumad. Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte & Tagum City & Samal City, Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte & Surigao City, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte & Butuan City, Misamis Oriental & Cagayan de Oro City, Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental & Ozamiz City & Tangub City & Oroquieta City. Dipolog City, Dapitan City.
4.Settler (Christian). Camiguin
5.Palawan should be left alone to decide whether it wants to cluster itself with Luzon, Visayas or whether it should stand by itself. Attaching it to Mindanao is too unwieldy from every conceivable viewpoint.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Rudy “Ompong” Buhay Rodil is a historian and professor at the Department of History, College of Arts & Social Sciences of the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) who retired in 2007. He was a member of the Regional Consultative Commission and the government peace panels in talks with the Moro National Liberation Front and later the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Rodil says federalism was discussed during the 1971 Constitutional Convention but the proposal was defeated. “I wrote about federalism in 1999 and now, it still makes sense. Federalism has come alive, again, with more public acceptance; mukhang nahinog na (looks like it has ripened),” Rodil says).

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