Accommodating Regional Self-determination in a Federal Set-up

Written by Jose Lorena.

For the past decades since we became a Republic, the unitary, highly centralized government did not make us well politically and economically. The time has come that we abandon this form of government.

The author previously served in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and is now a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

Introduction

The Philippines is an archipelago of three major islands: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and Sulu. Administratively, it is structured into fifteen (15) regions. The present Constitution, provided for an autonomous political region in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera. Only the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was constituted and made operational after the people in this region voted yes in a plebiscite to it. The Cordillera failed to win its autonomy, as it failed to secure the necessary votes in a plebiscite.

The country is a home of diverse ethnicities and cultural and regional affiliations and people of various regions associate itself as Bangsa Ilocano, Bangsa Bikol, Bangsa Kapampangan, Bangsa Bisaya, Bangsa Lumad and prominently Bangsa Moro. All these groups profess diverse cultural differences and behavior but all longing to have their self-determination, while at the same time ascribing to participate in the affairs of National Governance.

Historical Antecedents

Historically, before colonization, the country was politically structured as barangays (balangays) with common security and economy actively developed into a confederation.

In the south and in some areas of the country, the coming of Islam induced these barangay confederations to reconfigure itself into Sultanates. In Muslim/Moro areas in particular, four Major Royal Houses of Sultanates emerged. These are the Sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao and Buayan plus the Pangatpong sa Ranao.

The coming of the Spaniards in 1521, brought about the start of colonization of the country into an archipelago. The resultant effect of colonization and the corollary opposition to it by the confederation of Sultanates had costly damaged the unity of the diverse ethnic and regional confederation and until today permeated a “divide” among and between Filipinos and Moros. These divide had created scorn, prejudice and animosity between and among peoples.

In the early 30s, the struggle for Philippine Independence was nurtured dominantly by the people of the north while stirred opposition from the Muslim South. These oppositions are captured in many documents, culminating with the March 18, 1934 “Pansalan Document” –a document literally opposing the incorporation of Mindanao and Sulu from being part of the proposed Republic of the Philippines.

Even before the grant of independence, some regions of the country had been governed separately from the rest. A good example is the Canton of Negros.

INDEPENDENCE AND THE NOTION THAT COMES WITH IT

The Unitary Republic

The grant of Philippine independence in 1946 ushered in a unitary and centralized form of government. The unitary and centralized government did not only give us –Isang Bayan (One Country), it enjoined the country to accept the notion of “Isang Bansa and Isang Diwa” (loosely translated as one nation and one spirit); one sovereignty, indivisible; one AFP; one Police; one and worse still – one fund.

If all these is not enough, starting in 1954, with efforts of centralized planning came to fold, the development of the country followed the “core” (central) to periphery (outskirts or laylayan) approach.

All these policies are incongruent to the cultural and regional aggrupation as political experience of the Philippines rest before independence.

The development approach focuses on the development of the core and expects that in time, the development of the core spreads to the peripheral region. The effect of this approach leads to the concentration of population in the center, likewise, it exponentially developed the Metro Region of Manila (or sometimes called Imperial Manila), way ahead than the rest of the country. Consequently, it resulted in the creation of advanced region--the metro, in particular and the lagged regions which composed most parts of the country.

Efforts at equalization, through decentralization and devolution had in the past been a major attempt. The establishment of administrative regions and the identification of regional centers are efforts at equalizing regional growth. The success of this effort mattered but it did not bring the gap closer as political and fiscal policy continued to radiate from the imperial center.

Article X of the Constitution and the passage of RA 7160 or the Local Government Code is another effort of generating faster growth for the region and local governments. The success of this effort again is stymied by faulty devolution process as devolution truly emanates likewise from the center.

REALITIES

For decades now, the Southern Philippines had been engulfed in a fratricidal conflict---a conflict borne out of the Moro aspiration for the reacquisition and recognition of its identity (a way of life); a denial for self-rule and participation in national governance. This quest for self-determination although as articulation of all Moros, have genuinely been pursued and articulated by the Moro Fronts. These articulation of interest are now captured in signed agreements, e.g., The Tripoli Agreement in 1976; The Final Peace Agreement of 1996; The Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro of 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro of 2014, among others. These agreements all speak of internal self-determination in the form of self-rule within the context of the Philippine territorial integrity and sovereignty as a viable alternative to independence.

Partially, the agreements have been implemented with the organization of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao pursuant to enabling legislation of Congress (RA 6734, as amended by RA 9054).

The current Autonomous Regional Government, while it may have some powers and resources, did not at all captured the imagination of many Moros. As accordingly, it did not provide for a meaningful autonomy that guarantees self-determination.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT FOR FEDERALIZATION AND TERRITORIAL RECONFIGURATION

The country’s experience under a unitary and centralize government brought us to where we are now--from the tiger of Asia, economically, to the whipping boy even within the ASEAN.

PROGRESSIVE AND TRANSFORMATIVE FEDERALISM

The time has come that we abandon the unitary/centralized form of government. For the past decades since we became a Republic, the unitary, highly centralized government did not make us well politically and economically. The unitary system ---a system imposed upon us by our colonizers, transformed our confederations and sultanates which politically and economically are advancing to a governance structure of dependence. This is specifically pronounced in the Moro areas where, our local governments are dependent solely on Internal Revenue Allocation, abandoning in the process their capacity to generate revenue locally from sources within.

Progressive and transformative Federalism simply means that federalization of the country should first transform the regions from lagged to more advanced and progressive regions and bring them closer in terms of economic and financial capacity to be more progressive regions even as we start to break and federalize the country beginning with financially and economically capable regions.

It also means that the approach to federalization should be tiered and by phases.

As now advanced by some proponents of Federalism, the country can first federalized into three (3) or four (4) area-based federal states, e.g., the Federal states of Mindanao, Visayas, Luzon and Metro Manila. These then federalized states will be mandated to fast track simultaneously the economic progress of the administrative regions or political regions within the federation by way of devolving more powers and resources to them from the federal states, thus, transforming them into semi-autonomous regions within the federal states. The period of transformation may vary depending on the absorptive capacity and ingenuity of the region. Suffice it to state, that in the Constitution for the Federalization of the country, the period within which re-federation can be done, should already be defined.

FEDERALISM AND THE BANGSAMORO

Federalism comes from the word “Foedus” which means covenant.

Federalism is intended to provide equal opportunities for all people and region. That said, federalism is intended to allow equal opportunity and development for all region. To achieve this, federalism is directed towards:

P = Power-Sharing

R = Resource-Sharing

R = Respect for all

D = Development for all

TIMEFRAME FOR BBL VIS-À-VIS FEDERALISM

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