My column yesterday was The Sixth Republic, in which I argue that of the proposals made by former president Ramos and Speaker de Venecia, the least controversial and thus, most popular, is Federalism. My main purpose in the column was to begin pointing out that what Ramos proposed as a three-in-one package, are in fact, three, separate, complicated proposals, and it doesn’t do anyone any good to think it’s an all-or-nothing package. Personally I believe we’d be better off with Federalism, but not unicameralism, although I’m open to a parliamentary (or to be more precise, a semi-presidential) government.
The idea of Federalism in the Philippine context we owe, I believe, to the late Don Salvador Araneta, who proposed it in his Bayanikasan Constitution (an introduction to it, is here, along with part one of the proposed charter, and part two of the rest of the charter is here). Araneta’s ideas weren’t pulled out of thin air, but were, instead, the result of three years of studies under the auspices of Philconsa and Araneta’s own pretty formidable interest in the matter.
Araneta’s proposals can be seen to have influenced people as varied as former President Ramos, with his political trinity of unicameralism, Federalism, and parliamentarism, to David Martinez, whose book, “A Country of Our Own: Partitioning the Philippines,” on the need to re-invent the Philippines and reorganize it along the lines of a free association of states (a confederation), is a remarkable intellectual achievement indeed (not that I agree with all of it, but the book does make for provocative reading). Ramos and Martinez, in a sense, are the conservative and radical interpretations of Araneta’s ideas.
The biggest problem involving Philippine federalism is how the states will be defined. The other proposals, such as unicameralism and parliamentarism, will affect how this is done.
Some interesting views are emerging on the issue of the current proposals. Tony Abaya makes some compelling arguments for parliamentarism but against federalism. JJ Disini remains unconvinced by proposals for unicameral parliamentarianism. Let me add at this point something important: Joel Rocamora of the Institute for Popular Democracy is proposing proportional representation. This is something we should all become familiar with, as an electoral practice. The counter-proposal to proportional representation, is the Two-Party system, which I initially prefer.
What bothers me, of course, is that Federalism and other changes have been tied to the President’s political survival. It bothers me even more that well-meaning people like Prof. Jose Abueva have signed on to the Ramos-Arroyo-de Venecia Plan so as to finally achieved their Federalist dream. Add to this reports of senators being wooed by the Speaker, who is prepared to promise them guaranteed seats in a National Assembly in exchange for their supporting charter change, and I am reinforced in my original opinion that the proposal is big, bold, and lies. I believe that the question of the president’s stay in power must be resolved, before the question of constitutional changes is tackled. In the meantime, a consultative commission on charter change can, and should, be appointed. If it does its work well, it can help Congress and thus make a constituent assembly acceptable to the people, which is really the way to go when amending (and not entirely replacing) a constitution is undertaken. A consultative commission can help achieve what we now lack: a national consensus on what, exactly, the changes should be. But if we want an entirely new constitution, then we have to have a convention.
Update: PCI has two entries that make for instructive reading. The first reading asks, are we ready for a parliamentary system? The second gives historical backgrounds to Federalism. My only addition is that Mojares’s information is distinct from the influence Salvador Araneta’s thinking had on today’s major players. That is: Mojares indicates the basis for the Federal ideal; Araneta has articulated it in modern terms.