Federalism is about freedom
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2014 - 12:00am

One of the conditions for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro requires amendment of the 1987 Constitution. Any attempt to amend the Constitution has been turned down by President Aquino. So I don’t really know how it is going to be done.

Constitutional amendments come under the functions of Congress and will then be subject to a referendum by the electorate of the entire country. Or is it going to be forced on us even if it is unconstitutional? 

Curiously the condition as it was discussed in the framework of agreement requires that any constitutional amendment will be submitted to the Office of the President for appropriate action. It adds “if it is required.” So that is a big block to be hurdled unless of course like other things this government has done, it will just bypass the Constitution or bribe members of Congress to get it done.

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Having said that does not mean that the CAB is bad but it can be badly mishandled by this government if it imposes the agreement without a constitutional amendment and a referendum. Indeed it may be what the country needs – a constitutional amendment that will allow not just the Bangsamoro but other regions to have more say in running their constituencies. It may be important to add that it is not only happening in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well, to what Gore Vidal calls “subject tribes” rebelling against “master tribes.”

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Strangely and mostly unknown to most Filipinos we have had an ideal of federalism since colonial times. This did not come from America even if the federalist papers make up the backbone of America’s political structure.

It came from Spain during the political ferment of the 19th century, when our national heroes were imbibing ideas of reforms for our country. There was a short period in which a more liberal Spanish government wanted greater autonomy for its colonies.

 â€œIt was in Spain that my perdition came,” Rizal said. Not enough has been done to educate Filipinos about its history. We think only of one Spain — the Spain in the Philippines that Rizal wrote about in his books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

If it was Spain in the Philippines that executed our national hero, it was Spain in Spain that became a home for our heroes to imbibe ideas of good government. Even then the vision was for a parliamentary federal system of government. 

Manuel Sarkisyanz’s book on Rizal and Republican Spain tells us why. 

 â€œThrough his vigorous objectivity and dispassionate attitude toward his sources, Professor Sarkasyanz is able to present a new conceptual approach in his study based on the interplay between two opposing historical forces at work — liberalism vs. traditionalism — in the 19th century and the interaction between the two Spains — Rizal’s Spain and Rizal’s Spanish Philippines,” writes Serafin D. Quiason who was chairman and executive director of the NHI at the time when the book was published.

It would be unfortunate if the book were to be left unread and its ideas unknown to Filipino reformers. Most of us know only about the writings of our national hero against “Spanish Philippines.”  

The Cadiz Constitution of 1812 was  a watershed in Spain’s history. I never heard of it during my entire time at school and I suppose it would also be true of Filipino students today.

The Cadiz Constitution of 1812 was not just for the enlightenment of Spaniards. It was relevant, indeed important to us because the Spanish government at the time issued a decree “granting all its colonies” representation as provinces in the Spanish Cortes through deputies chosen by the various capital cities.”

So it is not so strange after all if we revert back to a time that shaped the ideas on governance of our heroes and reformists. The task is to resurrect the good that we can from history’s debris that Spain was a country of executioners and corrupt friars. It was and it wasn’t. As everything in this world, Spain’s colonization of the Philippines may have had its darkness but it also had its silver lining. This other Spain led us  eventually to become Asia’s first constitutional republic.

Pi y Margall led the great reformist movement in Spain and became president of the short-lived Spanish Republic of 1873. He was a strong advocate of autonomy for Spain’s remaining colonies and was working for a federalist structure when the republic was put down. He was a close friend of Rizal.

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With the CAB we can expect other regions to want a similar structure to what will be given to Bangsamoro. Here is a personal account from a Bicolano.

“I would usually answer this people the most basic reason why I left Manila – I am sick and tired of living there. I have no intentions of facing the Manila rush hour traffic, of cramming myself in the sardine-pack railways just to get to work or of subjecting myself to the daily air and noise pollution of the Metro. For me the laid-back life of the province – the apparent ease of travel and the pristine atmosphere – outweighs far more the several thousand pesos difference in salary of an urban and rural job.

We need constitutional reform for greater autonomy for regions like Bicol. About 5M or more than 60% of the population barely manage a sustainable lifestyle.

Yet Bicol is indeed rich in resources, and by that standard alone, is a wealthy province. It powers the Luzon grid with electricity from the Tiwi and Bacon-Manito geothermal plants. It is lamentable though that Bicolanos are charged some of the highest rates for electricity.

Apparently the geothermal plants in Bicol feeds first the other parts of Luzon before servicing its local constituents and by that time, exorbitant rates are being charged already.

Bicol, under a changed Constitution, can become an autonomous region, much like ARMM and CAR.

“Indeed it is true that with the country’s history of bad politics and failed political reforms, the tendency to get jaded with elections and promise of national reformation is quite rampant. I mean we cannot really blame anyone but the officials who year in year out make us hope in their empty promises. But then we must still realize that the capacity to change this nation still lies in our hands.”

BANGSAMORO BICOL CADIZ CONSTITUTION COMPREHENSIVE AGREEMENT EL FILIBUSTERISMO GORE VIDAL RIZAL SPAIN SPANISH PHILIPPINES
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