FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2016 - 9:00am

It is not easy to accept federalism as a political system especially among Filipinos where it is not understood. It took me a long time to actually accept its meaning until I realized it was no different from individual freedom. Why should we fight passionately for our individual freedom and not want the same freedom for ethnic groups.

Gore Vidal the renowned author wrote that it is about “subject tribes” rebelling against “master tribes.”

There are many who would accept federalism if it were expressed in that way. But it is the insistence of the Aquino government to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro without amending the 1987 Constitution that stand in the way. 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.  Any amendment must allow not just the Bangsamoro but other regions to have more say in running their constituencies.

Strangely and 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.

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Federalism or the concept of federalism 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. A friend noted that I may be stretching the issue if I go back that far because Spain did not consider “federalism” in government.

But there is enough evidence to work on through the writings of our heroes.

“It 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.

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

“Through 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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It is strange how history connects with the present with Duterte championing federalism. He was the guest of honor during the launch of two books on Bicol autonomy. So it is not all about Muslim Mindanao. CAB includes other regions to be consistent with the Constitution. That means places like Bicol that will want a similar structure to what will be given to Bangsamoro.

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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 five million or more than 60 percent 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.”

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