Finding an orderly transition
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2020 - 12:00am

I hear Filipinos say they don’t want to shift from a unitary presidential system to a parliamentary federal system because they do not understand what the change would mean. At the same time they also admit that the opposition will not do if it takes over.

I remember at one time a student researcher visited me to ask why Filipinos overwhelming voted yes to the 1987 Constitution. A survey group said that a few months after when they asked the same people why they did, they said they didn’t know.

So constitutional change is not about a great majority understanding constitutional change. They are apolitical and leave it to leaders and those who understand it to lead them.

The people overwhelmingly voted for the Cory Constitution because it was presented as a symbol of change after the so-called peaceful EDSA revolution.

I did not see the student again but after the discussion we agreed that the voters were led by the EDSA event even if they did not understand the Cory Constitution they were voting for.

This column believes that it may be more useful to present constitutional change as the answers to questions and problems that the unitary presidential system we have developed, i.e. a rampaging drug problem, corruption, etc. etc. President Duterte has done the best he can to solve these problems within the framework of the flawed Cory Constitution and the system and structure of government it has engendered.

It is well known that there are more than 25 countries in the world today that have federal systems of government. That means more than 40 percent of the world are governed by a federal system in one form or another. Together they represent 40 percent of the world’s population.

These include some of the largest and most complex democracies – India, the USA, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland and Canada. But of these countries the most successful is Switzerland.

Federalism is a concept and a system of government. It means different things to different peoples. I began to accept it when federalists explained to me that as a concept it should be understood as freedom.

It poses problems when it is defined as a system of government because it divides countries to ethnic, political or religious groups. Many will tell you it is not possible. Precisely because of these differences.

And yet, historically, most federations have come together as separate entities. A good example are the 13 colonies in North America or the 26 cantons of Switzerland that came together to form a federal government. That means “retaining some powers to themselves, but pooling others with the central government.”

There are also unitary countries – such as Spain, Belgium and South Africa – that have adopted federal structures. These maintain a common central government for some purposes while empowering regional governments for other purposes. In many diverse societies, a federal system of government permits recognition of diversities of language, culture, religion and ethnicity and unity of common interests and purpose. It would be the solution to Muslim Mindanao and Christian Luzon that came about because of Western colonization.

Because of our globalizing world, federalism is seen as the way forward, with countries and communities linked together by a common market, communications and networking.

According to political experts, federalism is emerging as the central ethos of an emerging civilization that recognizes both national and sub-national identities and promotes regional and global frameworks for better understanding, coordination and cooperation. “In this sense, the philosophy of federation is transcending much beyond the system of governance to a way of life and civilization in the new millennium.”

The federalists have formed a Forum of Federations. It was started by the Government of Canada in 1999 and currently has eight other partner governments: Australia, Brazil, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria and Switzerland. The Forum builds  to make it possible for experienced federalists to share their knowledge and experience with those who have just become members. As far as I know, the Brussels conference was the first invitation to the Philippines. It was headed by former Speaker Jose de Venecia and senator Aquilino Pimentel.

Most of our problems come from the unitary presidential structure that demands a lot of money supplied by drug lords and large scale corruption. These problems will be mitigated with electing candidates for smaller units in a parliamentary federal system. We have to change the system and structure of government.

President Duterte has tried very hard to solve these problems within the framework of the flawed Cory Constitution. His term will soon end and we should begin to ask the question who will continue the work.

With an incompetent opposition and their ignorant Vice President Robredo, only a shift to parliamentary constitution will do.

But as Liberal opposition Mar Roxas said to The STAR at a press conference – what is a Constitution anyway – it is just a piece of paper. Santa Banana. We will have chaos.

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