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Going federal

I have three unions in mind—the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain—which should make it clear that the “federalism” I am thinking of is not a monolithic phenomenon.  In fact, only one of these, the United States, will explicitly identify itself as federal.  But all three are prime examples of unions, born of conflict and struggle, that have achieved political cohesion but must continuously calibrate that delicate balance between national and state or regional power.  In the United States, this balancing act has taken the form quite often of resolving jurisdictional conflicts between conflicting claims of state and federal competence.  In the United Kingdom, Scotland and Wales have, on various occasions, called for greater independence from Westminster. Scots keep their royal regalia—and not as museum pieces only, while the Irish have many times more than just dreamed of a united Ireland, and it is certainly not one over which the Union Jack flutters!  The Madrid Government has always had to wrestle with the Basque problem, but for the Basques, they have always been just that—Basques, with a language nowhere near Spanish and with a culture markedly and stubbornly distinct.

One of the achievements of the Spanish occupation was the cultivation of a sense of nationhood on our part.  We were referred to by the Peninsular Government as “las Filipinas,” and that meant us all: desde Aparri (with profound apologies to Batanes for this literary oversight) hasta Jolo! And those who opposed the Spaniards either through parliamentary means or in the many revolts, rebellions and uprisings that created our pantheon of heroes (and heroines) did so in behalf of “nosotros Filipinos…we Filipinos,” a people. The sultanates of Mindanao were always a reality to contend with, but that did not stop the Spaniards from claiming that their dominion embraced the whole archipelago, the same archipelago that they believed (and rightly, under the precepts of intratemporal law) they had the right to cede to the United States under the Treaty of Paris.

The plans afoot for a change of our Constitution so that we may be a federal Republic goes against the history of those federations that were formed by pre-existing elites that had to yield some of their autonomy and their powers to form a union.  Thus it is that the American Constitution is comparatively brief—because the states of the union were not too willing to give too much to the union.  It is also why the Westminster Parliament treads ever so carefully and testily over matters Scottish, Welsh and Irish for fear of igniting the flames of separation and the sundering of the union.  And that is why “forality” is as much a matter of recondite constitutional law as it is of statesmanship as well as political savvy in Spain, since keeping the kingdom together has always been a test of nerves.  We, for our part, endeavor the federalization of the Republic because a central government does not seem capable of responding promptly, effectively and meaningfully to regional particularities and ethnic sensitivities.  We are, in other words, going the opposite way of the history of other federations.  

And we are not yet clear about our aspirations.  Do we go the full length of federalization—like each component state or region enacting its own codes (not likely)?  Shall we have rather an asymmetrical federal republic (more likely) considering that the need for autonomy in some parts of the country is not as great as in others?  And if it is this that we are after, what progress do we make beyond the present regime of autonomous regions?

The last point should give us pause.  A few years ago, public school teachers and health workers in the ARMM were asked whether they were happier under the ARMM than they were under the national government.  I was aghast that they were unanimous in their clamor: Return us to the national government.  What do we need to do to make our component states or federal regions a more felicitous experience than what the Constitution of 1987 provided?

Preparing then to rewrite our Constitution should not get us completely occupied with the Federalist Papers.  They had to do with how much the states had to give up to achieve a union.  We should be occupied with quite a different concern: How much power to devolve to the regions or to the component states.  And the need for assiduous scholarly study cannot be overstated.  We are not reinventing the wheel, but we are not transposing either into a Filipino key some foreign model wholesale.  It is this judicious, studied balancing of reliance on models as well as the boldness of innovation that calls for more than the popularity of which the ballot is evidence!

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Topics: Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino , Going federal , federalism , United States , United Kingdom , Spain
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