After the universal outrage over a lewd dance video in an online show hosted by the discredited communications assistant secretary, the proposed shift to federalism has hit a newer, more substantive and more challenging snag.
At least two members of the President’s official family—economic managers both—have expressed their disagreement to changing the form of government, saying that the federal system will only cause hardship for millions of Filipinos.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said he was absolutely against the proposed federal form as recommended by the Palace-created consultative committee because provisions on revenue and expenditure assignments were unclear.
Meanwhile, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the country is not ready for federalism, adding that it would wreak havoc on our fiscal situation.
In response, a member of the committee, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, wondered whether the Duterte administration had changed direction in pushing for the federal form. Dominguez and Pernia, being Cabinet secretaries, are deemed alter egos of the President.
Palace spokesmen however insisted that the Cabinet remains “united” in its position on federalism—a face-saving claim, of course, given that the Executive Department is expected to speak in one voice on any given issue.
Aquino has called for the ouster of the discordant voices. In a social media post he said Dominguez “was invited repeatedly but he chose not to appear, dispatching instead his underlings who could not or would not provide helpful answers. He should have raised his issues and made his suggestions then.”
Dominguez is making suggestions now, calling for a dialogue to thresh out “ambiguous provisions that could have dire, irreversible economic consequences.”
Independence of mind is always a good trait. Given Dominguez’s and Pernia’s expertise, we know that the concerns they pointed out are valid and important. Making their opinion known is a sign that they have the best interests of the country in mind, regardless of the consequences this might have on their standing in the official family.
But articulating these points in a Senate hearing, or over media, is not the way to register their well-intentioned objections. As we know too well now, it has given rise to controversy that threatens to distract us from asking—and them from answering—the pertinent questions all over again.
Dominguezand Pernia should raise their issues during internal Cabinet meetings and consultations on the draft charter. Their objective, critical positions would surely benefit the cause as these would encourage their colleagues to pay closer attention to the economic implications of a government overhaul. In the end, agreeing with the proposal will not be about whether one is pro- or anti-Duterte. It is about whether there is reasonable likelihood that the changed structure will address the gaps in the present system and eventually redound to the good of Filipinos.
The President and his alter egos should huddle behind closed doors. Debate, argue, question, criticize, disagree with, challenge one another using their respective lenses and fields of expertise.
And then they should arrive at a middle ground, before emerging from behind these doors and presenting a united front on whether federalism would be good for now, or not at all.