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Federalism in a society of oligarchs?

Manny Valdehuesa .

LIKE a new year’s resolution, a constitution is only as good as the deeds people do to fulfill its mandates. No matter how well-crafted it may be, it can do little good if the people or their officials do not act out its precepts, intents, or purposes.

Comes now the question: What happens if congress succeeds in forcing Charter Change to be enacted along with the shift to the federal form of government?

The answer: Not much, really; not especially at the local level—and more so in constituencies that are in the grip of political dynasties and autocrats with imperious pretensions.

Going federal now will simply place the same oligarchs who control power today into more secure positions of control tomorrow. In other words, today’s traditional politicians (trapos) will be tomorrow’s lords of the federal states.

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As long as politics remain captive of the trapos, reform, like democracy, will be nothing more than a pipedream. Government will behave and perform the same as today.

The officials—whom we like to think are “public servants”—will still behave like masters; their constituents, mere spectators and puppets manipulated by patronage. Didn’t Rizal warn that the rulers of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?

Consider today’s power structure. Look into the future. Is there any chance that a Duterte or any oligarch would ever yield to anyone outside their dynasty or without their approval and support?

Oh, some may fall off the wagon like Pantaleon Alvarez did, or be cut off from the dynastic line, but those who replace them will come from the same mold, supported and financed from the spoils of power, playing the same Game-of-Trapos.

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At best, a federal system under present conditions will be cosmetic, not substantive. People will remain minimally involved in government, and actual control will be with those in power.

Even now, one can already imagine them, mouths watering, full of anticipation at the prospect of holding sway over larger, gerrymandered territories. Their control of barangay, municipality, city, or province will be even tighter.

Filipinos should be realistic: in politics, few aspirants can be trusted or relied upon—sapagkat sila’y tao lamang. They’re only human; power is irresistible; and politics is all about power.

Something about power transmogrifies otherwise ordinary people into greedy oligarchs and imperious rulers. Like the siren song of Greek mythology, it is irresistible, and its embrace is fatal to ordinary mortals.

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Only people with extraordinary character and firm principles can resist the lure of power and its benefits.

That’s why it’s important that political office is sought within the context of a party system, to seek power within the framework of a shared platform, philosophy, or ideology.

Members of the political party commit to a set of goals, objectives, and ideals that seek to improve quality of life and justice for all.

Each party member is bound by this commitment as an individual and as a member of the group. His membership, binds him to support similarly committed aspirants who also assure him of their support. Their common bond tempers possible excesses by members and protects the integrity of their platform. It solidifies group loyalty to the common cause.

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Party membership provides togetherness of kindred ideas, ideals, and aspirations—which form the basis for the electorate to anoint or reject it in the polls.

If the party is victorious, its members, individually and collectively, are deemed to have entered into a social contract with the community. Each one may perform a different role but performs it in coordination and harmony with one another, democratically, consensually, and in accordance with their social contract.

But if the party is dominated, manipulated, or dictated upon by one person or a clique, it is not a bona fide party, but a mere oligarchy. And this, I’m afraid, is the ugly reality of our so-called party system today.

Hence it is doubtful whether a genuine federal system will take root and thrive under these circumstances. Not in a society of oligarchs, dynasties, and thoroughly traditional, self-serving politicos. And certainly not where one person and others he designates call the shots— and any dissenter could get shot!

 

(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN;  vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, government peace panel during the administration of Corazon Aquino; awardee, PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist. An author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail: valdehuesa@gmail.com)

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