Renato Tibon .
“No man ought certainly to be a judge in his own cause, or in any cause in respect to which he has the least interest or bias.” (Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist Papers)
IF federalism were a get-rich-quick schema like the ones that enticed our naive countrymen to invest or “donate,” methinks we would have gotten there earlier with less politics and probably richer, with people’s sovereign hard cash as principal economic engine. I am still perplexed and awed by the sheer volume of money passing hands from investors (middle class and the manipulated poor) to facilitators (field agents and partners) and capitalists (plotters and schemers), “underground” money that were not there when GNP and GDP were reckoned but would have spurred the country’s economy and made a difference if they were put mainstream.
Among the notable list of fraudulent designs which exposed just how “financially blessed” Filipinos actually are, the “Legacy” caper readily comes to mind. This involved legitimate financial institutions and local banks as conduits of an investment scam which offered 20-percent interest compounded annually with promise of double returns after five years. Imagine risk-takers such as those who just received their retirement funds or proceeds from recently sold farms and lots falling for and taken advantage of by fraudsters offering double-your-money tricks. Just recently, a Ponzi-like scheme designed to circumvent legitimate financial transactions and masquerading as religion, came to public knowledge when it was divulged and ordered stopped by no less than the President himself.
After more than two years in operation, it could have extracted hard-earned and otherwise “dormant” money from gullible members, including those of the OFWs’, estimated at about P50 billion to P500 billion. Despite a freeze order, and with the promise of 30- percent interest (a.k.a. gifts or blessings), unperturbed members kept pouring in their “donations” especially at places where the operations received widespread acceptance and are not dependent on mainstream financial institutions to move the money.
In a land where poverty is prevalent, we have to ask, where have all this money been hiding? Who says Filipinos are third-world poor?
For federalism to succeed, autonomous regions would need substantial liquid funds to finance operations of government on top of sound fiscal, administrative and political policies. Federal advocates tell us a sharing of 70/30 would be advantageous to the region that is, only 30 percent goes to the national coffers and 70 percent to finance the development plans of the locality. Would the latter awaken people’s collective interest? This 70 percent comprise of taxes, produce and resources of the region or state. If a fully awakened and committed citizenry would apply and add their own resources just like what Singaporeans did during Lee Kuan Yew’s regime, a Federal Philippines wouldn’t be so difficult to manage.
But of course, there’s the difficulty of convincing people who don’t consider the “greater good” of the community as vital, whose judgments are beclouded by concern for individual financial survival. The 30 percent or so blessings they’re promised to continually receive, up-front and tax-free, would mean financial independence, unmindful of its effects on the over-all health of the economy.
Sadly, we are not as much financially educated as our Asean counterparts and thus, we continue to be laggards in economic development under the same tired, centralized, oligarch-influenced political system. There must be an attractive and compelling reason to persuade people more than knowing their inherent sovereign powers and how they are used for the greater good. Main focus for any federal undertaking would be addressing the most prevalent and elusive of all political concerns: Poverty and social inequality. It has always been every administration’s nightmare.
Despite latest poverty incidence index having slightly dropped, attributed to positive macro-economic decisions fashioned by the present dispensation, yet by no means is there an assurance of continuity of policies that would effectively eradicate this malady once and for all, under an unreformed political system. An unfortunate casualty of this recurring problem would be the country’s second biggest island.
Mindanao is a paradoxical “Land of Promise” judging by the fact that its vast lands produce at least 40 percent of the country’s agricultural output while a considerable number of its people are wallowing at the top of those who are considered poor and hungry-poor. The government’s statistical figures have been rather consistent across the years from the lamented Martial Law regime when crony capitalism flourished up to a succession of mediocre presidencies when oligarchs took back control of economic decisions and directions, showing utter lack of concern to seriously address poverty alleviation. Politicians, local and national took turns at the political pulpit spouting motherhood sermons and promises to eradicate the causes of Filipinos’ misery: Corruption, Inflation, Lack of education, Unemployment, Social Injustice. Their fingers point at their rival’s faults and failures while seemingly unconcerned that the rest of those fingers points right back at them. Perhaps, the appellation should be changed to: “Mindanao: The Land of Politicians’ Unkept Promises”.
This would change if we turn federal. Providentially, we can start with Bangsamoro and the whole of Mindanao as a unified autonomous state. With Cagayan de Oro City and Region 10 in the North and Davao City and Davao provinces in the South as growth centers, the rest of the cities, municipalities and provinces can step up and follow under the concept of subsidiarity where decisions that matter to them are discussed locally and effectively. With people and its “hidden” resources as engines of growth, will our federal dreams materialize finally?
(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute with focus on political technocracy. He holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines.)