DAVAO CITY – The Mindanao Leaders’ Summit on Federalism held last Monday at the Grand Men Seng Hotel gathered some 100 Mindanao political and sectoral leaders supporting the call for a change to a federal system of government.
Calling the current presidential form of government “a failure”, “inefficient”, and “morally bankrupt”, participants shared federalism could be an option to address poverty and effective governance.
The summit participants were a mix of Mindanao leaders including incumbent and former mayors and governors, a retired bishop, a former military rebel turned lumad advocate, Moro and indigenous peoples political leaders, academe and lawyers.
Davao Bishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, governors Jose Zubiri (Bukidnon) and Claude Bautista (Davao del Sur), former North Cotabato Governor Manny Piñol, 1BAP Partylist Representative Silvestre Bello III, former Presidential Advisers for Mindanao Paul Dominguez and Jesus Dureza were among the notable personalities who support the call for federalism.
The event also drew political leaders from Luzon including former Tarlac Governor Tingting Cojuangco; retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon; retired Philippine National Police Chief and former Zambales Governor Hermogenes Ebdane; former Cebu Mayor Tommy Osmeña; and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption chair and Bicol Autonomy Movement convener Dante Jimenez.
They said the call for federalism must be further studied and pushed through a national movement to gain ground.
The summit organizers, Mindanao Council of Leaders, said the gathering is the “groundswell” that they have been looking for to push the call for federalism.
Former Cagayan de Oro Mayor and long-time federalism advocate Reuben Canoy described the current unitary government as “a legacy of colonialism, whose centralized power suppresses democratic governance, thwarts local development and impedes nationalist progress.”
The 86-year old advocate said the country’s current problems of corruption can be blamed on a “unitary system” where the “concentration of power lays itself open to abuse or misuse by a few at the expense of the many, resulting in political and economic imbalance and injustice.”
He pointed out that national government siphons much of region’s revenues from its economic activities at 70% and gives back only 30% back to the regions.
He said under the federal government, this will be reversed.
“Federalism will do away with this oppressive practice…. the local governments would receive 70% of all their revenues and remit only 30% to Manila,” Canoy said.
Canoy said federalism can make people “active participants instead of passive recipients, citizens rather than subjects.” He explained that this system can make local governments fit policies and programs according to the communities they served.
“The policies and available resources of the government can be tailored to fit the problems and needs of the community. Each region will determine its own taxes and these will be based on the economic level of each area. Each will set its own budget, administer its own funds and manage its own infrastructure projects and essential services – with no strings attached,” Canoy explained.
Former Cebu Mayor Tommy Osmeña also shared his observation that top-heavy bureaucracy impede the services in the regions.
“70% of the national budget is in the payroll. Most employees in the government agencies are in Metro Manila. Many don’t want to be assigned in a far-away town or in a city like Cebu or Davao,” he pointed out.
Osmeña said more government workers and budget should be put out in the countryside. “That would be P 1-trillion going into the countryside,” he said.
Moro leaders also expressed support for federalism to address the issue of Moro self-determination.
Attorney Randolph Parcasio, chief negotiator for the Moro National Liberation Front on the Tripartite Review on the GPH-MNLF Peace Agreement, said the MNLF’s original aspiration was a federalist Mindanao that could grant self-determination for the Bangsamoro people.
Professor Moner Bajunaid, executive secretary of the National Ulama Conference, said his group One People Mindanao, advocated for federalism inspired by Canoy’s work since the late 1960s.
Bajunaid said “the present government is a failed government”, alluding to President Benigno Aquino III’s speech declaring the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao “a failed experiment”.
Berino Mamboo, Davao City Council’s Indigenous Peoples Representative, said a federalist form of government would address their issues of ancestral domain and social services.
“If the governance is localized, we lumads can be given priority,” he said. “Because our concern is the support for our health and education is not enough. We have an Ancestral Domain title given by P-Noy, but it’s just paper, and it has no budget.”
Former Colonel Alexander Noble, who is now an honorary leader of the Higaonon indigenous peoples in Northern Mindanao, said they are pushing for a Lumad Autonomous Region that needs more support perhaps from a federal form of government.
The summit ended with a talk by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte saying the ground for federalism came up with the issue of the Bangsamoro Basic Law crafted by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
He said Mindanao problems such as the Moro people’s struggle have been misunderstood or neglected by the national government, as he raised fears that if the BBL fails to pass Congress, another round of armed conflict may arise.
“If you give this to Bangsamoro, look, other regions would say why not us? Why not the Cordillera Autonomous Region? Why not Bicol?” he asked.
“The fundamental error in all these years by Imperial Manila, is that they did not learn about the cultural tendencies of Mindanao,” Duterte added.
He scored the government’s “parochial approach” in handling Nur Misuari when they gave the Muslim leader leadership of ARMM without addressing other leaders from various Moro groups.
Duterte also explained later in a post-summit press conference that if the government granted greater revenue sharing for the new Bangsamoro territory, this opened up talks from other regions.
Duterte also blamed the unitary form of government for taking much of the Mindanao’s revenues in exports and giving back only “a fourth of our share to the national economy.”
“54% of the national exports come from Mindanao. But it’s the national (government) who gets the money; it’s never a fair distribution. We hang in the balance because our money is given to a favored few,” he said.
The mayor said the time is now to address Mindanao’s problems.
“Either we solve this now or we leave it to our children. I don’t know who has the guts for it,” he said.
The mayor shot down calls among participants for him to run for the presidency in 2016 and afterwards push for federalism.
“I don’t have the money. I do not covet this. If God would put me there, I would pity God for doing that,” he said.
Instead, Duterte said one he would bring this agenda through allies in the House of Representatives who are proposing for another round of amendments to the Constitution.
“If they’re opening a ConCon (Constitutional Convention), I might as well push for federalism,” he said.
Duterte said the movement needs a “groundswell” to gain ground in Mindanao and other regions.
Canoy told Davao Today that the movement has already that groundswell as he pointed to the participants in the summit.
He also said their movement has gained support in Mindanao regions as well as in Cebu, Bohol and Southern Leyte. The movement will also be going to Bicol on December and Cagayan de Oro by January 2015. (Tyrone A. Velez/davaotoday.com)