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Is federalism now passé?

December 11, 2019 - Wednesday 4:12 AM by Atty. Jamil Matalam

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During the early years of the Duterte Presidency, federalism was a buzz word around the country. I saw different groups having different concepts of a federal Philippine republic. There were even different conferences in different parts of the country talking about federalism. Nur Misuari went on to make a threat of war if the Philippines will not shift to a federal form of government. Mocha Uson and that other guy joked about a jingle for promoting federalism. A federal political party was also formed and registered. Yet most recently, there has been no word about it. Has the clamor for federalism died?

Part of the lessons in philosophy classes in prestigious universities in the country is Plato’s allegory of the cave. In this lesson, one of the important things we have to learn is to distinguish between reality and illusion, or truth and falsity. Truths are absolute and unchanging; falsities are relative and changing. The test of truthfulness is to remain despite changes. Simply, it means that truth will prevail and falsity will just go away. False things pass away. The truthful ones remain.

I do not want to pass judgment here but it suggest that those who have been voicing federalism and are now we do not know where, coming from Plato’s lessons, are not true about it. It was just a bandwagon they had to join. It was an attractive, for some lucrative, thing to be or to do at that time. But today it seems not so popular anymore, and now they all got tired about that thing then called federalism. The fervor for federalism died and with it a possibly gloomy prospect for the idea of federalism in the future.

Federalism is an idea and therefore it cannot be false. But as an idea it can only materialize if men and women, work for its realization. The problem is that those who were loud and outspoken about it were not true. They were not carrying out the idea but were only there for themselves, that is, to cash in on it. For them it was not really federalism in the first place, it was themselves. They used federalism as facade for patriotism, but in truth the intention was to promote themselves.

Most of them were not really knowledgeable about federalism. They were only a few who really knew the concept, yet the outspoken ones were not the ones who are well versed with federalism. Most of them think that speaking strongly and loudly is argumentation, and think that correctness is a matter of strength. But because of their lack of knowledge their push for the idea was limited. And so now, here we are, with no significant gain for federalism.

But does this mean that the truth is the current governmental set-up we have; a unitary form of government? Definitely, no. It only means it is the status quo, it had a headstart and, therefore, it is difficult to change. More difficult if those that are noisy and loud about federalism are not really true. They were only there for the immediate advantage they will get. Now that the benefits have been reaped, there is no reason to be loud anymore. But for those who have not reaped the benefits, the more reason not to budge an inch about it. For them it is now useless.

The true federalists have always been there even before President Duterte. But they have not capitalized well with the President’s support for federalism. They were overwhelmed by the zealousness of those who were only there to take advantage. The latter also gave their conferences, competing with the ideas of the former. Several versions of a federal Philippines circulated around the country, confusing instead of enlightening the Filipinos. Suddenly, there were so many experts about federalism that most of us do not know which one to take. It diluted so much the concept of federalism that it has lost its appeal to the young and curious.

True advocates of federalism now have to double their efforts to regain foothold in the attempt to change the Philippines into a federal republic. The use of federalism as banner in political propaganda has tarnished sincere efforts to promote federalism. People have associated federalism with political promises or bluffs. Politicians knew well not to bluff twice, and therefore will unlikely consider federalism as central to their political platforms. Federalist parties will not have many followers as well for the same reason.

By now, the true federalists should have learned their lessons that using populism to promote an idea will most likely not endure. It will pass away. Either they find a way to promote federalism in the political arena once more or they have to find the solution elsewhere. Otherwise, they should consider federalism now as a passé. Or maybe just a wonderful dream.