OP ED-COLUMN: INTROSPECTIVE – Federalism will not work in RP

 INTROSPECTIVE – Tony Katigbak

How many times have sitting presidents tried to extend their term while in office? This is usually done through some attempt to change the Constitution and remove term limits. In fact, changing the Constitution is par for the course as far as incumbent presidents go and it is always a discussion on the table – one that usually gets shot down because it only seems that those in power want to change it to benefit themselves and not necessarily the people.

I suppose it’s true when they say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, the present occupant of Malacañang (or the former Davao City mayor) is also pushing the idea of changing the 1987 Constitution through a Constituent Assembly. Through this revision he hopes to institute a federal form of government – which according to the president and his people will give more power to the different Philippine provinces and regions.

While, in theory, that sounds like a good idea the problem with a federal form of government right now is that the people are not only ready, but their trust is already beginning to wane. President Duterte got elected by a landslide on the promise that he would bring positive change to the country and make things better for the poor. So far, all he has done is to inspire more violence on the streets, increase prices, and essentially make things harder for the very people that he promised to protect. While a great many of them still want to believe this is all part of some “great plan” – many others are starting to wonder if the president is actually following a roadmap or just playing it by ear.

And the trust of the people is going to be needed if the government really wants to implement Constitutional changes. A recent survey done by SWS and Pulse Asia showed that only about 27% of respondents were aware of what federalism really means – this means roughly 1 in 4 Filipinos. Most are torn about whether they want to support, others are blatantly against it, and most are undecided mainly because they don’t know what it will mean for them. In either case, with these types of numbers I hardly feel a plebiscite will pass with Filipino voters.

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I honestly don’t think this is the best time to shift our form of government. Should the Federal government come to pass that means the current president could be in office until 2030 instead of 2022 when his term will rightfully end. Are we really opening up the door to this? While there are some benefits to a Federal government the cons and the risks far outweigh them at this point and that’s something we need to fully aware of moving forward.

I think that the government needs to realize that there are things that need to be fixed, but that this is not necessarily the way to fix them. One of the things that the president has been quite vocal about since he assumed power was that he did not have the free rein he needed to “fix all the problems” of the country. And that statement right there was a problem in and of itself. If the president feels that he can’t fix, or at the very least, alleviate the current problems of the government within the framework he is given then he had no right to make all the promises he did. His platform seems to hinge on conditions – “I can fix this if I can change the way the government works” or “I can fix this if I can remove checks and balances.” That should not be the case.

Federalism is one idea but it is not the only one. And it is definitely not the “silver bullet” to fix all our country’s ills. Right now, if anything and without the proper provisions in place, all it will do is give more power to the dynasties already in power, potentially turn the provinces in fiefdoms, and allow for the president to stay in power much longer than he should. That doesn’t sound like it will solve anything to me.

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I honestly don’t know how much more the country can take in terms of price hikes. These past few months have been ridiculous and the economy just seems to continue to take a beating in 2018. We have the highest prices for gas, electricity, and even basic goods and services now and somehow all of this is still okay? I mentioned before that the poor tend to believe that this is all part of the president’s plan and will somehow work out in the end, but at this point that type of thinking is just foolish and when you read articles about how the peso falling to an all-time low as a currency is not a bad thing, you know that things are turning quite bleak indeed.

Recently senators have been calling for a suspension or, at the very least, review of the TRAIN or Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act that took effect last January as inflation has doubled in just one year. Unfortunately the rising costs of everything affect us all but the ones who are suffering the most are the poor. Even if they believe they are getting taxed less whatever very little additional take home pay they are able to put together can barely cover the costs of meat, electricity, or fuel or transportation.

It’s actually gotten quite ridiculous and you don’t need to go far to see how badly Filipinos are suffering. Food, fuel, and power – the basic necessities of life have all increased exponentially – some doubling just within the first half of 2018 alone. How is this going to lead somewhere positive? Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away.

The government needs to swallow its pride and revisit some of its economic policies before it’s too late. Finding a better way to address inflation and make a positive impact on people’s lives is more important than refusing to budge because that would mean that you may have previously taken a wrong turn. In the end, we’ll all benefit from better and more sound economic policies. / The Philippine Star – July 9, 2018 – 12:00am

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