Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Federalism: Duterte's Biggest Security Reform?

Photo from Rappler
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

As Rodrigo Duterte prepares for his third annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, cementing his tenure as the 16th Filipino president for the past two years, he aspires to transform the centuries old security system of Asia’s first republic. On 9 July 2018, the official document of the 22-member of the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) to Review the 1987 Constitution entitled, “Power to the People: Bayanihan Federalism, Power to the Regions” labelled as a “draft constitution for a strong, indissoluble republic” has officially been handed to the country’s Chief Executive Officer.

The 110-page draft document consists of 22 articles and a preamble that recommends the creation of 17 federated regions plus the National Capital Region (17 + 1). Apparently it is seen as politically feasible and economically viable that opens “opt-in or opt-out” provisions based from its proximity of a thorough cultural integration and clever political consolidation. Summing it up, the Con-Com proposes a federal-presidential form of government with 18 federated regions including the autonomous Bangsamoro and Cordillera administrative regions.

The firebrand Southeast Asian leader establishes another controversial security platform on federalism which he has been advocating since his presidential election in 2016 as the archipelagic country prepares for the mid-year election next year. If things take place at the right time, Duterte’s proposal to federate the Philippines will become his biggest political reform after his internationally-debated banner policies on the country’s Independent Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs.

Digesting on the newest document, what are the important provisions that may baffle the country’s national interest? How will the Filipino people perceive this constitutional change? Will the Philippines succeed in drawing a feasible politics and viable economics to brighten the country’s chances to improve its national security?  

The assertion of key phrases to “build a permanent and indissoluble nation” and strong words on “progressive society” on its preamble reaffirm the commitment of the Philippines of its singularity and independence as a nation-state aimed at advancing its own national interest to attain prosperity and inclusivity under a Federal Republic of the Philippines.

Sections 1 and 2 of Article 1 on National Territory clearly assert the archipelagic nation’s sovereignty over its territory through its baselines, territorial sea and airspace. It also contextualizes the landmark case of the Philippines at The Hague on its rights “over islands and features outside its archipelagic baselines pursuant to the laws of the Federal Republic, the law of nations, and the judgments of competent international courts or tribunals.” It also underlies the significance of the Philippine Rise or Benham Rise in which the underwater plateau has no scintilla of ownership dispute. 

Section 6 on State Policies of the Draft Constitution explicitly expressed that, “the Federal Republic shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In establishing relations with other states, its paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.” At the infancy of Duterte’s presidency, his general guiding principles of independent foreign policy was unclearly spelled out that misguided the interpretation of the international community as he directed his volatile strategic pivot to China, and defense diversification to emerging military prowess of Russia and India; but only to rely on to US counterterrorism measures to free Marawi City from ISIS-inspired local and foreign terrorists.

Furthermore, Duterte’s state visits to non-traditional partners laid down his changing and evolving independent foreign policy to shed some light on his ambiguous external policy propounded by the vulnerability of the regional security. Although his stint of hosting the golden anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit last year proved his [un]diplomatic skills to elucidate his game-changing overseas policy beyond the resolution of the South China Sea conundrum.

Last May 15, 2018 the bicameral houses of Congress approved the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which aimed at installing a Bangsamoro political entity in place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that appears to be a federated region itself in the proposed Philippines’ Federal Republic to grant a wider self-rule to predominantly Muslims in southern Philippines. It was argued by Filipino legislators and intellectuals that federalism initiatives and the BBL are not mutually exclusive. Albeit the law was passed as one of the requirements under the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 under former president Benigno Aquino III, which the current president Rodrigo Duterte, contentiously deemed would heal the historical injustices suffered by his fellows from Mindanao.

On its bid to shift to federal form of government, recent polls by the Pulse Asia showed that Filipinos’ perception on federalism remains low with 32 percent of respondents said they were open to Charter Change, the same percentage to those opposing it. Only 23 percent of Filipinos approved the Constitutional Change, although Con-Com members believed this perception will still change after President Duterte delivers his third SONA on July 23. In the end, federalism will certainly become Duterte’s tidal wave on political reform despite ambiguities and clarifications over his open-ended defense and security policies. In essence, the proposed Federal Constitution declares his ambitious clout of the federal government’s control over the armed forces, national police force, foreign relations and finance.

Ultimately, reforms should not start and end at structures and forms. We should also have to contend with the feasibility of pushing this forward. What may be lacking is the wherewithal to proceed and put these needed reforms in place. For now we have to be on the lookout for opportunities for reform; or perhaps, the better option is to create this opportunity and push for reforms.