Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Just like a pernicious, malevolent, and virulent strain of cancerous cells, another call for Charter Change has been coming out of the woodwork of Philippine politics. For this round, the protracted deadlock in peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is being used as the dangling “bait” to the Filipino People. Where before the proponents for Charter Change were all from the Majority Party, this time there are additional proponents from the ranks of the Minority Party. One can not help but suspect that there could be “Trojan Horses” in the Opposition.

The pitch is anchored on the “federal system being the only feasible solution to the centuries-old rebellion in Mindanao” as contained in a recent press release from no less than the Office of the Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Nene” Q. Pimentel, Jr. Subsequently, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced that the government is prepared to discuss the federalism proposal when the peace talks resume. And as if pushing the stakes higher, Pimentel even warned that the peace talks should not be derailed and delayed any longer in view of the increasing restiveness among the ranks of Muslim rebels which may lead to the revival of the separatist war. Joining the bandwagon is a well-known staunch proponent of the concept of “Federalism” since the early ‘70s, Dr. Jose B. Abueva, U.P. Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Public Administration and former Chairman of the 2005 Consultative Commission on Charter Change.

Pimentel said a federal system setup will put an end to the recurrent Muslim secessionist conflict because it will not only give the people in Muslim Mindanao a measure of self-rule but will also enable them to assert and preserve their cultural identity, specially their Islamic faith and way of life. He said that the creation of a Bangsa Moro Federal State is the collective wish of the Muslims in Mindanao which was conveyed to him through conversations he had with practically all the known Muslim rebel leaders, their ulamas, and their business, academic and youth leaders. “To a man, they prefer the establishment of a Bangsa Moro Federal State over the autonomous region. Otherwise, the threat of secession still hangs in the air as the ultimate way of out of the Moros of the predicament they find themselves in.”

In concert, Dr. Abueva declared “And I respectfully appeal to all local government leaders and the legislators to seize the moment for transforming our highly centralized and stultifying unitary system into a devolved structure of autonomous regions that will release the creativity and energies of local leaders and citizens all over the country. Mindanao, the cradle of regional autonomy and federalism, has a historic opportunity to lead our country in regional autonomy and federalism.” In addition, Dr. Abueva is proposing the shift from the presidential government into a “unicameral” parliament.

What the Filipino People should be reminded about is that the Honorable Senator Pimentel was appointed after EDSA ’86 as the Minister of Local Government and Presidential advisor/chief negotiator with the Muslim insurgents in Mindanao. The Filipino People must also remember that he was elected Senator (1987-1992), and he authored the seminal Local Government Code. Rather than listen to his pitch about “Federalism”, the Filipino People should ask the Honorable Senator why he failed to resolve the Muslim insurgency during his stint as Presidential advisor/chief negotiator more than 20 years ago. Most importantly, the Honorable Senator must be asked about the implementation of the Local Government Code with regard to “maximum devolution” of the National Government’s functions, power & authority to all the Local Government Units: province, city, municipality, and barangay.

In the case of Dr. Jose B. Abueva, the Filipino People should remember that he served as the Secretary of the 1971 Consitutional Convention that was responsible and accountable for the 1972 Philippine Constitution that was adopted the Dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. The eminent Dr. Abueva should be expected to recall the deliberations that resulted into neither the adoption of “Federalism” that he had been espousing even at the time, nor the adoption of the “Unicameral” structure for the CONGRESS of the Republic of the Philippines. Most importantly, Dr. Abueva should be reminded that even after 35 years, there has been no significant change in the political landscape that indicates any need for changing the “form” or “structure” to achieve good governance. The real problem remains the same: the issue of moral ascendancy of the “people” in all three (3) branches of the Government of the Philippines – the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary.

With regard to the issue of “greater autonomy” for the “regions”, there is NO need to amend, much less revise the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. All that must be done is for CONGRESS to REVIEW the IMPLEMENTATION of the “Enabling Law” - "Local Government Code of 1991", which was crafted to ensure the “greatest autonomy” possible to all Local Government Units: province, city, municipality and barangay levels.

In Section 2 – Declaration of Policy, the following are stipulated:

(a) It is hereby declared the policy of the State that the territorial and political subdivisions of the State shall enjoy genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more effective partners in the attainment of national goals. Toward this end, the State shall provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure instituted through a system of decentralization whereby local government units shall be given more powers, authority, responsibilities, and resources. The process of decentralization shall proceed from the national government to the local government units.

(b) It is also the policy of the State to ensure the accountability of local government units through the institution of effective mechanisms of recall, initiative and referendum.

(c) It is likewise the policy of the State to require all national agencies and offices to conduct periodic consultations with appropriate local government units, non-governmental and people's organizations, and other concerned sectors of the community before any project or program is implemented in their respective jurisdictions.

What is the basis for the contention that CONGRESS has the OBLIGATION to REVIEW the IMPLEMENTATION of the “Local Government Code of 1991”?

In Book IV – Miscellaneous and Final Provisions, Title Two – Provisions for Implementation:

SECTION 521. Mandatory Review Every Five Years. - Congress shall undertake a mandatory review of this Code at least once every five (5) years and as often as it may deem necessary, with the primary objective of providing a more responsive and accountable local government structure.

Thus, the FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION is “Was the IMPLEMENTATION of the Local Government Code of 1991 reviewed EVERY five (5) years by CONGRESS?

The SECOND question is: What were the FINDINGS/RESULTS of the REVIEW/S that should have been conducted by CONGRESS, if any?

The THIRD question is: What ELSE can be done and therefore must be one in order to ensure the “greatest autonomy” possible to all the Local Government Units – province, city, municipality and barangay levels? The MOST IMPORTANT angle of this question is on the “role” of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Even on just a very cursory or superficial level, there are outright indicators that the DILG has become an abominable mutation: instead of “maximum de-centralization” or “total devolution” to the LGUs, the thrust in implementation has always been to “centralize functions right there in the DILG! Accordingly, it looks like that the only thing that must be done is to DISMANTLE the present DILG, nothing less and nothing more.

At this point, it should be obvious that “Federalism” is just a decoy for something else which is the real agenda for Charter Change: “UNICAMERAL Parliament”.

And this one should not take more than two (2) statements to refute: The pitch for the advantage of a “Unicameral Parliament” is negated right at the outset by the actual proclivities, machinations, maneuverings and manipulations of the legislative process by the current Majority Party in the present BICAMERAL Congress. The long and short of it is: a “UNICAMERAL Parliament” will simply be a “ONE Political Party DICTATORSHIP”.

And the Filipino People already learned the lesson the hard way and so NEVER AGAIN, NEVER AGAIN, NEVER AGAIN!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Badjaos - Sea Gypsies of Planet Earth

The concern/issue regarding the BADJAOS is shared principally among the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and incidentally with any country in the Asia-Pacific region, where this nomadic, motley ethnic group of several closely related indigenous groups, appear suddenly from the sea during a certain month/s, stay for an unpredictable period of time, and just as suddenly, leave for reason/s that are not immediately discernible to the non-Badjaos. The collective quandary or perplexity of the governments of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and virtually all countries in the Asia-Pacific region, where they may appear out of nowhere from the sea, on how to deal properly with the Badjaos lies in the inherent differences between the perspectives of the land-based and those of the sea-based ethnic groups. The fundamental mistake committed by the governments of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, principally among the countries in the Asia-Pacific region, in addressing the concern/issue about the Badjaos is to include the Badjaos among all other indigenous ethnic groups, that are land-based.

Reaching the most equitable, fair, just and humane resolution of the concern/issue should really be easy if only the governments involved in the geo-politics of the Asia-Pacific region will remember and recognize the two (2) basic conditions of the Badjaos. The first condition is with regard to the historical context: the origin of the Badjao ethnic group pre-dates the "modern" nations of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and any other country in the Asia-Pacific region. The second condition should be immediately discernible: land-based territorial concepts are not applicable to the "sea gypsies" who look at their sea-world as "without borders".

With these two (2) basic conditions at the forefront, it should be easy to recognize that there are also two (2) complementary approaches for "managing" the situation. The first approach is contingent on the Badjaos being sea-based, and to respect therefore their inalienable right to "freedom of movement" as inherent in their privilege ["damnation" from the point of view of those who can not fathom the wonders of being a "sea gypsy"] to be treated as "without borders". This should relatively be easy on one hand, since the Philippine Government does not have to impose the perplexing rules and regulations regarding entry and exit at the airports and/or the sea-ports. That fact should spare both the Badjaos and the Philippine government from the possible inanities or insanities that have been occurring in the case of those who have to use passports and/or visas. On the other hand, since the Badjaos do not have the required minimum literacy to read and understand the "road signs" or "land marks" [you have to pardon the language constraints of a land-based communicator, despite the availability of the dictionary and thesaurus, whether virtual or hard copies] commonly used along the coastline of the Philippine Archipelago, it is virtually impossible for the Philippine Government, whether at the National level or LGU levels to "manage" the entry and exit of the Badjaos within the Philippine territorial jurisdiction over 7,107 islands. Interestingly, this phenomenon highlights the gross incapability of both the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy since the time of the Commonwealth Government up to the present illegitimate government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which must be taken up in another expository rambling of a delusional mind, as others seem to perceive the kind of exchanges of ideas among members of PPP - whether the "Movement" or the 'Political Party".

The first approach requires the Philippine Government and its constituents to treat the Badjaos with utmost courtesy and respect, far higher than whatever accorded to those with passports and visas, along the entire coastline of the Philippine Archipelago. At the same time, the Philippine Government has the prerogative to "delimit" or "demarcate" the Badjaos' movement over land. Thus, while the Philippine Government may not prevent the Badjaos from getting inside the Philippine territorial waters, it may designate specific areas, where the Badjaos may disembark.

The second approach is contingent on the frequency and/or duration of the Badjaos' "stay" at any particular site along the entire coastline of the Philippine Archipelago. There are specific locations where they have been living in "communities on stilts", in harmony with the land-based communities since "time immemorial", i.e. no living resident can remember the first time when the Badjaos appeared - instead, the present generation of the land-based were born and became aware that the Badjaos have been there earlier than their last surviving ancestors. Those "communities on stilts" qualify to be treated exactly like the "ancestral lands" of land-based indigenous ethnic groups. The Badjaos' "ancestral coastlines" [the term will suffice until the Honorable Senators and Representatives of the Congress of the Philippines reach agreement of whatever particular term or phrase to adopt instead of the anachronistic term "domain"] must be included as the sea-based counterpart of the "ancestral lands" of land-based indigenous ethnic groups. The only difference will be in recognizing the unique conditions and requirements of the sea-based Badjaos, that's all.

For as long as the Philippine Government will recognize and acknowledge the inalienable human rights of the Badjaos as a distinct sea-based indigenous ethnic group, theoretically there should be no problem with regard to specific legislations, both at the National and Local levels, and specific programs for governance that will be appropriate for the Badjaos, whether to be treated as "Special Citizens of the Republic of the Philippines" or as "Special Guests being Sea Gypsies Without Territorial Limits on Planet Earth". This recognition of the unique inalienable rights of the Badjaos does not preclude therefore the need for specific Amendments in or of Specific Provisions in the 1987 Philipppine Constitution.