Tuesday, July 05, 2005

REPUBLIC OF MINDANAO

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Farewell to the Republic?

By Rene Ezpeleta Bartolo
“Ricochet,” The Mindanao Times

“Let us establish an independent nation in Mindanao,” said Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, on June 12 during his television program “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” “and we will call it the Republic of Mindanao.”

As many times as he was interviewed by local media this past week, Mayor Duterte has made that statement. The predicate of that pronouncement is the on-going political turbulence in Manila, the seat of government.

“Every time they do not like a sitting president,” said Duterte, “people in Manila go to the streets to drive from office the president. They do that on their own without consulting the people of Mindanao and they call it EDSA. I will talk to the Bangsa Moro people to put up our own government in Mindanao. It will be a federal government.”

Many may have thought the Mayor was playing with words, especially because the words were buttered with a smile. I don’t think Duterte was joking. Independence is not a joking matter.

Mayor Duterte is, by his own admission, loyal to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But by the implication of his pronouncements, he is more loyal to the people of Mindanao. If the people in Manila cannot get their acts together, then he will get the people of Mindanao to fashion their own act of nationhood – the Republic of Mindanao.

To the Arroyo government, that may sound like a statement of support (a reiteration of loyalty?) To the people of Mindanao, long relegated to the periphery of nationhood, that sounds more like the dawning of a new day.

Long history

The bid for self-rule for Mindanao – ranging from federalism to outright secession – has a long history. The Muslim separatist movements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and their continuing armed struggle are tragic daily reminders of the Mindanaoans’ desire for self-determination.

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Federal Republic of Mindanao (in rebellion, April 1986)

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4 Oct 1990- 6 Oct 1990 Federal Republic of Mindanao (in rebellion)
(These two photos researched by Dylan Yap Gozum; source: The Philippines

The persistent prejudice of the national government against the island and its people spawned the Mindanao Independence Movement of Ruben Canoy in the early 80s. The movement was silenced after it broke out in the open in Cagayan de Oro, but the feelings remain festering.

Many Mindanaoans continue to believe that the island is better off as a self-governing state. If this is not realized through federalism, then let it be by the dismemberment of the Republic.

To the mind of Duterte: “If you cannot solve your suicidal bickering in the nation’s capital, then we will call our own shots.” That is what his pronouncements say.

Mindanao could have settled for federalism; it still may. This push for federalism was given a pull during the May 2004 presidential campaign when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo promised to work for the federal form of government when elected. For Arroyo, the campaign promise may not have gone beyond vote-baiting but for many in Mindanao, it was a serious promise that should seriously be kept.

This column has always been for a federal form of government. It will always be. At every little chance we get, we fan the federalist fires, so to speak.

Why federalism will work

The Encyclopedia Americana defines “federalism” as the principle according to which two levels of government, general and regional, exist side by side in the state, each possessing certain assigned powers and functions.

The United States of America, from which our own democratic institutions were patterned, has a federal system of government; while ours is unitary which makes all the regions of the country hopelessly dependent on the national government.

Under a federal system, regional governments have assigned powers and functions which the national government cannot arrogate nor usurp; and within the sphere of those powers and functions, the regional government is autonomous and independent from intervention.

The powers of the national government and those of the regional governments are defined and assigned by the Constitution. Under the common concept of federalism, the regional governments operate directly upon the people within its jurisdiction, exercising independence in matters of legislation, taxation and administration. Thus, the regional government has the power to pass laws responsive to the particular needs of the people in the region; impose the necessary taxes; and administer without interference its own internal affairs.

On the other hand, the powers usually assigned to the national government are those of the regulation of commerce, defence, immigration, currency and foreign affairs. It is the national government that ensures that goods from the regions are competitive in the world market; defends the whole country from internal and external aggression; controls the influx of non-citizens; maintains the integrity of the national currency; and enters into treaties abroad.

Federalism is desirable in a country divided by differences in language, religion, culture, tribal origin, social organizations, varying economic interests, or a historical perception of being previously a separate state.

Under a federal system, the regional governments can institute mechanisms to articulate and protect the differences to which value is attached—like religion, culture or language—and ensure that these differences are protected. The most effective of these mechanisms is equal representation in the national legislature.

The federal system is particularly appealing to communities which desire a limited union for limited purposes while maintaining autonomy. That desire to unify for added strength is best seen in the birth of the United States over two centuries ago and in the European Union today.

But really, we can understand why Malacañang is adamant to the federal proposal. Imperial Manila has always taken a hard line against it.

Mindanao props up Manila

Manila is mulcting Mindanao. If Malacañang does not want to cede central control of the islands resources, it is because they do not want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. They do not want to let loose the cow that gives them milk.

But as things are going today, and as Rody Duterte warned, Manila may lose altogether both the goose and the cow.

Consider, dear reader. Mindanao is the richest island in the archipelago. It supplies 40 percent of the food that the country consumes; 80 percent of raw materials and 60 percent of other agricultural products. Manila siphons from Mindanao its very life-blood; a greater part of the island’s income is used to build the infrastructure that makes Manila “premier and capital” city of the nation.

Take away the resources and income from Mindanao and Manila will hardly be able to stand on its feet. Mindanao props Manila up; take away the prop, it falls flat on its face.

Under a federal system, Mindanao will use its own income and resources for its own purposes – the central government will receive a lesser percentage (between 10 to 20 percent for its upkeep, depending on the provisions of a federal constitution). With a Mindanao Republic, they will not get a measly centavo.

We all want peace and prosperity. If they cannot have it in Manila, we want it for Mindanao. We want a nation strong and pushy enough to compete with the rest of the world.

Let our leaders forge a nation of independent, autonomous states that derive strength from their being different; not one that is weakened by a forced, fallacious sense of being the same.

Any presidency that succeeds in creating a federal Philippines during his/her term may yet come out as one of the best presidents of the country by the verdict of history tomorrow.

But if Manila continues with its governmental grip, its sordid scandals, its covered-up corruptions, its dismal failure to lead the nation forward, then it may wake up one day to the reality of a neighboring, and infinitely more prosperous, nation.

The Mindanao Republic.

The author writes a daily column, “Ricochet,” for The Mindanao Times.
www.Cyberdyaryo.com 06/21/05

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