COMMENTARY: Chacha under Noynoy: Moving the Philippines Forward with Decentralization. By Datu Ismael Mastura

(Speech delivered by Maguindanao Vice Governor-Elect Datu Ismael Mastura before the Civil Society and NGO community forum, “Sindaw sa Kalilintad” (Light of Peace) held on June 22 at Tamontaka, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao).

The West often divides society along three lines namely: government, business and civil society. Whereas Islam divides it under four (4) groups namely: the traditional/political class, the rich, the religious leaders/ulama and the masses. This is where I’m coming from, this is how I view how government’s approach should be to the problems besetting the Philippines today.

I was off to Hajj when the family decided to make me join politics again. For those in the know, our family was one of the first to fight Maguindanao governance under Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. My uncle Sultan Kudarat Mayor Datu Tucao Mastura ran for governor in the defunct Shariff Kabunsuan Province (SKP). I was then with him as board member. To cut the story short, we won but lost the province when SKP was abolished by the Supreme Court.

Hence, although I come from a family of politicians my father former Maguindanao Representative Datu Michael Mastura being a “Cory congressman,” I tend to view politics from an academician’s point of view: what should be the ideal.

And mind you where it not for Comelec’s Automated Election System (AES) people like me who are not into the ‘wheelin and dealin’ mould would not even have a chance.

The AES, elections, this is the reform side of government. In political science circles when we talk of change, it involves two ideas: a change in people and a change in the system/government structure or the way things are done.

We must talk of a permanent systems change and not leader dependent as elections tend to come and go. There must be reforms to the system an example of which is Manila-Cotabato City relations. The floods in my town an example of callousness/apathy of Manila people benefitting from our misery-“project na namang pagkikitaan.”

Logging companies which are the real cause of these disasters are often untouchables because “malakas sa Maynila.” This centralist system only benefits the rich and the powerful with the adage “malakas sa Manila, malakas dito.”

When Ehvoy Villareal came to me three days ago, I already told him of my point of view on government’s approach to problems: which are often programs-based which in turn is funding/leader-based resulting in non permanent solutions.

Central governments relations with the LGUs/people must be changed further rather than people change. In a systems change, things will run the way it is intended to and not based on funding agencies’ concerns (which government and NGOs alike follow their agenda).

Kaya kayong mga NGOs, go for permanent, felt change not programs-based, funding-based intervention. Total, not part, Don Quixotic change.

Being an NGO person, I have to say that NGO culture is sometimes weird. But that’s beside the point here – the point is how they influence government in the funding side of it leading to exploitative policies based on their interests.

This is also the reason why big business is influential; because of its money. That is why we must look at society in terms of these four groups of people who have rights to government. In the current system, it is the politicians and rich who benefit from the system, leaving the two other groups (religious leaders and the masses) to fend for themselves i.e. going abroad is an example.

This cannot go on.

Seeds of rebellion are already being felt. That is why to move the Philippines forward, we need a new relationship with Manila. Federalism through Chacha (Charter Change).

There is a saying in political science circles “as the world globalizes, the people localize”- the term meaning local concerns tend to be raised in a globalised world i.e. RSD (Right to Self Determination).

This now takes us to the Noynoy Presidency. Perhaps the NGOs here can convince the president –elect to finally have charter change to push for Federalism. It is a win-win solution. It will break off centrist Manila and even the culture of impunity which Datu Andal Ampatuan represented in which he was warlord of Maguindanao – virtually untouchable and therefore unaccountable to the people of which politicians like us should represent (vis-a-vis self interest).

This Manila-centric arrangement creates a situation wherein all important decisions (which affect the local populace) are made by uncaring apathetic bureaucrats: case in point, the floods in Maguindanao needs Manila attention and help but wherein funding and decisions are made by Manila bureaucrats.

Rome was destroyed as result of this centralist system. It creates a culture of impunity for local officials who collude with security forces and therefore however unpopular a moneyed politician he can still win by “having a general in his pocket.”

Winning by (security forces) alienating voters and having the polling stations to themselves (to be voted by just a few persons). In a nutshell, it is the powerful and the rich who benefit the most from the current system (no accountability).

I remember my visitors saying that as NGOs their covenant with president elect Noynoy is social accountability, poverty reduction and good governance. Let me add to their agenda: Federalism for the Philippines. It is a systemic solution encompassing those three objectives rather than programs-based interventions only.

With Noynoy, having such a large mandate we hope this will give him the courage to push for Chacha and Federalism making a lasting change in the Philippines. One becomes President only once in a lifetime after all. If his mother, the late president Corazon Aquino is known for democracy in the Philippines, let Federalism be Noynoy’s legacy to the Filipino people.

As for our good governance with Governor-Elect Toto Mangudadatu, with the province’s limited resources we have promised the people of Maguindanao an education program and health program. This is coupled with a reconciliatory agenda for Maguindanao’s leaders and the usual infrastructure build up for investors. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ismael “Dustin” Veloso Mastura is the vice governor-elect of Maguindanao. He defeated Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr.)