THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Make autonomy operative first before going federal

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/27 Feb) — Federalism should not be viewed as a panacea for our problems in politics and government. Shifting to a federal system can also be a ploy of entrenched traditional politicians (trapos) to expand and prolong their de facto “franchise” on politics indefinitely.

Under present circumstances, any change is not likely to reform the system for the better. Traditional politicians (trapos) and their dynasties are in power in 90% of our localities, not to mention the national government. We are a trapo-dominated society.

To let the trapos tamper with the system is a sure way to strengthen their stranglehold on it. It will make them and their dynasties virtually impossible to remove or replace.

And we must be wary of leaders with autocratic or strong-arm styles of governing. They will weaken our democracy further, perpetuate mendicancy and dependency in our sheep-like electorate, and make a travesty of equal opportunity. The only thing that will be strengthened will be their hammerlock on politics and the economy.


What our society needs are empowering leaders and statesmen—people who are motivated to awaken and strengthen People Power in every community, who are not greedy or monopolistic, and who lead edifying lives, lives that enhance nobility of purpose and idealism.

Thus we must be discriminating about whom to follow and what ideas and ideals to support, making sure we don’t fall for demagogues and snake-oil peddlers. Too many good intentions are laid waste by excessive ambition, political greed, and corruption.

Today many people who advocate for federalism don’t really know what they’re talking about. They’re attracted to its seeming novelty, but in fact they have only a vague notion of it.

They don’t even know that autonomy is the basic foundation for a federal system—where people actually have a say in the affairs of government, with manifest assertiveness, and where government officials know their role as “public servants” and behave accordingly.


We must first work to exemplify local autonomy to ensure that the empowerment of the people comes first before the enthronement of ambitious leaders in federal positions.

Mindanaons must be wary about indulging the desires of over-ambitious leaders posing as our champions and advocates. They may be out to satisfy their bloated egos only, by acquiring larger territories and expanded political domains to rule and dominate.

The acquisition of power and privilege is but a political game for such leaders; hardly anything to do with public service or nation-building.

Democracy and the public service are not served by the ambitions of such people, nor are the citizenry’s welfare and morale.


It cannot be helped, however, that there are constituencies that actually crave the leadership of imperious or bullying leaders. It is a false sense of security, more like the secure feeling of a weakling who takes shelter under a strongman’s umbrella and thrives on his patronage.

On the other hand, there are leaders who think they have so grown in stature and importance that the small scale of power and privilege they enjoy in their towns, cities, or provinces no longer fit them, and thus aspire to larger jurisdictions that are, in effect, empires disguised as “federal states.” They should be eschewed, ostracized even, for they will not dignify People Power or sovereignty in a democratic society.

Leaders known to be autocratic and presumptuous in behavior—as if superior in outlook, breeding, or ability—should be eschewed and put in their proper place: in the servants’ quarter of the House of Democracy where sovereign citizens are the masters.

Although we cannot begrudge their ambition, but we must subject it to scrutiny and apply the proper standards of public service in vetting them.


Ambition, Cassius said of Julius Caesar’s dream of empire, must be made of sterner stuff. Let us be stern and exacting in humoring the ambitions of our leaders. Let them not presume on public approval for what they desire.

As for federalism, let us insist that they first lay the foundation for it—by establishing a regime of true local autonomy in their jurisdictions. They must make of every community or barangay a bastion of People Power by activating its mechanisms for involving the people in its direct democracy with its unique form of parliamentary governance.

This regime for local autonomy is already provided for by R.A. 7160 (The Local Government Code of 1991). But its operation has been flawed by general ignorance and the outdated attitudes and practices of the dominant trapos.

Most if not all trapos seem unaware of the changes wrought by the Code, or simply ignore them, causing our political system to be dysfunctional.


Sometimes the dysfunctions spring from the failure of the Department of the Interior and Local Governments (DILG)—and other institutions and agencies—to explain the Code’s provisions and their larger implications.

As Reuben Canoy, long-time commentator and respected pundit of Cagayan de Oro, keeps saying: “Ang lungsod nga nasayud maoy makahatag kusog sa atong demokrasya; ang lungsod nga mapasagaron maoy makapukan sa atong kagawasan.” An informed citizenry makes democracy strong; a neglectful one undermines our liberty and freedom.

It doesn’t seem to strike anyone—in government or in the private sector—that we do have an ill-informed citizenry; that no one and no agency bothers to orientate constituents about their role and function in government.

There are seminars and workshops galore for government officials, as if they alone are responsible for governance at any level. But none are conducted for the people or the constituency—who alone can impose the standards of good governance and hold officials to task for wrongdoing.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. An author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor ofGising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]