THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Let not federalism conjure feudalism

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/03 March) — A federal system is best instituted where people are already conditioned for autonomy and have actual, hands-on experience of self-government. And it’s not wise to entrust the shift to a federal system to vested interests—especially to those who presume they will then become the federal leaders.

To indulge such presumptuous attitude/motive would be a sure way to marginalize the role of the people under a federal system. It’s bad enough that governance in our society is flawed by a paternalistic attitude, where officials refer to themselves as “Ama ng Lungsod” or “Ama ng Bayan.”

Posturing as a father figure for adult constituents is a mis-characterization that runs counter to the democratic concept of an elected official as a “public servant.”

Traditional politicians (trapos) resort to such characterization as a semantic trick that transmogrifies “servant” to mean “father”—a term analogous to “master,” as in “Lord and Master of the Manor.” Doing so, the servant becomes the Master, presto!


This paternalistic view of governing like a patriarch explains the utter lack of self-consciousness or embarrassment in officials who refer to themselves that way.

In fact, it betrays their insincerity—addressing the people as their “Boss” knowing very well that THEY are the de facto bosses! How else would they dare to take liberties with the power and resources entrusted to them except by doing it like a father or household head does?

The irony is, our citizens don’t seem to mind being characterized as children. For instance, no one questioned the foolishness of a President Erap who, claiming to be “Ama ng Bayan,” declared total war against his children!—which Muslim Filipinos supposedly were.

The dominance of such traditional politicos (trapos) on all levels of government should warn us that neither autonomy nor federalism would be served by having them lead the federal movement. It will just make them more powerful, abusive, and self-indulgent.


If we must federalize, let the officials work on empowering people first—meaning, effectively enfranchised—so they can counter-balance the ways of officials grown spoiled from lack of citizen oversight with an assertive brand of sovereignty. Otherwise, there will be no end to the excesses of ego-tripping, feudal-minded leaders.

It does not help that our bureaucracy takes care of its own only. Year after year, it invests on expensive seminars, workshops, and junkets to further capacitate the officials, honing their knowledge and expertise, enabling them to devise imaginative ways of circumventing the law, and be further entrenched.

This has served to multiply the ranks of scofflaws and grafters who exploit and deepen the bureaucracy’s culture of corruption and impunity.

For the citizenry, no information seminar, no orientation on their powers and role in what is supposed to be a government of the people and by the people. Thus, as constituents and sovereign citizens, Filipinos are largely ignorant and apathetic, helpless in the face of official abuse. Some might complain, but they’re no match against power and money, much of it illegally used, wielded by trapos.


In their helplessness, they cannot provide the checks and balances they are meant to perform, not even in their immediate government, their barangay. It is this state of ignorance and incapacity that hampers the realization of local autonomy and self-government.

And so the essential condition required for an effective federal system—an informed and assertive citizenry—does not exist.

Comes now the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), demanding self-government. One wonders where in their claimed territory exists a community or barangay with empowered people—meaning, a constituency that participates in decisions affecting their lives and living arrangements.

It begs the question because autonomy in a region dominated by leaders notorious for their feudal attitudes and practices seems incongruous. Can Bangsamoro constituents rein-in the warlords so they will enjoy the blessings of freedom, democracy, and non-violence? Will they be a community—free, peaceful, and democratic—where coercion, intimidation, or fire-power will not be the arbiter of debate or dispute?


These are legitimate questions in a region notorious for trashing democratic processes and where, as in Ampatuan, one can get buried by a back-hoe for defying presumptuous oligarchs and warlords. Will Bangsamoro dare to speak out or register and vote freely and independently?

In light of this, now would be a good time to check the status of operations of the 2,500 or so barangay governments in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), viewing them through the lens of good governance (transparent, accountable, responsive), and empower their inhabitants once and for all in anticipation of the Bangsamoro takeover.

It’s time they learn to behave like the sovereign citizens that they are, to start taking responsibility for the conduct of their government, to abjure feudal governance, and to reject trapo leadership.   –30–

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]