THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Federalism in a society of oligarchs

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/02 May) — What happens if we adopt the federal form of government?

Not much, really; not especially at the local level—and more so in constituencies that seem enamored of political dynasties and strong-arm tactics.

A shift to federal now will simply place the same oligarchs who control power today into more secure positions of control under the federal system tomorrow.

In other words, the same autocrats, oligarchs, and traditional politicians (trapos)—with their political dynasties—will be the lords of the federal system. With politics in captivity, reform will be largely be a pipedream; and government will behave and perform the same as today.

Like a new year’s resolution, a system is only as good as the deeds people do to fulfill its mandates. No matter how well-crafted it may be, it can do little good if the people and officials do not act out its precepts, intents, or purposes.


Thus, if the public servants will still behave like masters and the community or the constituents like spectators and puppets manipulated by patronage, nothing much will change.

Look at the power structure today, do a little projection into the future, and see if there’s any chance that a Binay, a Duterte, a Guingona, or an Angara would ever yield to anyone outside their dynasty or without its approval and support.

Oh, some may fall off the wagon, but chances are those who take their place will come from the same mold, supported and financed by them, and practice the same sort of politics that elevated them and their forbears to power.

At best, the shift to a federal system will be merely cosmetic, not substantial. People will only be minimally involved in government, while actual control will still be with the officials and their dynasties—whose control of the barangay, municipality, city, or province will be even tighter. As Rizal feared if reforms are half-baked and careless: the tyrants of today will be the rulers of tomorrow.

Moreover, in promoting the federal movement, one mustn’t confuse individuals with the system, not especially imperious individuals with a penchant for dominating everything and everyone.

In politics, few individuals can be trusted and relied upon—sapagkat sila’y tao lamang (they’re only human) and politics is all about power.

There’s something about power that transmogrifies ordinary people into greedy oligarchs. Like the siren song of Greek mythology, power is irresistible, and its embrace is fatal to ordinary mortals. About the only ones immune to lust for power and its obsessive appeal are statesmen and leaders with extraordinary character.

This explains why it is important in politics to seek power in the context of a team and within the framework of a common platform, philosophy, or ideology; in other words, through a party.


Members of a bona fide political party are committed to a set of goals and objectives designed to bring about an improved quality of life for all. Each party member is bound by this commitment as an individual and as a member of the group.

In turn, his membership with the group binds him to support everyone and assures him of their support. In the process, they balance each other out, temper the excesses of individual members, and solidify one another’s loyalty to the common cause.

Membership provides togetherness of kindred ideas, ideals, and aspirations. And the same membership also serves as a reminder of what the party stands for as a team, that it is on a mission to pursue a social contract with the community.

If the party is victorious, the members, individually and collectively, enter into the social contract with the community as a group, not as individuals.

In the course of the party’s life, each one may perform a different role but performs it in coordination and harmony with one another, democratically, consensually.

But if the party is dominated, manipulated, or dictated upon by one person or a clique, it is not a bona fide party, merely an oligarchy. And this, I’m afraid, is the ugly reality of our political system.

It is very doubtful whether a federal system will take root readily and thrive in a society of oligarchs, dynasties, and thoroughly traditional, self-serving, greedy politicos.

How can you build a federal system on a foundation of autocracy and oligarchic governance—in which only one person (your self!)—and others you designate—call the shots and anyone who says otherwise could get shot? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa 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. Author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor ofGising Barangay Movement Inc.)