Gonzales: No to federalism, yes to ASEAN federation and yes to autonomy for all regions

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 Feb) – Presidential candidate Norberto Gonzales says no to federalism but yes to a federation of ASEAN countries and autonomy for all regions in the Philippines. 

Gonzales told the online forum, Candid Dates 2022, on Monday that if he were elected President, he wants charter change “introduced right away” to start tackling questions like having a parliamentary system instead or what models should be adopted or if we shift to federalism. 

“Charter Change is always a suspect especially if done towards the end of a particular regime. If it’s done towards the end of an administration, they would say the President just wants to extend his term,” Gonzales said. 

“I think it is good to also declare all our regions autonomous instead of just giving it to our Moro region,” the former Defense Secretary and National Security adviser under the Arroyo administration said. 

He said he prefers this set-up than federalism. But he wants to do what Jose Rizal advocated for before, to consolidate the Malay race, to include not just the Philippines but also Malaysia and Indonesia. He recalled the late President Diosdado Macapagal, father of the 2001 to 2010 President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,  initiated MaPhilIndo for Malaysia-Philippines-Indonesia.

“I’m more inclined to dream of an ASEAN federation in our part of the world. 

Imagine 600 million people in a federation? Imagine the resources? Imagine what will happen?” Gonzales said, adding country’s big neighbors will no longer belittle us. 

Map courtesy of Google Maps

He said President Fidel Ramos (1992 – 1998) created the Regional Development Councils (RDCs) because he felt it was important not to just jump into a change in system but to see first if regions becoming states would be economically viable. 

“Under Arroyo, we examined that particular effort of Ramos and even tried to enhance it,” he said, recalling that the regions were urged to plan and move as a region. 

He noted the creation of an Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  which was ruled by the Moro National Liberation Front from 1996 to 2005 while the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was created to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the pace pact signed by government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014. 

The BARMM, however, takes on a parliamentary system of government within a Presidential system. 

The 1987 Constitution provides for the creation of autonomous regions only in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. 

“No to federalism for the Philippines, yes for the whole of ASEAN and for the meantime in the Philippines, let’s try autonomy for all regions first,” he said.

He did not discount the possibility of a hybrid system. “Maybe we can have a hybrid because maybe we want to elect our President nationwide instead of being elected by a Parliament,”  Gonzales added. 

Presidential candidate Norberto Gonzales (top) with Candid Dates 2022 host Gus Miclat. Fr. Joel Tabora (bottom left), President of the Ateneo de Davao University, and Candid Dates 2022 co-host Jai Estocapio

Reacting to his all-autonomous regions proposal, Fr. Joel Tabora, President of the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) asked: “wouldn’t this break up the Philippines even more into warring regions of self-interest?”

Tabora cited the history of warlordism in the country as well as the dominance of political dynasties. 

“That’s why we don’t like federalism,” he replied. “Am very, very hesitant in looking at federalism in the Philippines because of those fears. I thought with regional autonomy, it is so much a milder version,” he said.

“Let’s look into our experience in BARMM and with the MNLF I know that it is not an ideal example of autonomy as we can see but there are other reforms that we can do,” he said. 

But he acknowledged that “we really have to address seriously the issues of dynasty before we start all of this.”

The first move, he said, is on reforming our political system. “I agree with you 100% on hesitations but at the same time, we should also think of the possibility that we can reform ourselves.”

“If we can only show some kind of new leadership in the nation,” Gonzales said. 

He noted that under the Cory Aquino administration, government offices had image of the Blessed Mother and held rosary praying as well as masses “because the President had a Blessed Mother in her office, was praying the rosary and going to mass.” 

“Sinusunod ang leadership,” he said. 

Candid Dates 2022 is a series of online conversations between Mindanawon voters and candidates running for President, Vice President and local seats in the May 9, 2022 elections, presented by the Davao Association of Catholic Schools (DACS). It is co-presented by the Initiatives for International Dialogue, MindaNews and the Mindanao Consortium of Ateneo  comprising the Ateneo de Davao, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)