According to William Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. The case, however, may not be true for federalism.
One of the campaign slogans of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) in the 2016 elections is transforming the Philippines into a federal government — a move met with mixed reactions as this will topple the balance of power that is currently Manila-centric. Federalism is a form of government where powers are distributed between the central government and the states or local governments with the latter enjoying a greater degree of autonomy and/or independence as against unitary systems.
Only one in every four, however, knows what federalism is and from those who know, many are wondering what flavor of federalism is the PRRD administration offering. For that reason, the government, with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) embarked on a nationwide information and education campaign on the subject matter — only to draw flak with the “pepe and dede” federalism drive of then Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson. Even the Senator Nene Pimentel, one of the strong advocates of federalism and earlier endorsed Uson,’ found himself eating crow, as a “filthy” video made by the sexy-dancer-turned-Duterte-administration-official supposedly promoting the proposed change in the form of government burned like wildfire on the internet.’
Moving forward in the period of the Corona virus disease (Covid)-19, PRRD’s passing the responsibility to the local government units (LGUs) particularly the barangays in “feeding the people” and ensuring that the enhanced community quarantine guidelines are implemented. This was initially met with negative reactions and treated by critics as “passing the buck” to LGUs who are ill-equipped and ill-prepared in responding to the virus.
But while the rumblings were held on the sidelines and in select social media posts, LGUs heeded the mandate of the President with some doing better than the others. These included Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto who “has so far installed sanitation tents, mobile kitchens dedicated to medical workers and responders, signed an anti-hoarding ordinance and procured disinfection drones for Pasig, among others”. After a risk assessment, he also allowed the use of tricycles as a mode of transportation for health workers and those with health conditions.
As the youngest mayor in Metro Manila is heaping praises, he was, unfortunately, criticized by national government officials including Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, and DILG Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya. Malaya was later joined by his wife in criticizing Vico that a user dubbed it “conjugal arrogance’.
But while national officials and even TV newsreader Noli de Castro have been criticizing Sotto for utilizing tricycles in transporting health workers and people with health condition, the City of Manila has flaunted the use of e-trikes to ferry workers to hospitals. Yet, no one is criticizing Manila Mayor Isko Moreno creating suspicions of favoritism.
Worse, the differences in treatment as well as the mentality to pull performing LGU officials down triggers the question: Is this the brand of federalism that PRRD, especially the DILG, is advocating?
Federalism is supposed to create a change and make the local government more responsive to the people. But if select and non-aligned LGU officials who are taking the initiative and bringing the government closer to the people are being “harassed” so that they will not outperform the others, how can the PRRD and DILG-led federalism become more appealing to the rest of the Filipinos?