We think the administration should also listen.
Two recent surveys can’t possibly be wrong.
The latest one by Pulse Asia showed that only two out of 10 Filipinos support moves to change the 1987 Constitution. The survey, conducted from June 15 to 21 or around the time that President Rodrigo Duterte’s Consultative Committee (ConCom) began its regional consultations on the proposed shift to a federal system of government, found that nearly two-thirds of Filipinos do not want the present unitary system of government changed now.
A majority of respondents, 69 percent, said they know little or nothing about the proposed federal system of government. This figure is virtually unchanged from the March survey where 71 percent of Filipinos said they had little or no knowledge of federalism.
An earlier survey on the same issue, conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS), showed only one of four Filipino adults or 25 percent said they are aware of the proposal to shift to a federal system of government while 75 percent only knew about it during the survey.
However, 37 percent of the respondents agreed with the proposal and only 29 percent disagreed with it.
The logical thing to do given the results of these surveys is to launch an intensive information, education and communication campaign to explain to the people why Charter change and the concomitant shift to a federal system is necessary.
The ConCom said SWS survey result is “understandable” since it was taken from March 23 to 27 when ConCom had barely begun its job.
Still, ConCom spokesman Conrado Generoso conceded there is still lack of awareness on federalism. He said the release of the survey result is “very encouraging” since it showed a “very high” number of people undecided on whether they favor a federal system of government.
“If we go out there and tell the remaining 34 percent of the people [they] will be convinced. They will be convinced that this is the way forward for this country,” according to Generoso. “At least we are in a stage where the people are neutral, which means they are open to hearing what we are proposing and they are open to changing their mind. That is what we are counting on when we go out there and tell the people about this.”
Explaining the federalism concept to the people will take time and a lot of effort on the part of the administration. Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque has admitted that an “information drive is not enough” and that “we’ll need to work harder given that the shift to federalism is the cornerstone of the Duterte administration.”
We agree completely and urge government to conduct intensive regional consultations where public officials can gather feedback from the people on federalism. After all, the shift to a new system of government will affect people’s lives on a day-to-day basis.
We recall that attempts to change the 1987 Constitution under two previous administrations failed mainly because the public detected an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, which was to lift the term limits of elected officials, hoping to allow them to stay in their positions even without a clear mandate from the electorate. This despite the avowed intention of previous Cha-cha adherents to revise only the economic provisions that were deemed too restrictive as these put a cap on foreign ownership of the economy and deterred more foreign investors from entering the country.
While at this, apart from going to the grassroots to gather feedback from the people on proposed constitutional changes, we think the administration should also listen to dissenting voices, particularly those who have expressed fear that federalism can spell disaster to the economy as it could possibly stoke hyperinflation—or a situation where consumer prices can skyrocket and sharply erode the value of the peso.
Apart from its impact on the economy, federalism could also adversely affect governance at the grassroots level as many local government units (LGU) are simply not ready to handle more powers and resources made available to them. One school of thought argues that nations that were successful in embracing federalism were those which already had strong local government structures in the first place.
We urge rigorous and thorough study of the proposed constitutional changes coupled with participatory democracy to avoid any headlong rush into the unknown that could send the nation into an unwelcome period of uncertainty and unease rather than of lasting peace and sustained development.