By GEMMA CRUZ ARANETA
THE thought of hastily converting the Philippines into a federal republic and changing the current Constitution terrifies me no end; I am sure many other Filipinos feel the same way. A Pulse Asia survey (which I read in Mrs. Winnie Monsod’s column) revealed that last July, 2016, only 33 percent were opposed to federalism, but by last March the figure had risen to 66 percent. You can always argue that surveys are not reliable because only a thousand people or so are asked, but still it is an indication of public opinion. Federalism is being presented as a panacea to our national afflictions, but I believe it will only aggravate the social cancer and put our tenuous national unity in peril. The Philippine Republic might crumble and cease to exist as the federalism mirage detonates colonial time bombs. That is my gut feeling.
By colonial time bombs I mean those noxious traits, habits, characteristics that natives of these islands did not originally possess but eventually developed through centuries of coping with colonial rule. For example, native Filipinos were denigrated for their indolence, which, according to Jose Rizal, was the result of colonial oppression. Those negative traits (corruption, prevarication, indolence, fanaticism, etc) became so ingrained that they are now genetic. The lack of a “sentimiento nacional” (to quote Rizal) or feeling of national unity is one of our fatal character defects, which we have been trying correct with various methods. I think it is a colonial time bomb, a land mine that will explode under a federal system clumsily executed.
The colonial masters who trampled our shores pitted Filipino natives against each other during conquest and Christianization. While reading Tomas de Comyn’s book, Estado de las Islas Filipinas en 1810 (State of the Philippine Islands in 1810) I came across the military set-up during Spanish colonial times. It was quite formidable. The Regulares were the military staff Manila (Intramuros), the King’s Infantry Regiment, the Battalion of the Queen, Battalion of the Prince, Dragoons of Luzon, Royal Corps of Artillery, and the Royal Corps of Engineers. There was also a section called Milicia composed of the Battalions of Grenadiers of Luzon, of Ilocos, and of Mestizos of Real Principe. There was a detachment of bowmen; Piquet of Pangasinan; Piquet of Pampanga, and the Hussars of Aguilar. Fortresses were constructed in Zamboanga, Misamis, Caraga, Calamianes, Mindoro, Batanes, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, after Fort Santiago in Manila and Antonio Abad in Malate.
Unfortunately, Tomas de Comyn left no information about the racial content of those battalions and detachments, although he included a meticulous breakdown of expenses. He did say that the Visayans (Pintados he called them) “are extremely warlike people of whom great use might be made. Reared from infancy amidst danger and battle…they manage the long sword and lance, and such is the courage and implacable odium with which they treat their enemies.” They were used to fight the pirates and marauders from Mindanao. Other primary sources do confirm that natives and mestizo Chinese, even Insulares, were conscripted and sent to various parts of these islands to quell rebellions, subjugate hinterlands, and fight the Moros. That is probably why, to this day, we Filipinos tend to think regional, if not tribal, we can’t get along with each other; we are still in the throes of constructing national unity. That is why the battering ram of federalism is so dangerous.
We have had a Local Government Code since 1991 that has effectively devolved the functions of national agencies. The present dispensation should update and expand the Local Government Code by including the experiences gained during the past 27 years instead of ramming federalism down our throats.