By GEMMA CRUZ ARANETA
Last Sunday, I happened upon Sonia Roco, a long-lost friend, at the 70th birthday of Mr. Severino Dayap, distinguished member of an endangered race of balladeers. Ver, as we call him, and his younger brothers were champions of “Tawag ng Tanghalan” but could not continue defending their crown because Villar records grabbed the siblings and offered them a contract they could not refuse. They had not sung together for 40 years, but that evening, they honored us with the winning kundiman.
I had often wondered why Sonia Roco never missed a single Balagtas Day which erstwhile Manila Mayor Aflredo S. Lim used to celebrate with great pomp at that eponymous plaza in Pandacan. She was extremely punctual, always among the first to arrive. Her late husband, Sen. Raul Roco, was a good friend of mine; his cousin Rica was a gangmate. Like my husband, Raul was a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention.
Sonia is prominent in the field of education and after caring for her sick husband, she established an hospice and advocated reforms in healthcare. Soon enough I found out that she loves music; she sings and writes poems; she studied theatre in London and has written and produced a few plays herself. Balagtas must be her icon! Today, Sonia has a radio program with Michael Coraza (writer, poet, and bard) featuring OPM, the kundiman in particular; the Mabuhay Singers and Ver Dayap are regulars. She invited me for a Q&A portion about the National Museum, heritage concerns, history, tourism, and politics. I gladly accepted.
In between songs — the evening was a veritable recital! — I asked her about federalism which she believes is not a good idea for the Philippines, at least not the way it is being rushed and rammed down our throats. I agreed; we share the opinion that it will not bring peace to Mindanao, neither will it put an end to patronage politics, nor bring about the much-vaunted inclusive growth.
The day after, I found a slim book entitled Debate on Federal Philippines: A Citizen’s Handbook (ADMU Press, 2017) the collective work of six authors — five Filipinos — Eduardo Araral, Jr, Gilberto M. Llanto, Jonathan E. Malaya, Ronald U. Mendoza, Julio C. Teehankee, and a foreigner, Paul D. Huthcroft. In the introduction, they state: “Regardless of where in the political spectrum one stands, one may appreciate how the Duterte administration has, in fact, provided an important service by de facto triggering a long-delayed discussion to assess over two decades of policy experience with decentralization under the Local Government Code of 1991.” This handbook emphasizes that the two—decentralization and federalism—are fundamentally intertwined.
What struck me most is found on Page 103. To the question whether federalism will curb the widespread practice of patronage politics, the answer is no. Federalism will not improve the quality of our democracy because it will “create new playgrounds of patronage politics,” which is what happened in 1902 when governors were elected and in 1950 when people voted for barrio officials. The creation of “regional states” will expand, not diminish, the playground of patronage politics. The handbook says: “If the goal is to curb patronage, it would make much more sense to focus on the redesign of electoral systems.” I must say, that is the elephant in the room, the electoral system that no one dares bring up, much less during debates about the pros and cons of federalism.
Will federalism undermine the oligarchy? (Page 104) Oligarchic dominance occurs when representatives of powerful diversified family conglomerates control the very government agencies tasked with regulating the sectors in which those family conglomerates are major players. “If the power of the oligarchy is to be curbed, the central government must develop the regulatory capacity to act (at least occasionally) as a countervailing force to the powerful diversified family conglomerates.” So, in our particular case, the central government has to strengthen itself; it has to make sure that the federal regions deliver basic services, that Regional Development Councils are empowered to plan and make policies. The handbook states that federalism has to be nurtured by the central government so it can achieve regional equality and inclusive growth. And if that does not happen, will the cookie crumble? Sonia and I will have a lot to talk about in her radio program.