Keynote speech delivered at the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA) 2018 International Conference on "Multilevel Governance in the 21st Century", 5 April 2018 in Davao City


I thank the PPSA for this honor and privilege to address your conference.


My remarks will be around the concept of multi-level governance in relation to current initiatives to restructure our government from unitary to federal.  I will then explore how Mindanao is shaping the federalism debate. I hope that this remarks could provide a useful framework for your academic discourse in the next 2 days.


The literature on Multi-level governance traces the origin of this concept to the establishment of the European Union--- the unique new supranational governance form that has evolved in Europe since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.  It has evolved as a governance system that is relevant and responsive to a globalized environment.  Multi-level governance is a 21st century creation to manage economic and to a certain extent political integration across and among nation-states. It is essentially a broader concept than federalism to include more than two levels of government and more than autonomous policy-making structures.


Dr. Peter Wells[1] observes that multi-level government is capable of encompassing the broader scale and scope of current decision-making, the marked increase in numbers and types of decision-makers (including private sector actors such as corporations and unions, non-governmental organizations, members of social movements, and individuals in civil society), and the multiple levels and tiers of decision-making. It is also manifested clearly in a shift in political analysis from statist and hierarchical models of decision-making to nonstatist, shared or cooperative models.


The science of multi-level governance is particularly relevant in the context of the movement towards ASEAN integration. Unlike the EU, however, the multi-layered governance structure in the ASEAN Economic Community will be limited to international trade and commerce. ASEAN countries are protective of their sovereignty and political order. Non-interference in political affairs of members states is quite an entrenched policy in the ASEAN. Securing state sovereignty is a response to internal conflicts over identity, resources and territory experienced by ASEAN countries including the Philippines.


With an increasingly borderless world, we anticipate the slow demise of nation-states of the Peace of Westphalia and the rise of supra-national institutions such as the European Union. But while globalization is making strides in economics, technology and business, we are seeing a drawback in expanding politics and governance beyond borders of states.  On the contrary, we are seeing the rise of nationalism and assertion of internal self-determination by minority groups.


In the Philippines, federalism and autonomy will be critical issues to address internal conflicts.  This is the reason why the advocacy for shifting the country’s political system from unitary to federal has been a Mindanao agenda since the 1970s. The Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP), a homegrown Mindanao political party,  has been in the forefront of the federalism movement since the 1970s. The Citizen’s Movement for Federal Philippines (CMFP) was organized and led by Mindanawons.  Federalism is on top of the reform agenda of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs (MINCODE) and Kusog Mindanaw, a coalition of political, business and civil society leaders. 


The diversity of cultures and peoples of Mindanao and the aspiration for self-determination of the Moro people and other indigenous peoples as well as the strong clamor that natural resources of Mindanao must first benefit Mindanawons drive the advocacy for the shift to the federal system.


There is no point in our political history when Mindanao’s influence in shaping public policies is at the highest than today.  Mindanawon leaders occupy the highest positions in executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. President Duterte as chief executive, Senate President Koko Pimentel, House Speaker Bebot Alvarez.  Chief Justice Sereno, many are unaware, has roots in Mindanao, her father being a native of Siasi Sulu. The ascension of Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, a Davaweño, as chief magistrate, seals Mindanao’s status as the new center of power.


It is important to understand how Mindanao looks at the world that greatly influence the shaping of current public policies.


If we go by the SWS survey results, there appears to be a congruence between President Duterte’s policies and that of majority Mindanawons who gave him a high 94% approval rating. Federalism, which is a centerpiece in Duterte’s reform agenda, gets the highest support in Mindanao.


Yet, surveys are mere snapshots of a moments influenced by particular proximate events. 


The Mindanao worldview that I would like to explore is along the concept of the German Weltanschauung of Wihelm Dilthey.  For Dilthey, “the goal of human sciences was to achieve understanding by means of interpretation. Every interpretation, he reasoned, takes place within a larger understanding of the world (i.e., a Weltanschauung), which itself is historically conditioned. Thus, interpreters of human history and culture must recognize their immersion in a particular historical situation and tradition and in that process come to terms with the finitude of their perspective.” [2]


The Mindanao Welthanschauung is a product of a history of conflict over identity, territory and distinct way of life.  It is also the sum total of failed solutions that did not address the root cause of the problem.


We are aware of the root of this conflict that remains unaddressed and weighs down the development of Mindanao and the whole country.   This root cause is injustice suffered by the indigenous peoples and the loss of sovereignty of Moro Sultanates on account of colonization and discriminatory public policies of the Philippine state.


The Tripoli Agreement of 1977, laid down an autonomy regime in the southern Philippines to address this injustice. The autonomous region covering 13 provinces and cities therein was the vehicle for self-determination and self-governance of the Moro and indigenous peoples of Mindanao. As early as 1977, the seed for a sub-state in Mindanao has been sown and planted. But this seed was not meant to be nurtured to fruition.


From the original demand of the MNLF to include all of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan in the autonomous region, the agreement settled for 13 provinces in western and central Mindanao.  The whole of Mindanao or a part of it, the autonomous region was not envisioned to be for Muslims only nor it is for Moro and indigenous peoples but for all inhabitants.  The autonomous region was for all those residing in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan charting their own destiny as one people.


But the implementation of autonomy arrangement for southern Philippines since the time of President Marcos was underpinned by the policy of co-optation of revolutionary leaders, gerrymandering political subdivisions and dividing Mindanawons in order to weaken the resolve for self-determination by Moro and indigenous groups. The Philippine constitution has always been the main weapon of the national government in consolidating its power base over Mindanao to weaken calls for self-determination.


The unitary form of government from the 1935 constitution and carried over the 1987 Constitution has constricted the development of meaningful autonomy in the southern Philippines.  The prohibition on the title of royalty and nobility in the Constitution is meant to neutralize the sultanates as established social and political institutions. The 1987 Constitution in particular named the autonomous region as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that reinforces the wrong notion that the autonomous region is for Muslims.  The division and creation of enclaves for  Muslims, Christians and Lumads in Mindanao is not in accord with all signed peace agreements.


As well, the unitary character of our government in the Constitution will always uphold the supremacy of national over regional laws.  For instance, there is no way regional laws shall govern local governance in the autonomous region because the national local government Code is supreme at all times. And absent a constitutional policy towards establishing a working, clear and productive relationship between the regional government and constituent LGUs, regional autonomy is bound to fail.


Thus, any regional or Basic Law passed within the 1987 Constitution will fall short in providing an autonomy framework that will address the historical injustice suffered by the people of Mindanao. Yes, the BBL has to be legislated if only to bring about the decommissioning and normalization of MILF combatants and communities.  But until we have a Federal constitution or until we revise Art. X of the constitution for the creation of an autonomous region vested with sub-state powers covering at least the 13 provinces in the Tripoli agreement, we cannot adequately address the injustice caused to the Moro and indigenous peoples of Mindanao. 


President Duterte, a son of Mindanao and a Maranao by birthright, understands and formed by this Mindanao Weltanschauung that he is the first President to call for opening the Constitution to revisions for Mindanao peace.  His call for shifting the country’s political system from unitary to federal recognizes the need to evolve real autonomy in southern Philippines.


Why shift to federalism which is necessarily national to address a local or regional problem? The core of Mindanao’s problems is its relationship with the center of power that resists evolving a system of regional or local governance suitable to the values and culture of its people. Under a unitary set-up, lower levels of government is made in the image and likeness of the center.


It is not only powers, functions and resources but all the ills of the central are also decentralized in a unitary system.   The country’s biggest ills---corruption, feudal and dynastic political leadership and failed governance are more pronounced in Mindanao because of the proliferation of the instruments of violence, prevailing culture of impunity and prejudiced reporting by national media.  


The mirroring of our dysfunctional national political systems  indicates full control of national government over politics and governance in the southern Philippines. Genuine autonomy arrangement for Mindanao and other regions under a federal system is the first good step to evolve political institutions that are accountable not to the patrons in the national government but to its own citizens.


For the longest time, the national policy towards addressing the Mindanao rebellion revolves around neutralizing rebel groups. The dominant national security paradigm and anti-insurgency approach made political institutions employment agencies than as vehicles for good governance and development. The goal was to free Mindanao from armed conflict and direct violence even to the extent of using force of arms. This is getting Mindanao to a state of negative peace, a concept popularized by Johan Galtung.


But negative peace, according to Galtung,  is not sustainable unless structural violence in society is addressed. Structural violence is violence in the structure of society rather than the actor-generated direct violence.  In our case, structural violence is in our unitary system where policies and practice favor the use by the center of political and economic power without regard to the common good.  This is the violence that concentrate political and economic power to a favored few that results in uneven and inequitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and resources. 


When structural violence is adequately addressed, positive peace prevails. This is when society is in harmony and where citizens are empowered to reach their full human potential.


Political reforms like the shift to a federal system in order to address structural violence in our political institutions is a peace process. Just as a peace agreement is a product of a peace process, our political reform process must result in a social covenant  to attain positive peace in the whole country. This covenant must include a consensus to promote social cohesion and to reconcile conflicting identities, aspirations, needs and interests.


A federal constitution is a social covenant, a peace agreement that is broad enough for a multi-cultural people to embrace as their own yet with strong mechanisms to manage conflicting aspirations, needs and interests.


Political scientists play a critical role in forging this social covenant as independent interlocutors, facilitators, researchers and resource persons.  Reforming political institutions are too important to be left to Dutertards and Yellowtards or to pseudo-federalism experts and advocates who have mushroomed out of political expediency. We should be able to provide solid analysis and data in reform process in a way that is understandable to ordinary citizens. 


The current debate on federalism is focused on aspirations and symbols and short on mechanisms and processes for implementation.  We should raise the level of discourse from the theoretical to practical systems and processes.


The greater challenge is to be courageous to speak plainly about the bitter pill that must be taken for any reform process to succeed.  The shift to federalism for instance fundamentally involves the reallocation of government resources from national government to regional and local governments. This may require consolidation or even abolition of agencies and local governments.  There will be winners and losers. 


We should take the lead in the political dialogue where leaders and citizens get the right information and implications of the reforms as bases for consensus-building.


The success or failure of the shift to a Federal Philippines will be measured  not only by the extent that it has empowered regions and local governments to effectively chart their own development. It will be gauged by how much we as a people have cohered to address injustice and structural violence entrenched in all levels of our political institutions.


Finally, trust and lack of it has stymied the drive for political reforms and in revising the 1987 Constitution under administrations post-EDSA revolution.  


On trust and politics, I call your attention to a scene in the movie Lincoln which is historically accurate. This is the scene where members of the radical wing of the Republican party was debating on whether or not they will go along with President Lincoln’s push to amend the US constitution in order to abolish slavery.


At one point, ASA VINTNER LITTON blurted: Why are we co-operating with him? We all know what he's doing and we all know what he'll do. We can't offer up abolition's best legal prayer to his games and tricks. Leader of the radical block THADDEUS STEVENS shouted:  I don't. This confuses the room. Stevens turns to Vintner Litton. You said "we all know what he'll do." I don't know. ASA VINTNER LITTON You know he isn't to be trusted. THADDEUS STEVENS Trust? I'm sorry, I was under the misapprehension your chosen profession was politics. I've never trusted the President. I never trust anyone. But... Hasn't he surprised you? ASA VINTNER LITTON No, Mr. Stevens, he hasn't. THADDEUS STEVENS Nothing surprises you, Asa, therefore nothing about you is surprising. Perhaps that is why your constituents did not re-elect you to the coming term. THADDEUS STEVENS  Lincoln the inveterate dawdler, Lincoln the Southerner, Lincoln the capitulating compromiser, our adversary - and leader of the godforsaken Republican Party, our party - Abraham Lincoln has asked us to work with him to accomplish the death of slavery in America. Retain, even in opposition, your capacity for astonishment.” End of scene.


Are we open to be surprised? Do we have the capacity for astonishment even in opposition?


I wish you a productive conference ahead. Good morning.