Part 2 – Marawi aftermath
THE Islamic extremist leaders in the battle of Marawi—Isnilon Hapilon of IS and the Maute brothers Omarkhayam Romato and Abdullah of Dawlah Islamiya—were sent posthaste by the police Special Forces to Jannah with its 72 virgins (for each). But like the multi-headed Hydra of Greek mythology, once chopped off, more heads will regrow; and the current “Caliph” of IS in the Middle East, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has many candidates to choose from.


It is estimated that from 2013, 40,000 jihadists from 120 countries joined IS in Iraq and the civil war in Syria. What is disturbing is the approximately 1,000 Southeast Asian, including some from the Philippines, who trained and fought in these arenas. We don’t know how many were killed, but as IS is crushed in these wars and continues to lose territories, especially after the liberation of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, these highly trained and motivated jihadists with their deadly skills are returning to their countries.


The ascendancy of IS and the decline in influence of al-Qaida saw the transfer of allegiance by countless terrorist groups to the former. Among them was the Abu Sayyaf (ASG), founded by Abdurajak Janjalani. After his death in 1998 and a series of assassinated successors, the ASG pledged allegiance to IS in 2014. Fighting for an independent Islamic State in Mindanao, it struck an alliance with the Dawlah Islamiyah of the Maute brothers to establish a foothold in Marawi.


In the Marawi siege, Philippine intelligence reports said that approximately 500 jihadists joined the battle, of which 80 were thought to be foreign fighters. About a dozen of the dead were identified as coming from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Chechnya, Yemen, Indonesia, Malaysia. These survivors from Marawi could apply their murderous skills in other parts of the country. They could regroup and may not be able to do an encore in Marawi, but they could wreak havoc on communities all over the country like Cotabato, Zamboanga, Basilan and the Sulu provinces. What could be replicated are bomb-making skills and placement of improvised explosive devices (IED) and suicide bombers; both were applied with devastating effect against the US led-coalition armies in Iraq. God help us if the same is employed in our cities and populated areas like Metro Manila.


But how did our country decline to this condition where the Islamic radicals are threatening to dictate their lethal agenda?


Our relations with our Muslim brothers go back centuries. The Crescent Moon and the Star came to the Philippines long before the Cross and the Sword of the Catholic faith were planted in our shores. Predominant in the south, the Moros resisted the Spanish conquistador for centuries, along with the subsequent American and Japanese intrusions. In effect, the Muslims were never a “conquered people.” But the enduring unresolved disputes involved the encroachments of the dominant “Christians” and the other “lowlanders” into their domain, constricting the Moros and their faith into pockets of territories, confined mostly within Mindanao.


Redress of these grievances centered on the economic, political, and cultural marginalization of the Moro,s were never seriously addressed by the Christian-dominated central government until the advent of the separatists Moros elevated the political and economic discourse through the articulate language of violence. From the Kamlon Rebellion in Sulu to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), wars were intermittently fought. But over the decades, the shortsightedness of a highly centralized government exacerbated these conflicts, culminating in President Erap’s “all-out war” that resulted in an ever-escalating mindless quid pro quo of blood for blood.
These conflicts are no longer just confined to the Philippines although the solutions should have been characteristically Filipino. These centuries-old injustices were cloaked and turned deadly with the passionate divergences in faith and culture. Samuel Huntington succinctly describe this in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. He wrote: “The most important distinctions among peoples are no longer ideological, political or economic. They are cultural. New patterns of conflict will occur along the boundaries of different cultures and patterns of cohesion (and) will be found within cultural boundaries”.


What at first was a countrywide Philippine problem could not simply be bottled up within national boundaries. It has broken out and taken on regional dimensions permeating Southeast Asia and beyond. Like that of the Middle East and the Levant, violence is a cancer that has metastasized.


Tomas Sanford reports: “Many conditions and features in Southeast Asia enable terrorism and insurgency: socioeconomic strain, sectarian friction, small groups of influential religious conservatives, radical ideologies, large archipelagoes and porous borders, preexisting insurgencies, jihadi veterans, permissive immigration rules, and flexible and informal funding networks. And unlike the 1990s and the early 2000s, social media is now everywhere, allowing for easy communications, recruitment, and financial transactions.”


But there are also mitigating factors that the DU30 government has in its favor. The two major separatist groups, the MILF and MNLF, with their weapons on stand-down. are assuming a “wait and see” posture and divining the body language of the Deegong government on the moves towards the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will provide the Muslims a modicum of autonomy in a federal set-up. On the international stage, the Muslim community rejected and condemned terrorist attacks all over the world: the Bali, Indonesian bombing perpetrated by the Jemaah Islamiyah was one example.


But patience of even the majority moderate Muslims is running short. What we saw in Marawi are “the consequences of a failure of the Philippine government negotiations with Moro insurgents and the growing IS presence across the region—and ones that may be repeated across this large and restive region. ISIS could come to see this as its primary, extra-regional destination as its fortunes continue to tumble in the Middle East and North Africa.” (Anderson)


Before his report to the House committee of foreign affairs’ subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the US Congress, Thomas Anderson came up with his conclusion, and I agree with him.


“The violence in Marawi is a stark warning of a convergence of several troublesome factors, including an expanding, insurgent-minded IS, radical ideologies, poor (and violent) governance, highly stressed communities, returning and regional foreign fighters, accessible funding, criminal activity, and adept use of social media.”


And I might add, we can’t allow the Islamic radicals to arrogate unto itself the initiative to settle the Philippine agenda. Marawi’s rehabilitation will be the country’s focus in the coming months. If it goes the way of the “Yolanda-Haiyan” template, Deegong may as well forget about the BBL, his federalism legacy, and kiss his hold on power goodbye.


This article borrows from the testimony of Thomas Anderson, Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS); and the book ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan; and Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations”.
First of 2 parts
THE ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) recently submitted to the House of Representatives its proposal for constitutional amendments. There has been a lot of apprehensions regarding our shift to a federal form of government. For example, Winnie Monsod fears that federalism will lead to the strengthening of political dynasties and more corruption in the regions. Sen. Ralph Recto is concerned that there will be more layers of bureaucracy and red tape and hence more taxes. Former senator Edgardo Angara Sr. has expressed some concern over the potential break-up of the country if, for example, one region discovers huge oil and gas reserves and no longer needs transfers from the national government.
Professors at the University of the Philippines rhetorically ask: “If federalism is the answer, then what is the question?” What would happen to the party list? What about the administrative capacity of the regions? Businessmen and investors are rightly worried how federalism, especially taxes, would impact their businesses. Would the shift to federalism slow down our growth momentum? Would a presidential, parliamentary or a hybrid form of government be suitable for Philippine-style federalism? Why do we need to change the Constitution and why not just amend the Local Government Code to give more powers to the regions?


The PDP Laban draft constitution—drafted by experts under the guidance of Senate President Koko Pimentel, the PDP-Laban president—recognizes these concerns as valid. The draft constitution in fact proposes the shift to federalism as a grand bargain, a package of reforms. These reforms include: 1) constitutional restrictions on political dynasties; 2) shift to a dual executive or semi-presidential form of government; 3) banning of political butterflies; 4) strengthening of political parties; 5) shift to proportional representation; 6) strengthening of constitutional bodies in the regions, particularly the commissions on civil service and audit; 7) reducing the duplication of work between the Senate and the House of Representatives; and 8) judicial reforms, including strengthening of the Sandigan Bayan, appellate courts and Ombudsman at the regional levels.


Tinkering with the Local Government Code alone would not be sufficient.


From political dynasties to political parties
One of the main apprehensions about federalism is that the transfer of significant powers to the regions will only perpetuate political dynasties. Not all political dynasties are the same, however. Some contribute more to the public good than others. Some political dynasties are fat-tailed—with many members of clans simultaneously occupying positions of power—while others are thin-tailed. Political dynasties themselves are not to blame. The proliferation and durability of political dynasties came about, in large part, because of the failure of the 1987 Constitution to pass a self-enforcing provision regulating these dynasties. This mistake has to be corrected. We need a self-enforcing constitutional provision regulating political dynasties, without which the transfer of more powers to the regions would be at risk of political capture.


But why do we need to regulate political dynasties? Why not just let the voters decide? There is a problem with this argument. First, voters decide based on what choices are available to them. If the only options are familiar names of political dynasties, then naturally voters choose the candidates they like most. Candidates do not have incentives to differentiate themselves on the basis of policies and programs. The solution to this is to give voters choices in terms of policies and programs and not just familiar names. This way they can hold political parties accountable. At present, politicians cannot be held accountable for failed promises because their policy positions are unclear. For this, we need to shift from elections based on personalities to one based on political parties with distinctive policies and programs. For this reason, we need to strengthen our political party system.


Most successful federal systems of the world depend on strong political parties and not families or personalities. To have strong political parties, we need to 1) shift to a semi-presidential form of government; 2) ban party switching or balimbing; 3) provide state subsidy for political parties as they do in Europe; and 4) ensure party discipline as they do in all parliamentary systems. What happened to the confirmation hearings of the appointees of President Duterte – Gina Lopez, Rafael Mariano and Judy Taguiwalo – is an instructive example. Members of the ruling coalition voted against them while members of the opposition supported them.


Semi-presidential form of government
Why would a semi-presidential form of government be better than a purely presidential or parliamentary system if we are to shift to a federal structure?
A presidential system of government is most familiar to Filipinos. It reduces uncertainties in the transition to federalism. Its main disadvantage is the over-centralization of powers, such as what we have now, the difficulty of removing the president if he becomes corrupt or abusive and the potential for gridlock with the parliament. The problem with gridlock has been partly solved via the pork barrel mechanism and a system of patronage with local governments.


A parliamentary system of government is more efficient in terms of lawmaking and policy implementation. There is no problem of gridlock and unfunded mandates because members of the cabinet come from the parliament. It also has strong mechanisms of accountability via vote of no confidence and question time. Indeed, most federal systems in the world have parliamentary governments—except, for example, the US, Russia and Mexico where they have popularly elected presidents. Its main disadvantages include the following: 1) strong parliaments rely on strong political parties which we currently do not have now; 2) most likely in the initial years of transition to federalism there will be a proliferation of political parties along regional, ethnic and ideological lines; therefore, parliaments can be unstable, especially if the ruling party comprise a coalition of parties. As a result, we could have a weak and unstable ruling government.


A semi-presidential form of government brings together the pros and cons of both presidential and parliamentary systems. In my view, this is the best system if we are to shift to a federal form of government. Let me explain why. First and foremost, the transition to federalism will be challenging and therefore, ironically, we would need a strong national leadership. There will be inherent resistance from national government agencies which will lose their powers and budgets. There is a need to strengthen the capacities of the regions—the middle government—to assume these powers. There will be many implementation issues to be sorted out. A decisive president is needed to ensure a successful transition to federalism.


Second, it is better to have a collective leadership with more horses pulling the wagon together—the president, prime minister, the cabinet, regional governors and local governments—compared to the current highly centralized presidential system. Collective and cohesive leadership has proven to be an effective arrangement for the rapid growth of highly decentralized developing countries such as Vietnam and China. Both countries have a president as the head of state and who looks after national security and foreign affairs, a prime minister and cabinet which looks after economic and social policy, and governors who execute policy on the ground.