Formless and Void

Cham Clowder composite image from original photos: Leila de Lima (, Maria Lourdes Sereno (, Rodrigo Duterte (, NetRev Media Advisory (Facebook)

I MET WITH friends last week to talk about where we’re headed – more important, where Rodrigo Duterte is taking us. Thankfully, the company and food were good. The discussion was depressing.


To be fair, we took an objective look at federalism. We wanted to know whether it was something the country truly needs now – is ripe for – and if not, why?

First, we had to define federalism.

Our resource person was a very pleasant, urbane Muslim lawyer from Cotabato who was well-versed with the issue. He explained to us that federalism per se is merely a power sharing mechanism that allows sovereign states to co-exist to their mutual benefit. The power shared involves taxation, law enforcement (police power), and eminent domain (expropriation). It’s a good idea for an archipelagic territory. But he added that currently, most of the Philippines’ 17 regions do not generate enough income for proper taxation, and without revenue, what is to fund enforcement and expropriation?

Second, we had to look at the forms of federalism being presently proposed.

[1] There was Nene Pimentel’s model, expressed in Senate Resolution No. 10, filed in 2008, which was signed by 12 senators: Pimentel, then Senate president Manuel Villar, Edgardo Angara, Rodolfo Biazon, Pia Cayetano, Juan Ponce Enrile, Francis Escudero, Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan and Ramon Revilla Jr. This put forth a federal presidential bicameral form of government and divided the country into 12 states, including Metro Manila, which would become the Federal Administrative Region. This was to be accomplished by virtue of a charter change via constituent assembly.

Malacañang put its weight behind Resolution No. 10, prompting the suspicion that it meant to co-opt the cha-cha process to arrogate major powers to then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. For this reason, Rodolfo Biazon later withdrew his signature while Panfilo Lacson and Jinggoy Estrada threatened the same.

Resolution No. 10 never got beyond the committee level. In the recently revived discussions on federalism, Pimentel senior has again pushed this model for acceptance.

[2] Then there was the draft charter lately submitted by PDP-Laban, which veers largely from the Pimentel model. It adopts a parliamentary-federal system that places the president’s term at 5 years with possible re-election. Notably, the proposed charter abolishes the office of the vice president, and in the event of the president’s death, the Senate president becomes the chief executive.  This draft imagines a president who serves as head of state, crafting foreign policy and commanding the armed forces; and a prime minister who acts as the effective head of government with the power of the purse and expenditure.

PDP-Laban says that under this charter, regional governments will “enjoy autonomy but not sovereignty.” “Only the federal government will have sovereignty,” said Jonathan Malaya, one of the authors of the draft. Malaya further admitted that the major revisions concentrated on the form of government and the executive department. “Many good provisions in the Constitution need not be changed,” he said. “We proposed a surgical approach.”

Is the country able to support these models? It depends. Both versions come closer to decentralization than to classic federalism. This makes sense, since we are not rich enough for the latter. Decentralization is an attractive option, if the states’ growth toward self-reliance were truly encouraged. However, if it doesn’t stanch the corruption that currently bleeds the regions’ Internal Revenue Allotment, then nothing will have changed.

Is altering the form of government essential? PDP-Laban must explain the rationale for such a drastic shift; there seems no pressing cause for it except the obvious one: to assign more and greater powers to the executive. An examination of motives is in order. We must be vigilant.

So, which of these models is Duterte pushing? The quick answer is: neither.

Duterte traveled the country on a roadshow that won him the candidacy. Our lawyer friend attended some of these sorties, and he said that the federalism Duterte touted there was “formless,” neither this nor that. It was an undefined and shapeless concept, a buzzword, a tool; Duterte’s codeword for “prosperity” that unlocked hope in the crowds. Of course he was met with cheers. Folks couldn’t wait to elect him. Yet he has failed to concretize his vision. Even now it remains an amorphous aspiration that thrives mainly in his head: it sounds good, but there’s really nothing to it.


This is likely why it hasn’t gained traction in Congress. And this is why certain groups are finagling the mother of all shortcuts, the so-called “revolutionary government” that will seat Duterte as King.

But there are obstacles:

Senator Leila de Lima. She militates so loudly for the rule of law that she rouses the warriors of Armaggedon. And they will come for him. Duterte has ordered her expunged but his henchmen are comically inept. They bungle without trying. The most they can do is delay justice. Her arraignment, set for November 16, was rescheduled to January 24, 2018 due to the prosecution’s scamming. Once more, an accused has been converted into a witness. So Leila will spend the holidays in jail, a travesty designed for maximum sorrow. Clearly, schadenfreude runs in the family.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. She is the sentinel who guards the law; her quest is justice; she will not be thwarted. She won’t give in to a lawless agenda, thus, she is in the way. The mendacious and the unscrupulous have ganged up to impeach her. They will bend the rules, deny her rights, railroad proceedings – just watch them. Against sense and righteousness, they will do it. This week they will finish the job.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. She, more than anyone, poses a risk and so she must be sidelined. Her investigations run too close to home; they cannot proceed. She is in his sights. Don’t blink. Any day now.

A lawyer with half a brain and scruples will tell you the attacks on these women are baseless. They are as empty as the evidence trumped up against them, and the only just judgment is to render them void.


Where is Duterte leading us? No one knows. He acts impulsively, decides impetuously; his own Cabinet can neither predict nor restrain him. A man unable to govern his passions presumes to govern the land. What an addled, arrogant ambition. What chaos. What utter darkness. What better time to pray for the dawn?

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep… – Genesis 1:2 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

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