Two of the salient facts of political life in a democratic society are that some individuals elected by the people as Senators and Representatives have greater national influence than others and that their higher degree of influence makes them better able to “bring home the bacon,” i.e., to channel government funds and projects to their home regions and districts.
Every one of the three subdivisions of this country—Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao—has had its fair share of nationally influential people. Mindanao has not been an exception, and every time I hear a person from Mindanao complain about “Imperial Manila,” I am reminded of the men from that island who have figured prominently in this country’s political life over the years.
Any of the influential men who have represented Mindanao in the halls of Congress were in a position to influence the structure and composition of the national budget—more properly known as the General Appropriations Act—in a way that would maximize the flow of government resources to the nation’s second largest island. That’s what influential legislators are supposed to do. If the flow of government resources to Mindanao has been inadequate—as the proponents of a shift to federalism hotly claim—a large part of the blame should be laid at the door of the influential Mindanaoan legislators of yesterday and today.
Mindanao has produced a Vice-President of the Republic, no less. Emmanuel Pelaez of Cagayan de Oro City was the nation’s second highest official from 1962 to 1965, during Diosdado Macapagal’s Presidency. Mindanao would have had its first Chief Executive much earlier had not Senate President Ferdinand Marcos maneuvered Pelaez out of the choice to be the Nacionalista Party’s Presidential candidate in the 1965 election.
Aside from Emmanuel Pelaez, Mindanao has produced four other Senators, three of whom were Muslim. The four other members of the upper chamber of Congress were Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Salipada Pendatun, Domocao Alonto and Mamintal Tamano. Pimentel was later to go on to become Senate President.
The Muslim community has also had its share of influential members of the House of Representatives, from which, under the Constitution, all revenue measures must originate. Three Muslim Representatives are particularly noteworthy because of their closeness to Malacañang during their incumbencies. I am referring to Ali Dimaporo, Simeon Datumanong and Romulo Espaldon. Dimaporo and Admiral Espaldon (who was born a Christian) were very close to President Marcos and Datumanong was very close to President Gloria Arroyo.
A region’s being influential is not just a matter of numbers or of geographical distance. It is—and probably more so—a matter of closeness to, and knowledgeability about, the locus of power, be it Imperial Manila or Imperial Washington D.C. or Imperial Canberra. Pendatun, Alonto, Dimaporo et al. were in a position to influence policy and to obtain fiscal, physical and other government benefits for Mindanao. That’s what Congressmen, deputies and members of parliament from the farthest reaches of the US, Canada or Germany keep trying to do for their constituencies; they don’t go around weeping and complaining about the alleged imperial character of their respective countries’ capital.
Clearly, Mindanao has had a more than fair chance of influencing, through their powerful Congress members, policymaking in ‘Imperial Manila.’ The explanation for any inadequacy in the flow of government resources to that island—if such be the fact—must be sought elsewhere.
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