After I had posted my challenge to the Executive Branch to enunciate its position without equivocation on federalism, and suggesting that Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Director-General Ernesto Pernia be sent packing if they had spoken out of turn (and out of tune) on the issue, some habitué of Facebook called me a skunk. My good friend, Tony La Viña, laughingly brought the post to my attention.
A skunk is an animal you do not fool around with, one you are also wary about when it is around. It protects itself by spraying its attackers with a malodorous mist. I think it is an admirable animal.
People do well to approach it with trepidation, and it is well able to protect itself without unsheathing claws or baring fangs. Actually, I am honored to be compared to a skunk by whoever was the will’o a wisp that proposed the metaphor. As for being nutty, it does pay to be one in a society of screaming fanatics and prostrate bootlickers, each calling the other by some deprecatory moniker.
The assumption of all our labors, as members of the Consultative Committee, was that the Executive Department, particularly the President, favored a shift to a federal government and would ask his allies in Congress to see it through the legislative mill performing a constituent function. I was recently asked on Radio Veritas whether I was personally in favor of federalism. I did not bother answering with gentility. I was peeved, because the suggestion was that I could have taken part in drafting something I did not really believe in—some kind of intellectual prostitution. Of course, I think that federalism is good for the country. And I did not arrive at this conclusion by asking friends what they thought (although I did consider their views with utmost seriousness). I read. I studied. I taught the subject, and sought the reactions and questions, objections and doubts of my graduate students.
And I have no doubt that this was true of all of us who sat down in the Leaders’ Hall of the PICC under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno to draft a charter for a federal Philippines. We worked with zeal and discussed among ourselves with passion, sometimes going through the desert of acrimony before reaching the meadow of understanding because we all thought we were engaged in something that would set many things aright in a national where so many things have gone wrong and remained wrong for the longest time now.
I earlier wrote that I was fully aware —as all of us at the ConCom were—that we were penning a draft, but we also assumed that an executive order had created us and entrusted us with a task because it was the government’s policy to effect the shift from the inefficiency of a unitary government as we have lived it and the promise of a federal configuration. It was this assurance that what we wrote would be owned by the President and the government and so endorsed to the Legislature. It absolutely makes no sense reading volumes, writing prodigiously and debating furiously to produce a document that, in the end, is disowned by him at whose behest it was written.
That was my problem with Dominguez and Pernia. There is no doubting their acumen as economists. But they are no longer in the classroom discoursing on economic theory. They are not public intellectuals engaging their readers and followers in thought experiments no matter how engaging. They are the political agents of the President of the Philippines. And basic to the law of agency is that when agency is established, the acts and declarations of the agent bind the principal. So, when both say that federalism will be the country’s ruin, I have every right to ask whether the statement can, as the law ordains, be attributed to their principal, or whether they are spoken beyond what they were authorized to assert—therefore, ultra vires.
With Secretary Delfin Lorenzana chiming in about his confusion, that muddles the posture of the Executive even more. On the one hand, one hears the very able Harry Roque turning blue in the face insisting that the President remains committed to the federalist cause. On the other hand you have Dominguez, Pernia and now Lorenzana railing about their confusion. So why should I be denied the right to know in what key we are singing? Unless, of course, we prefer the pointlessness of cacophony. Dissonance on this level is not discourse. That is too lofty a term for downright policy incoherence!
If it is the draft provisions in our ConCom draft with which they have problems, let them be clear about that, and I shall have no complaints whatsoever; neither will I begrudge them their right to criticize the provisions. But I must also point out, in fairness to my colleagues who were tasked with drafting the economic provisions and fiscal clauses, that they did not carve out figures from thin air nor from the fecundity of imagination. They had studies to go by, data that were presented to the Committee. More importantly, Dominguez and Pernia were invited, not once, but repeatedly, to enlighten the members of the Committee. They did not deign it worth their while to be present. They sent underlings who would and could not give helpful answers to the commissioners’ questions. Who do they blame now for being befuddled? And let them be clear about whether they object to the very idea of federalism or to provisions that they admit they do not understand. Let us take one concrete issue: the sharing of national revenue between the federal government and the federated regions. Do they object to the proportion? What they do they suggest?
It is true of course that there will be a thousand and one hitches, bumps on the road, but these are the attendant birth-pangs of a new order. This is one reason that instead of pretending to be possessed of the prescience that allows us to foresee every bend on the road toward establishing a federal republic and transitioning to one, we thought it best to create a Federal Transition Commission that would wrestle with the minutiae of the passing. And there has also been proposed a Federal Intergovernmental Relations Commission—parallels of which are found in several constitutions of other jurisdictions—that will cause the necessary adjustments and effect the needed calibration between the regions, and between the regions and the federal government.
If this is what it is to be a skunk, or a nut, I revel in these appellations.