20 June 2006

Barcelona, the World Urban Forum and federalism

ON MY way home two weekends ago, I engaged Inquirer columnist and noted Bikolano cookbook author Honesto General in a quick chat while waiting for our flight. Tio Oning is a true-blue Nagueño who keynoted our Bicol Express cooking demo for Tipanan 2005 in Intramuros, Synergeia's signature annual cultural event. Inevitably, our conversation veered towards politics.

Among followers of his "Questions of Policies" column, General's aversion towards a parliamentary and federal forms of government, in that order, is well known. As one who has a soft spot for the latter, I wanted to know why.

From our conversation, General's beef against federalism can be summarized as (1)
structural - our reverse approach, which would call for the unitary Philippine state to break up into smaller regional states, has no precedent worldwide; and (2) operational - from the feasibility of adding another layer (the regional government) to the system, to such trivial but sure-to-be-divisive issues (e.g., which would become the regional center, Naga or Legazpi?).

These are interesting points that have merit, and they are questions that federalists must squarely and convincingly address if the advocacy were to move forward in a big way. If there is something that the academia in the region (perhaps jointly led by my alma mater Bicol University and Ateneo de Naga University) can concretely contribute to the debate, this would be it.

Offhand, my gut feel (as I intimated to Tio Oning) is that for the long run, a federal form of government can make things better for today's worse-off regions. It fits with and recognizes our regional identities. I don't believe that because something has no precedent automatically means it cannot be done; there
is always a first time. And operational headaches can be addressed by consensus building among elected leaders or through democratic mechanisms (a plebiscite or a referendum). The development and strengthening of regional identities towards something more concrete will be helped by finding common grounds instead of issues that divide. Toward this end, a groundbreaking academic inquiry on the feasibility of creating a Bikol state will certainly go a long way.

In this journey, Bikolanos and other regional groupings in the country should be interested in
what's happening in Spain nowadays. Just last week, Catalunya (which has Barcelona as seat of the regional government) voted themselves greater autonomy in a referendum, which observers say will only continue to weaken Madrid's central control. If the Catalans' accomplishment represent an approximate endpoint to our own journey, then a lot more needs to be done beyond mere rhetorics.

By the way, Barcelona hosted the 2004 World Urban Forum, whose 2006 edition opened yesterday in Vancouver. I had the privilege of attending a side event there, mainly to read a paper. Which explains above's serious visage of a 'lone wolf' having difficulty in taking a picture of himself in the city's own version of Arc de Triomphe:)


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