PRESIDENT Duterte spoke of a “hybrid” system of government similar to China’s relationship with Hong Kong, in a speech in Davao City Thursday night. He was reacting to so many voices opposing his proposal for a federal system of government for the country to give the Moro people greater autonomy within the national government.
China today maintains a special relationship with its cities of Macau and Hong Kong. Portuguese merchants settled in and governed Macau in 1535; sovereignty was transferred to China in 1999 but Macau retained a high level of autonomy and its legal system. As for Hong Kong, the United Kingdom acquired its territories under three treaties in 1842, 1860, and 1898; it finally yielded sovereignty in 1997.
Hong Kong remains a center of capitalist economic activity that has made it the world’s freest economy for the last 24 years. It elects its own officials who manage city affairs. Its citizens often carry out public demonstrations against government policies and programs. But Beijing maintains sovereignty, while allowing a measure of freedom in Hong Kong that is not allowed elsewhere in the country.
President Duterte must have noted some similarity between this and Manila’s relationship with the Moro people. The Moros of Mindanao were never fully subjugated by the Spanish colonial government and the later American military rulers. It is said the Americans invented the Colt 45 with its bigger 45-caliber bullets in their Mindanao pacification campaign, because the ordinary 38-caliber bullets could not stop attacking Moro warriors.
Armed Moro groups have always held sway in one part of Mindanao or another. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was the principal force for many years, until the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) became dominant during the PNoy Aquino administration. A Bangsamoro Basic Law was drawn up but the Aquino administration ended without Congress completing the process of approval.
President Duterte, the country’s first Mindanao president, has long been calling for a federal form of government under which a Moro Autonomous Region could function with much greater autonomy than is now practiced in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). There has been considerable opposition to federalism, however, because it is feared it could lead to a breakup in national unity. There are other reasons, including the cost, the additional layers of needless bureaucracy, the rise of local clans controlling the regions, etc.
With his suggestion that officials now studying Charter change also consider the China-Hong Kong system, President Duterte has shown his mind is not locked on federalism. If the greater autonomy he seeks for the Moro people can be achieved by the “hybrid” system now existing in Hong Kong, he said, he was all for it. This should help ease the way towards the changes now being studied for the government and Constitution of our country.