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Federalism: a simple experiment on how to sway opinions




           I conducted a simple experiment in my Politics, Government and Constitution class on whether or not the Philippines should shift to a Federal form of government. This is one of the priority initiatives of President Duterte.  I also wanted to know how we could influence or educate our people on the issue.


Demographics.

          The class is composed of first year elementary and high school education students in a community college in Bicol. Since this is a community college and we are within the two-year no college freshmen interlude of the new K-12 program:

  • These first year students are not fresh high school graduates
  • Some of them stopped after high school, some previously started college but stopped for a while or transferred to our school
  • All the students are residents in our 4th class municipality
  • Most people live on agriculture (coconuts, rice, tiger grass for soft brooms) and fishing
  • Ages range from students who graduated from high school 2 years ago to students who are already married and with children.

          This is a common mix of students in the community college. Considering this demographic, I have in one classroom, a chance to take the pulse of students who probably belong to the same group that has been giving exceptionally high approval ratings for President Duterte, the last one from Pulse Asia January 2018 giving him 80% approval and 82% trust.



The Experiment

          I grouped students for a class debate on the shift to a Federal form from our current Unitary form of government.

          I wanted a first-hand pulse of where Federalism is at in the grass roots. I also wanted to know how education can influence their vote.

          So I made a poll BEFORE they listened to the class debate. I wanted to know what would be their vote if a national plebiscite to ratify a Constitutional amendment shifting to a Federal form was conducted that day, considering their little or no knowledge about federalism. This pre-debate and pre-lecture poll also intends to measure their pulse without the influence of the teacher and the debaters.

          Another poll was conducted with their respective reasons AFTER the debate. This will measure whether an exchange of (hopefully well researched and well-reasoned) arguments can sway them.

          Finally, I conducted the third poll after my class lecture and discussion which succeeded the debate. The third poll was in the form of a short essay question in their midterm exam a week after the debate and lecture.



The Results

          Summarized in the table below are the results of the simple experiment.

POLLS
STUDENTS
PERCENTAGE
Total Number of Students
Federal
Unitary (Status Quo)
Federal
Unitary (Status Quo)
Pre-debate
16
9
64%
36%
25
Post-debate
24
7
77.4%
22.5%
31
Midterm Exam (after lecture & discussion)
18
19
48.6%
51.3%
37


          Prior to the debate, 64% of the students were in favor of a shift to Federalism. Very high. It even increased to 77.4% after the debate. The students highly favor the President’s push for a Federal form of government. Some of us might be surprised with the result, especially those who live in Manila. So, were a plebiscite done that day, a great majority of the students will ratify a Constitutional amendment that provides for a Federal form of government.

          I affirmed the points raised by BOTH the Pro and Anti Federalism groups, but after listening to the debate and after sifting through the students’ reasons in the post-debate poll, I proceeded with the lecture and class discussion.

          During the Midterm exam, a week later, the student poll via a short essay returned a major reversal. From a mere 36% and 22.5% pre- and post-debate vote, the students now polled a majority of 51.3% favoring the status quo, rejecting the shift to a Federal form of government.



Why did they change their votes?  What did I do?

          As of this writing, and without a corresponding survey, I could only presume the following.

          I noticed that most students during the post debate still did not have a clear grasp of the differences among the forms of government. Like most ordinary citizens, especially those of lesser education and political interest (I presume again here), the students redounded to simple answers they can grasp or recall. 

          For them, simple catch-all statements like “mas uunlad ang Pilipinas sa Federal form” (the Philippines will prosper better in a Federal form) and “mas maunlad ang mga bansang may Federal Form” (countries with a Federal form are more prosperous) were sufficient justifications  to shift to a Federalism.

           I therefore wrote the following tables on the board:


Form of Government
Countries adopting the form of government
Presidential Form
United States of America, Philippines, Argentina, Brazil, Burundi, Mexico, Ghana, Venezuela
Parliamentary Form
United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Bangladesh, Cambodia


Form of Government
Countries adopting the form of government
Federal Form
United Kingdom, Philippines, China, France, Italy, Japan, Indonesia, Bangladesh
Unitary Form
United States of America, Germany, Somalia, Nigeria, Russia, Malaysia, Austria, India


          Explaining to them the pros and cons and presenting the tables showing the simple facts that there are BOTH rich and poor countries in all of the different forms of government helped them come to a realization that it is not in the system or form of government but rather in the kind of political leaders that we have.  It is not the system but the people running the system.  

          I believe these are major reasons for the shift in their vote.

         They were also attracted to the promise that the autonomy will give them more voice and the government will be more responsive to their unique needs. Note the distance of our town from Metro Manila.

          Another possible reason for the change in their votes is the learning environment wherein I allowed a friendly, non-antagonistic and yet lively discussion and discovery.

          I think there is also the factor of a teacher whom they trust (again I am presuming here) and who they see not as an expert but like them are also learning and trying to form a view of his own. In the course of our classroom discussion, I hinted at my own doubts about Federalism in the Philippines. This might have helped sway some of the votes. But I again, the point begs for a corresponding survey.

          Finally, I think the last reason is that I did not try too hard.  I don't know, but based on experience, I have noticed that pushing too hard, especially on people I encounter here daily, does not get the results I push hard for.  That may be caused by factors best answered in a more focused study.



So where does this lead us?

          Should you oppose actions of a popular president, especially if it involves far-reaching consequences for the country? Yes. Is it impossible to sway the majority vote in areas outside Metro Manila who seem to favor the President’s push for Federalism? No.

          How should you do this? Is sarcasm and satire enough? Yes, if you want approval of those who are already on your side of the political debates. But, that may not be an efficient and effective way to sway those who do not live in the same world as we do or who do not see the world the way we see it. Just as in any area of leadership or social interaction, relationship and an appropriate approach is important. If we really believe in the utter importance and nobility of our cause, then we should think of shifting approaches, or at least to not only stick with the style that is comfortable for us.

          There is an alternative to the “Duterte equals evil” rhetoric.

          


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