craig aquino,

Opinion: The Federalist

2/05/2018 08:55:00 PM Media Center 0 Comments

Photo Credit: Ezra Bustamante
Several politicians are now taking steps towards the shifting of the Philippines to a federal system of government, with President Rodrigo Duterte being one of them. President Duterte has long been a supporter of federalism, having promoted it even before he ran for president.

The idea of a federal Philippines is not a new one. It has been proposed as far back as the Philippine Revolution, wherein Apolinario Mabini was an advocate. [] In 2001, Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. also started advocating for federalism.

But what is federalism?

Simply put, it is a form of government wherein power is divided between a central or federal administation and several sub-national ones. The sub-national units function like autonomous states having their own legislative, executive, and judiciary. However, the central government will still have power over national issues, such as foreign relations, healthcare, and the like.

The main argument put forth for a federal government is to give poorer regions the opportunity to grow, unhindered by the bureaucracy and corruption of the so-called ‘Imperial Manila’. Because of the autonomy of the sub-national units — to be called ‘states’ in the Philippines’ implementation — they will have control over their own taxation and spending without having to rely on the capital to provide for their needs.

This is a good idea — in theory. However, the political landscape of the Philippines is not conducive to a federalist government.

The Philippine government is full of corruption and partisanship from the highest offices in ‘Imperial Manila’ to the local government units. Shifting to federalism now would not give other poorer regions the opportunity to grow — it would only give local politicians more opportunity to steal.

Besides those issues, the current draft also has problems.

Currently, five states are proposed: the State of Luzon, the State of Visayas, the State of Mindanao, the State of Bangsamoro, and the State of Manila. This division is based mostly on the geographical separation of the Philippines into three main island groups, with the exception of the capital Manila, and the Muslim Bangsamoro.

If the main goal of federalism is to empower regions to grow economically, why not divide the Philippines based on economic factors, such as the main product of regions?

Cultural differences should also be considered in the divisions. Because each region will be self-governing, this is a prime opportunity to alleviate the marginalisation of certain ethnic groups.

A switch to federalism would also require a charter change (Cha-Cha). Several issues can arise from this. For example, the government has already decided that the best way to go about the Cha-Cha is through a constituent assembly (Con-Ass), wherein it is Congress who proposes amendments to the constitution. However, the Senate and the House of Representatives are still bickering how to interpret the constitution regarding this.

A charter change is also the perfect opportunity for corrupt politicians to take advantage of the system in order to ensure that they can continue to further their own agenda. This is already evident now, before a formal Con-Ass has been convened. Some members of the House of Representatives have drafted proposals for the new constitution, some of which do not ever relate to federalism.

Issues like these must first be taken into account before we move forward with a new system of government. The Philippines is not prepared for as radical a shift as this. We must not act rashly, but rather first resolve the problems deeply ingrained into the Philippine society and government.

There is no doubt that federalism is a system that works. However, it is but a tool, and without a skilled hand to guide it, it will inevitably fail.//by Craig Aquino and Cyrille Villanueva

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