Archive for October, 2008

October 6, 2008

Is it possible to pursue the benefits promised by federalism within the confines of the 1987 Charter? Yes, if Congress wills it. In fact, it may be the more practical approach. For this purpose, there is no need for a cha-cha, only a simple amendment to the local government code. For purposes of this discussion, I shall call this scheme, a highly decentralized unitary system or hdus.

This hdus is just like federalism, except that, instead of states, we will use local government units (lgu’s): provinces and cities. It would be similar to a type of federalism called permissive federalism, under which the state/local governments have only those powers and authorities permitted to them by the federal government. Examples of countries with this type of federalism are Austria, India, Malaysia, Mexico and the Russian Federation.

The question therefore is, shall we divide the country into states or shall we simply give more powers and authorities to our lgu’s? Let us take a look at how federalist justify the move towards federalism.

In a research report of the Center for Social Policy and Governance of the Kalayaan College, Abueva enumerated the theory behind Philippine federalization. The following are the hypotheses for the proposed shift from a unitary system to a federal system quoted from the research report with editing.

Let me respond to it point by point.

1. “The basis for establishing a federal system is that the Philippines has already achieved sufficient national unity and democratization, including a measure of decentralization and local autonomy. The latter will follow about a decade’s transition of “regionalization” and increased local autonomy involving both the national government and the local governments.”

If the Philippines has already achieved sufficient national unity, including a measure of local autonomy, why disturb it? Why not simply enhance it? “Regionalization” will only negate all  our gains at decentralization.

2. “Specifically, the 1987 Constitution’s design for the development of participatory democracy, local autonomy, and an active role for civil society in governance was a result of the growing difficulties and frustration with the country’s highly centralized unitary system during the authoritarian regime that started in September 1972.”

Yes. I agree with this statement. But has federalism got to do with this? If Congress failed to cope with the Charter’s design, shouldn’t its composition be changed, and not the document? Why blame the instrument, not the user?

3. “Federalism will respond to the demands of local leaders for their release from the costly, time-consuming, stifling, and demoralizing effects of excessive centralization and controls by the national government in the present unitary system.”

Yes. Federalism will do this. But it will do much more. It will replace central government with another governing body called states. Why not simply grant the more powers and authority to the lgu’s?

4. “The structures, processes, and responsibilities of the federation will challenge and energize the people and their state and local governments. Such further democratization will encourage creativity, initiative and innovation, spur inter-state competition, and foster state and local self-reliance instead of continued dependency.”

The reverse will happen. The unfamiliar structures, processes, and responsibilities of the federation will cause chaos and confusion. The people will be challenged and energized only if they are further democratized. This will take place at the local level only if there is no state that controls their movements.

5. “A federal system will greatly increase the capacity of the people and the government to deal with the country’s problems because the removal of the centralized structure that impose and sustain local dependence and stifle local initiative and resourcefulness will provide greater freedom and home rule. Therefore, they will be more interested in state and local governance because it is closer to them and will deal with under-development – local poverty, unemployment, injustice, inadequate social services and infrastructure, and low productivity.”

This scenario can only be possible if the lgu’s are allowed to operate with greater autonomy or without state control.

6. “In a federal structure that will consolidate the 80 provinces of the Philippines into 8 to 10 larger, integrated and more efficient and viable regions called states, substantial, faster and equitable development for the whole country is more likely to be achieved.”

There is no way by which any of the proposed states could be more efficient and viable than lgu’s.

7. “By participating in meaningful and challenging politics and governance at the state and local levels that impact directly the lives of the constituents, the people will be more empowered than if they continued to be alienated from their weak local governments and spectators in the affairs of far away national government institutions in the nation’s capital. Moreover, the people’s liberty will be protected by the further dispersion of power in the government and the society.”

In the proposed regions, leaders will have to start from scratch. Getting to know each other alone would be a big challenge. How long will it take for a state to be cohesive and operational? How can it make politics more meaningful and challenging?

8. “By governing the nation through interdependence and interaction with the states as regional governments, using the national language and a global language (such as English), the federal government will be better able to achieve and sustain national unity and identity. At the same time the states will be able to nurture, protect and enhance their regional cultures institutions and also contribute to national cultural development. Together the federal government and the states will be able to develop and sustain the nation’s cultural diversity and social pluralism.”

Judging from the proposed composition of states, the state governments would be hard-pressed just trying to deal with the varied concerns of its constituent provinces to be able to attend to state or national matters.

9. “A federal system will also be better able to respond to the external threats to national security and the challenges of globalization by strengthening the nation-state’s capacity to deal with its critical internal problems and development.”

The country can cope better with national security and globalization if its political subdivisions are cohesive and self-reliant. Lgu’s are, or can be. States will tend to be unwieldy and therefore unstable, Unless, perhaps, it is united by a strong urge to secede!

Conclusion: The above mentioned hypotheses for federalism seem to be not so rational. It will make Philippine governance more complex and expensive. The structure of a federal government will not empower the people nor accelerate the country’s development. A highly decentralized unitary system (huds) will.

Other issues and concerns:

1. “Senator Pimentel believes the federal system will dissipate the recurrent Moro Armed uprisings by giving them a federal state of their own which will develop and promote their unique culture.” A Muslim state will naturally adopt Muslim laws. Would the good Senator, perhaps, agree to the creation of a Christian state? Do we want to have a theocratic state in our country? Of anywhere else for that matter?

2. “A renaissance of regional languages, arts and cultures will enrich the national language and culture, and instill a deeper sense of both regional and national identities.”

The kindest thing I can say about this statement is that it was probably made without looking at the proposed provincial composition of states. The more appropriate thing to say is that states will destroy everything that we so dearly love and cherish in our regions, including our regional identities.