FEDERALISM advocates are advising the Duterte administration to pursue “comprehensive reforms” as changing the form of government alone will not end the country’s political problems.
Benedikt Seemann, Philippine head of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Philippines, Germany’s Christian Democratic think-tank, called for a careful study as the process of shifting to a federal form of government would require multiple reforms in government, constant readjustments and constitutional amendments.
Under a federal system, each of the 18 regions in the Philippines will be granted autonomy, inserting a new level of government between the national and local governments. Countries that practice this form of government include Australia, Malaysia and the United States.
“First, you have to choose if you will stick with a presidential or a parliamentary form of democratic governance,” Seemann told the Varsitarian. “Secondly, you have to look into opportunities in creating a better participatory governance where the people have a say in policy-making.”
“If you want to start federalism in the Philippines, you have to bear in mind that you can’t implement a perfect form of federalism right from the start. There is always a need to constantly readjust things,” Seemann added.
Jonathan Malaya, executive director of the Puwersa ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan Federalism Institute, said implementing federalism could help spread out government services beyond the National Capital Region (NCR).
“The unitary system has centralized [the government] too much in Manila and therefore the local governments have to struggle. They have to be close to the people in power in the national government because all of the decision-making is done in the capital region,” Malaya said in an interview.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government’s task team on federalism plans to mount an information campaign on President Rodrigo Duterte’s vision of a federal government this year.
The 1987 Constitution must be revised to allow the shift to a federal form of government. There are three ways: a constituent assembly, a constitutional convention and a people’s initiative.
Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives want to do it through a constituent assembly, in which lawmakers directly propose amendments to the charter, after which the new constitution will be submitted to a plebiscite.
President Duterte favors a federal-parliamentary form of government, with a strong presidency directly elected by the public and a unicameral legislature.
In implementing a federal system, Seemann said a parliamentary government would be a good choice for economic and democratic stability.
“We have to choose a form of government that makes our government more robust [against] fears of corruption,” Seeman said.
But the legislature should be bicameral, with regional government representatives serving as the upper house of congress and participating in decision and policymaking, he said.
“In countries that are stable in a federal government, the regions form the upper house of the parliaments. And that makes sure that in all important processes that affect federal entities, they have a say in such legislation and policymaking,” he said.
As for the courts, Malaya said the judicial branch does not need a full-blown federal system like that of the US.
“A full-blown judicial system enables many regions to have their own laws and definitions of these laws. If we will have different laws then, it will be chaotic,” he said.
“It is better to have a Court of Appeals and a Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court) for every region to monitor governance and speed up the process of appeals for every region. Then, they would not have to come to Manila,” Malaya said.
Strengthen local governments
Seemann said federalism could improve the Philippines’ economic potential by making way for more opportunities to cities and towns outside NCR.
“The Philippines is a country that is very young and has an economic potential. If you can decentralize that potential to regions, you can create more power hubs also,” Seemann said.
Louie Montemar, a political science professor from De La Salle University, said shifting to a federal government is a good idea, but such move could worsen economic disparity if captured by business giants and political families.
“If federalism is going to be imposed without the necessary conditions, [we] might be seeing a resurgence…we might find the control of the oligarchy being strengthened,” Montemar warned.
He called for the strengthening the Local Government Code of 1991—a law that transferred several national government functions to local governments and established mechanisms of recall—to expand the autonomy of local government units.