A VIEW FROM THE CENTER: How do we change from unitary to federal? Part 1

A VIEW FROM THE CENTER: How do we change from unitary to federal? Part 1 Featured

Part 1 of 3

There are no clearer marching orders given to Congress than the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte in his recent SONA that the Philippines should adopt a federal-parliamentary government modeled after France, with a “strong” President. Federalism was a major rallying cry for then presidential candidate Digong (the other was peace and order). We are looking at a leader who is keeping his word.

There is a slight variation between the “French model” that PRRD and his Political Party (PDP Laban) wants and the findings and conclusions of the 2005 Consultative Commission (A 50-member group established through Executive Order No. 453 during President Arroyo’s time) which the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) advocates. We did away with a strong universally elected President.

While the President prefers a federal-parliament with a strong President, we from the CDP & 2005 ConCom found the opposite works better for a parliamentary government with the head of government, the Prime Minister, having an ascendant role.

A universally elected President assumes a post that comes with the gravitas to compete with the Prime Minister, and that could create friction between them even if both come from the dominant or majority party. Even for a ceremonial position, which PRRD says he prefers, the parliamentary President elected at large vests any national politician with a stature that carries much prestige. Over time, there will be an inevitable encroachment into power bestowed on the presidency, transforming its ceremonial nature to one that competes with the head of government. Two big egos in the playground spell trouble over time.

The French themselves have a problem with their French model, but that is part of their political history. The same is alien to us.

On the other hand, there are harmonies with President Digong’s wishes with those of the CDP and the 2005 ConCom conclusions – foremost of which, of course, is that we need to shift from the unitary to the federal-parliamentary system. Let us dwell on the commonalities.

The process of federalization (the framework)

Contrary to the slogans hurled during the course of the 2016 election campaign, federalism is a multi-step process that must be clearly written in the Constitution. We can’t just legislate Federalism or just write in the Constitution that we are a de-facto Federal Republic tomorrow. What we can write in the new Constitution when we revise the 1987 Cory Constitution is THE FRAMEWORK, the step-by step process, the roadmap as it were to attaining the Philippine Federal Republic; beyond the term of President Digong and even in the next decade or so.

So even with President Digong gone, we will have planted today the seeds of our Federal Republic. Let me simplify and perhaps, shock some of the true believers.

Ushering in federalism requires the revision of the 1987 Constitution. The critical question is how to make the transition from a unitary to a federal system successful, less painful, sustainable and beneficial to the Filipino people. Our proposal has three critical steps:

Step 1: Put in place four (4) preconditions.

First is the indispensability of real political parties. Not the type we have today or have had in the past several decades. Political parties are primarily formed not only to contest elections and hold power in government but they must possess an ideological core, aggregating the needs and aspirations of a diverse segment of our society.

We must reform our political party system through the passing of the Political Party Development and Financing Act (SB 3214 & HB 6551 languishing in the last Congress), which will:

1) Penalize “turncoatism” (or the switching of political parties, “balimbing,” “political butterfly”);

2) Enforce transparent mechanisms providing and regulating campaign financing to eliminate graft, corruption, and patronage (corporate and individual contributions); and through

3) State subsidy that will professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives.

Second is to enact a law banning political dynasties as mandated in article II section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Immediate passage of an Anti-Dynasty law will level the playing field and provide equal opportunities to other emerging capable leaders to serve; practice transparent nomination among political parties with candidates willing to contest in the local elections; and most especially, ban concentration of powers by the few dynastic families in the barangay, local, and national positions. If Congress does not again pass an enabling law, then what should be written in the revised Constitution should be self-executory.

The third is the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) to enforce transparency in all transactions in government (not only through Executive Order). This law will allow public access to information (regardless of physical form or format) pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, government research data used as a basis for policy development; and compel transparency and accountability in public service by requiring financial information such as SALNs of public/civil servants to be posted in government offices or websites.

The fourth is initiate electoral reforms that will put in place a system that will not pervert the will of the populace. The Comelec must be reformed, including the Civil Service Commission, in order to merit competence and quality leadership in our future public leaders.

These preconditions have a high probability of passage while we have a President endowed with tremendous political capital and has the political will to act decisively. But this President’s enormous political capital, as in anything that is valuable, is likewise fragile and could erode; therefore there is a need to act now, and fast.

If these preconditions are not put in place and we proceed with a transition to a federal government, then we may have a government much worse than we currently have. Consider the scenarios:

a. We would have allowed the same personalities and political parties controlled by dynasties into the federal states, each establishing their fiefdoms, possibly with their own private armies and untrammeled looting of the States’ resources.

b. Control by the local elite and oligarchy of the economy and the political structure would result in regulatory capture of government agencies. This would all be fortified by a patronage system flourishing within a much smaller State area and population.

This will result in inequality, a greater gap between the “haves and the have-nots,” weaken citizens’ participation in governance and eventually destroy democracy. Then the mantra “Change is Coming” would have been a total disaster! (The second part of this three-part series will appear next Thursday)

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Lito Monico C. Lorenzana Served under four Philippine Presidents in various capacities as a member of the Cabinet and several Commissions, a Harvard educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines (CMFP); one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP); Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya; and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI)

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