A VIEW FROM THE CENTER: How do we change from unitary to federal? Part 3 of 3 Sam Ochave

A VIEW FROM THE CENTER: How do we change from unitary to federal? Part 3 of 3 Featured

Part 3 of 3

Before the time Candidate Digong came forward with a genius strategy of going for the Presidency with his “urong-sulong,” “now you see him, now you don’t” campaign approach, only a few people have really heard of federalism. I suspected Manila voters were at first indifferent to the idea.

read: Part 1

read: Part 2

However, it was a different case with people in the provinces and outlying areas – outside of Metro Manila, particularly in Mindanao. Federalism was a catchword for freedom from the clutches of “Imperial Manila.” And in fact, it is really a cry for justice of some sort to correct the decades-old dominance of the national central government, where power and authority are concentrated over the regional and local governments.

When he delivered a down-to-earth message on his favored system of government for the Philippines, federalism seems to be a well understood concept by the ordinary people using his 70-30 percent formula, which simply states that 70 percent of the region’s income goes to them and the remaining 30 percent sent to the central government.

Step3: Creating federal states, through autonomous territories

But then again, the question is no longer why change the system, but how to change the system. Federalism, while seen as a solution to the systemic deficiencies in the country, requires a process as emphasized in the first and second parts of this column (step 1 – four preconditions to federalism and step 2 – immediate shift to parliamentary government), which we propose, should be followed by a more important step that will complete the roadmap to a Federal Republic of the Philippines – the CREATION OF AUTONOMOUS TERRITORIES. The Consultative Commission’s “out of the box” version of a federal state has its roots on the concept of autonomy, subsidiarity and self-determination.

In our version, adopted by the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), we allow the provinces and highly urbanized component cities to evolve first to an autonomous territory, with the decision to group themselves coming from the grassroots level (PINATUBO). Self-determination” is central to this decision. Although the Philippines may eventually end up with, from 8-12 federal states, Parliament can’t impose on the current provinces and cities. They are merely given the general guidelines for such formation based on criteria to be embedded in the revised Constitution, such as common culture, language, custom, contiguous areas and economic viability. Therefore, it is necessary that these contiguous provinces/cities need to negotiate among one another.

In other words, the citizens within a contiguous territory, with a common language and culture, must decide in a referendum that they want to become completely autonomous. Petitions are passed by their local legislative assemblies.

Once a referendum is passed, within a year, Parliament must enact an organic law defining the autonomous territory’s land area, powers, obligations and sources of revenues (taxes). The autonomous territory then writes its own Constitution to be approved in a plebiscite by its own people. If 3/5 (60 percent) of the provinces and component cities of the Philippines become autonomous territories, then the Federal Republic of the Philippines is created.

What’s in a name?

Reaching the 60 percent hurdle rate may take years depending on how fast the other provinces and component cities can become autonomous territories. The slower ones may take time negotiating with their neighboring provinces and cities. But for all intents and purposes, the autonomous territory already exercises the rights, privileges and prerogatives of a federal state. It has its own Constitution, defined boundaries, its own government structure and sources of income and independence from the central government.

Provinces and cities that have not agreed among themselves to become an autonomous territory will be disadvantaged, but the success of its neighboring autonomous territory would be a huge motivation for them to likewise convert into one.

Critics on Federalism claim that the federal system will result in inequality among various regions. Yet, in a response by Dr. Jose Abueva, chairman of the ConCom, “Right now, under our unitary system and presidential government, there are serious inequalities among our 16 administrative regions and the ARMM — in their economic and social development — which our existing political system has not only failed to reduce but has actually made worse over the years because of its weakness and ineffectiveness.” The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) listed 11 Mindanawan provinces out of the 20 poorest provinces in the country.

One important aspect of federalism, aside from self-determination for regions, is that it emphasizes respect for the socio-cultural diversity of the people and seeks solidarity and cooperation in governance, nation-building, modernization and development.

The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law studied that many scholars have cited India’s federal constitution as a reason for its success in managing its multiethnic and multireligious polity; Pakistan has recently strengthened its Constitution’s federal characteristics; Sri Lanka’s best chance for a durable peace with justice between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority was when it explored constitutional reform based on federalism between 1996 and 2004; Nepal,following a decade-long conflict that ended with a peace agreement in 2006, is working on the details of a new Constitution that will introduce a federal, secular, democratic republic. The Malaysian and Indonesian Constitutions contain federal features while Malaysia has started discussions on federal type reforms to address minority aspirations in these countries.

They say that a federal system will strengthen ethnic regionalism or the cultural division of the nation as Tagalogs, Visayans, Ilocanos, Bicolanos, Moros, etc. However, “ethnic regionalism among Filipinos” as emphasized by Dr. Abueva, is the natural feeling people have in identifying with their place of birth and native language and culture. According to Dr. Abueva, this is good for the people and the nation if the people also identify with the nation and the country as a whole, as many actually do.

This is why the CDP firmly supports the passage of the Basic Law on the Bangsamoro (BBL), since what is good for the Bangsamoro is good for the Bangsa Ilocano, Bangsa Tagalog, and all other regions that exhibit self-determination, autonomy and subsidiarity.

As a final note, I will quote from the Mister Pideral of Mindanao, Rey Teves: “Federalism is an idea whose time has come. But by no means is a federal system perfect, of course. Indeed, there is no perfect political system in the world. But there are effective systems as there are lousy ones. There are relevant and responsive systems as there are abusive and oppressive ones.”

For the CDP and the ConCom, the proposed federal system, along with the four preconditions; immediate shift to parliamentary system; and creation of autonomous territories, will contribute to the improvement of governance and political leadership, to their effectiveness and accountability, and to the people’s empowerment so they can demand better service and performance by the leaders and the government.

The creation of the Federal Parliamentary Philippines would be the fulfilment of the vision of many of its adherents, dating back to the Philippine Revolution and the birth of a nation; and would be the lasting legacy of President Duterte. An apt finish to his mantra –“Change is coming” – it has.

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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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