How to decapitate ‘Imperial Manila’

How to decapitate ‘Imperial Manila’ Featured

Except for the so-called “oligarchs” based in the National Capital Region, I am positive that most Filipinos agree with President Duterte that it is about time we decapitated “Imperial Manila.” Too many decisions about the welfare of the regions are being made by Manila-based politicians and government officials who are often ignorant of the real circumstances of the masses outside the NCR, especially in the predominantly rural territories.

There is no consensus, however, on how to carry out this “beheading.” I am giving my full support to the opinion expressed by my fellow member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, Christian Monsod, in an interview with ANC’s Karen Davila: Federalism is not necessary to accomplish the task of breaking Manila’s hold on the various regions. I hope that other living members of the commission appointed by then President Cory Aquino would express their views on this very important issue that the nation is now facing: to federalize or not.

If one reads closely the 1987 Constitution, one will see that there are enough provisions allowing local government officials to raise and manage their own resources without kowtowing to the leaders in Manila. Section 5 of Article X on Local Government states that each local government unit (LGU) shall have the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees and charges subject to such guidelines and limitations as Congress may provide, consistent with the basic policy of local autonomy. Such taxes, fees and charges will accrue exclusively to the local governments. Section 7 states that local governments will be entitled to an equitable share in the proceeds of the utilization and development of the national wealth within their respective areas, in the manner provided by law, including sharing the same with the inhabitants by way of direct benefits.

The Local Government Code of 1991 was the enabling law that implemented the decentralization of political and economic power to the regions, as mandated by the Constitution. Under this Code, local governments can issue bonds, partner with the private sector to build infrastructures, and, as Monsod pointed out, LGUs may group themselves to consolidate or coordinate their efforts, services and resources for a purpose commonly beneficial to them (as the two provinces of Negros Island recently did).

Under the Local Government Code, President Duterte has all the authority to continue enhancing local autonomy, not only through recommending legislative acts, but also by administrative and organizational reforms. For example, the President can issue an executive order that the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) be distributed instantly and completely to the LGUs (this has been a bone of contention in previous administrations jealous of their budgetary power).

Before we adopt a federal form of government, which may be feasible in the long run, let us first make sure that there are enough examples of local leaders who are able to manage their respective LGUs under the autonomy already granted to them by the Local Government Code. This could be a period during which, without imposing on them a preconceived set of federal states, they can on their own identify the common features they have that will make them compatible with one another (as in the case of the Negros provinces), or the complementary role that can be played by the economically stronger provinces grouping with the weaker ones.

This has to be a natural process, and not imposed from above. For example, I doubt that Panay will naturally gravitate to Palawan, Mindoro, Romblon, and Marinduque, as envisioned by some who have prematurely grouped the various islands into 11 federal states. The principle of subsidiarity requires that their leaders be given the freedom to choose the federal state they will belong. As a Batangueño myself, I am not sure that the various political dynasties in Southern Luzon will actually want to cooperate with one another to form a single federal state.

Before changing the Constitution, which is relatively an irreversible process, it would be advisable first to test the feasibility of autonomous federal states by fully implementing the Local Government Code under the President’s strong leadership. If there are imperfections, the Code can be more easily amended than the Constitution. As Monsod quipped in the interview, “The Constitution does not say anything about sharing of revenues; it just says equitable sharing. Change the mining law. Change the IRA in the Local Government Code. 40:60? Change it to 60:40; change it to 80:20. You don’t need to change the Constitution.”

It would be more realistic that in the next two years, we focus on amending only the economic provisions in the Constitution in order to jump-start a quantum leap in the amount of foreign direct investments, especially in such very capital-intensive sectors as public utilities, infrastructures, transport and communications. The President has expressed his willingness to have these restrictive provisions in the Constitution removed through a Charter change to be implemented by Congress. This process was already at an advanced stage during the previous administration. Although I am sure the extreme Left would have strong objections, the President has more than enough support to accomplish what then Speaker Sonny Belmonte tried hard to push forward but failed, because of the unwillingness of the previous president to amend the Constitution.


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Bernardo M. Villegas (bernardo.villegas@uap. asia) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.

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