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Federalism as a grand bargain Featured

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THIRD, a decisive and stable leadership is needed to deal with many outstanding national security issues that the country is facing and will continue to face in the years ahead—the war on drugs, terrorism and US-China relations. There is no certainty that a prime minister at least in the transition period can provide decisive and stable leadership. The prime minister has to constantly rely on the support of a majority in the parliament, each one of them representing powerful factions. Under these conditions, a prime minister can easily be weakened by factional infighting. A semi-presidential form of government provides a balance between decisiveness of a presidency and accountability in a parliamentary system.
Fourth, a presidency is needed to deal with gridlocks and instability associated with parliamentary systems, especially in a transition period where political parties are very weak. A sudden shift to a pure parliamentary system without a stabilizing and familiar anchor is risky. This has been the experience of countries which swung from presidential to parliamentary systems. In the long run, when our parliamentary system has become strong, we can shift to a full parliamentary system. Most federal forms of government in fact are based on parliamentary systems.


Proportional representation
For a semi-parliamentary form of government to be effective, it has to be stable. For this to happen, the ruling party should have a comfortable majority in parliament. Ideally, there should just be a few national parties—like in the case of federal countries such as the US, India, Russia, Germany, Malaysia, Australia, among others.


We can also take lessons from parliamentary democracies such as Japan. Before 1990, around 50 percent of all elected posts in Japan’s House of Representatives (HoR) were controlled by political dynasties. Today it is about 10 percent. In the 1990s, elections were based mainly on personalities and not issues. Today, elections in Japan are now based more on political party platforms. Political parties have become central to Japanese politics and voters choose on the basis of policies rather than personalities.


What did they do? In the mid-1990s, they introduced a type of proportional system of representation called mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) method of voting with dual candidacy. Before that, they used single non-transferable voting (SNTV). Their goal was to shift from patronage/personality-based competition towards two-party competition, party-centered campaigning, and party centralization.


Under MMM, voters have two votes. One is for the single-member district (SMD) like what we have now, and the other vote is for a political party with dual candidacy (i.e. you can be nominated for both SMD and as party representative). Half of all HoR seats were allotted for SMD and the other half to the open list. Party leaders choose the candidates.


Twenty years after this reform, studies have shown that: 1) the goals of two-party competition, party-centered campaigning, and party centralization have been achieved; 2) patronage/factions remain strong but their effects have been channeled towards intra-party politics; 3) clientilistic policies (local public and private goods) are giving way to much broader national public goods; and 4) the dual candidacy has resulted in incumbency advantage. Even after 60 years in power, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) only managed to get 3.2 percent of district voters to sign up for party membership.


In addition to MMM, there are other possible mechanisms to channel the interests of political dynasties. For example, the effects of political dynasties are likely to be exacerbated in poor/rural regions but not in urbanized areas (perhaps due to the middle class). We also know that political dynasties are organized around provinces, cities and towns.


Therefore, if we have a regional governor who is elected at large by voters from provinces, cities and rural areas (and even OFWs), the incumbency advantages of political dynasties at the regional level will be mitigated. The downside is that smaller provinces might be initially disadvantaged by bigger ones (Bohol vs Cebu, Aurora vs Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan vs Ilocos Sur etc. under the current set-up). However, leaders from the smaller provinces could always coalesce and become large enough to have stronger bargaining powers.


What would happen to the the party-list system? Under the proportional system of voting following the Japanese model, the current party-lists would be regarded like any other political party. Instead of being limited to a maximum of three seats, party-lists can compete for as many seats as they can as a proportion of the total number of votes they receive up to a maximum of 40 percent of the total number of seats in the House of Representatives. The regulation of political dynasties would help ensure that smaller political parties can also compete in the regions.
Strengthening governance in regions
There are two other valid worries of both critics and proponents of federalism that should be addressed. The first is the problem of uneven administrative capacities in the regions—some regions are strong while many are weak. The second is the problem of decentralized corruption that could result from the transfer of more significant powers of the regions. The solution to this is to commensurately strengthen the powers and capacities of constitutional watchdogs such as the Commission on Audit and Civil Service Commission to prevent the abuse of power. Much remains to be done also to improve the governance of local government units as they are given more powers and responsibilities.


One way to ensure that the regional governments would have the capabilities commensurate with the transfer of significant powers and budgets would be to transfer existing regional government agencies to the control of a regional governor. At present, these agencies are held accountable by their head offices in Manila, and provincial governors have little influence over them. The regional offices of the National Economic Development Authority will play in a key role in regional budget and policy planning, monitoring and coordination and reporting directly to the regional governor. The capacity of middle government—the regional government—would also have to be substantially strengthened. Successful parliamentary systems in fact are associated with a strong civil service.


This arrangement has many important advantages. First and foremost, there is no need to create another layer of bureaucracy and hence no additional cost for personnel. Second, the directors of these agencies will continue to report to their former head offices for purposes of coordination over technical standards and policy implementation. This is an arrangement called dual reporting system similar to the arrangement of the administrative staff of India. Third, regional civil servants will be subject to the same national professional qualifications standards to ensure consistency of qualifications nationwide. Civil service will remain national in character.


In addition to strengthening the regional civil service, there is also a need to strengthen the commission on audit and special courts such as the Sandiganbayan and the Ombudsman at the regional levels. The goal is to ensure that these agencies can effectively hold regional and local governments accountable and to allay fears about abuse of power and decentralized corruption.


In conclusion, for federalism to succeed, we need a grand bargain, a package of mutually reinforcing political, electoral and administrative reforms. Tinkering with the Local Government Code will not be enough. Doing so without this package of reforms would be risky and would likely lead to failure.
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