Clearing ‘misconceptions’ on federalism | Inquirer Opinion

Clearing ‘misconceptions’ on federalism

/ 05:10 AM February 12, 2018

There seems to be a well-coordinated hate campaign against the advocacy of the Duterte administration for a shift to a federal system of government.

Spearheading this campaign are prophets of doom, such as former Supreme Court chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., who employ scare tactics by painting federalism as a “lethal experiment or a leap to hell.”

On the contrary, federalism is meant to take our people out of poverty hell to which they have been consigned to suffer for centuries under the present unitary system of government. By allowing regions or states to chart their own destinies, development potentials will be unleashed and opportunities will open up for the long-neglected regions.


Davide doesn’t get it. He has lived a comfortable life that he is blind to the sufferings of the people in the hinterlands marginalized by the central government. He has benefited so much from a system that he helped perpetuate as a member of the commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution and so it is easy to understand his revulsion to a federal system. He has been so enamored of the 1987 Constitution he sees it as perfect and does not need any change, when other constitutional experts have acknowledged that it is riddled with flaws.


For instance, the framers of the 1987 Constitution forgot to make the necessary changes — when they opted for a bicameral instead of a unicameral legislature — to clarify whether the House of Representatives and the Senate should vote separately or jointly when convened into a constituent assembly to propose Charter amendments, and had been a constant source of disagreement between the two chambers of Congress.

Recently, Davide shifted his scare tactics and claimed that a federal system is antipoor because double taxation is unavoidable. Again, that is misleading. People need not suffer from double taxation under a federal system.


Since the federal government would have lesser scope of responsibilities, its share in the national taxes would be reduced accordingly, with the states or regions getting the lion’s share of the revenues. Likewise, if there are similar federal and state taxes, the rates can be adjusted so that the total effect is about the same level of taxes paid under a unitary government.

Then there are also those who raise the specter that a federal system will perpetuate political dynasties. In the first place, the 1987 Constitution allowed dynasties to prosper because instead of including a clear provision against such practice, it delegated to Congress the task of crafting an enabling law for the purpose.

On the other hand, there are now proposals to include a clear-cut antipolitical dynasty provision in the new federal constitution. But this cannot happen unless the present Charter is amended to put in place a new federal government.

There are also critics who harp against a constituent assembly as the mode of amending the Constitution, claiming the people do not trust Congress to handle the job. That is absurd. First, the lawmakers were elected directly by the people and they possess the mandate to represent their constituents. Secondly, one of the modes the 1987 Constitution has prescribed is for Congress to propose such amendments.

Back to Davide, if the “best” constitution provides various modes for amendment, how can the former chief justice

argue that it should not be changed at all?

For centuries under our colonial masters, and decades after we finally stood as a free nation, we have been under a unitary system of government. Instead of allowing us to thrive, poverty has remained prevalent. Meanwhile, many of our neighbors who adopted a federal system have overtaken us.

Unless we muster the courage to change, we will not be able to liberate our nation from the shackles of the past.

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TAGS: charter change, federalism, Hilario Davide Jr., Inquirer letters, Rodrigo Duterte

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