Federalism by an indolent legislature
There have been several federalism proposals over the years. Last year alone, we had the draft by the Puno constitutional commission formed by President Duterte, and the instant Arroyo House of Representatives draft. These proposals are in the form of one-sided contracts premature to be brought to the people for acceptance. They repeat attempts to define the federal level of government, but offer no sufficient visioning and exploration of what state level governance will look like.
What is the rationale for the identification and delineation of the proposed federal states? What patterns and contours of politics, law, economics, society and culture, technology and the environment does each state configuration represent? What are the potential dynamics and relationships that make each configuration socially desirable and acceptable, technically feasible and financially viable?
Serious federalism proposals should include a futures mapping of each proposed federal state. There have been estimates of how much it will cost the country to have additional state presidents, senators, representatives and additional state bureaucracies. But estimating the salaries and operating budgets of these additional layers is insufficient. Completed staff
work must also be offered on the likely prospects for inclusive security, inclusive development and inclusive governance for each proposed state over the next 30 years. Apart from the charter, these reference studies should be generated and made available. How else will the people be able to make a decision?
Since the 1991 Local Government Code’s potential has only been partially realized, Metro Manila and Bangsamoro are the only truly compelling reasons to federalize. Metro Manila is choked, divided against itself, and is aching for metropolitan governance. Bangsamoro, meanwhile, aches for effective, inclusive and meaningful self-governance. For federalism to make sense, it should be incremental; start with the compelling cases, and add states based on the readiness of succeeding states. This way, the lessons learned and governance templates developed by the early federalizers will be available to the late federalizers.
The federalism contract must, in reality, be suited for governing a number of different dyadic federal-state relationships. Federalism is a package of new multitiered governance arrangements — federal, state and local. How should federalism proponents unpack it?
First, we need to draft state charters for a pilot set of prospective states, to scope the behavior of “different systems.” I would propose Metro Manila, Bangsamoro, Northern Luzon and Eastern Visayas as four different prospective federal state systems for scoping. For instance, how will Ilocos, Cagayan and the Cordillera regions meld into a subnation-state with a distinct identity, vision and governance over the next 30 years? What socio-cultural identity is the foundation “operating system” of the state? What will the best and worst scenarios be like? What will be the main driving forces for their future together? How does that compare with a configuration where Northern Luzon and Central Luzon make up one state?
Beyond four pilot state charters, consider how the climate of debate on federalism would be so much different and lively if the state universities in the various proposed regions banded together to consult their peoples and draft versions of their state charters and shared it with the nation.
The second process is to examine how the federal-state relationship will play out in specific policy areas. Which policy areas? A good beginning is for the House of Representatives, which has 60 standing committees and 15 special committees, to task each committee to report on the challenges and prospects in its assigned policy area under a federal setup. With the people’s money the House spends on itself, this should not be unreasonable. A House of Representatives that presumes to propose charter change in fast-track mode but does not take the time, energy and motivation to do a deep, multifaceted examination of the federalist alternative is, I would think, an indolent legislature.
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