Federalism will not solve corruption
THERE’S A variety of incantations being offered to break the spell of poverty in our provinces. These include “anticorruption,” “antidynasty,” “federalism,” and many other magic chants.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has made known that “federalism” is his choice of incantation to spur economic development and to help stamp out poverty in the countryside.
He said he would work to amend the Constitution in order to change the form of government from a unitary system to a federation of autonomous regions. This would mean changing the kind of government that we have had since the birth of our country in 1898, or for the past 118 years.
As the longtime political shaman of Davao City, Duterte has experienced how “Imperial Manila” monopolizes revenues collected from the provinces, and the misuse of patronage politics to force mayors and governors to beg for those revenues to trickle back to their towns and provinces in the form of diluted projects.
He is yet to give details on the federal form of government that he wishes for the Philippines. However, former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who is the founding father of Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban, espouses a federal government that will have 11 federal states—four in Luzon, four in the Visayas and three in Mindanao.
Under the Pimentel proposal, the four federal states in Luzon will be Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and the Bicol area; the federal states in the Visayas will be Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, and the provinces of Romblon and Palawan; and Mindanao will be composed of the federal states of Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, and a separate state for the Bangsamoro.
In most foreign countries with a federal system, the federal government wields powers over foreign affairs and national defense.
Pimentel proposes that a Philippine federal government should additionally retain control over the justice system and the public school system. The rest of governmental powers will be delegated to the autonomous state governments.
It must be pointed out that it is not the nature of a system of government that causes it to fail. It is the people who operate the system of government that will make it fail, or succeed. By merely changing the system of government—without changing the culture of the people who run the government—the same people who cause the failure of the unitary system will make the new federal system fail as well.
As many as 70 percent of Filipino politicians are connected to dynasties who have ruled the towns and provinces for generations. With the powers that these dynasties hold under the present unitary form of government, they have been able to perpetuate themselves in power and amass vast wealth through corruption. How much more influence and wealth will these dynasties monopolize if more powers from the national government are devolved and handed over to their control?
Let us grant for the sake of argument that federalism will work for a Davao City ruled by a Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. But what guarantee do we have when it comes to the politicians who treat the rest of our 145 cities, 1,489 towns, and 81 provinces as though these were their fiefdoms?
A shift to federalism as a formula to address the problem of poverty is a remedy that calls for the reallocation of powers among politicians. Given the prevailing culture of corruption among these politicians, however, federalism will not yield positive results for the country at this time.
What we need at this time is to reallocate more powers to the people, for them to fight the abuse of power of the politicians. We need to arm citizens with a freedom of information law to enable them to easily expose corruption, which is the bigger cause of poverty compared to the perceived dysfunctional nature of the unitary form of government. We need an antidynasty law under which a stint in public office is a public service and not a family business, as many political dynasties have made it. We need an antidynasty law to level the playing field and give well-meaning citizens a chance at public service, instead of allowing government positions to be the birthright of de facto royal dynasties.
Under ideal political conditions, a federal system of government may be better than a unitary form of government. But we are not under ideal political conditions.
In the list of what can make our country better at this time, given the prevailing political culture, our need for laws to fight corruption ranks much higher in importance and urgency than the need to shift to a federal system of government.
At the very least, strengthened anticorruption instruments—foremost among which are freedom of information and antidynasty laws—must first be in place before any shift to a federal system of government is undertaken. These laws are indispensable preconditions for a federal system of government to function for the people’s welfare.
If Duterte forces a shift to federalism without first arming the people with all the means to fight corruption, he will leave a legacy of having strengthened provincial warlords with expanded powers to perpetuate their vassal kingdoms all over the country.
The incoming President apparently thinks that the single incantation of “federalism” is enough. It will take more than one incantation. He will need to make the three-in-one chant of “freedom of information, antidynasty and federalism” to break the twin scourges of corruption and poverty.
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