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Federalization not a panacea

Contrary to the facile assertions that found their way into the Opinion pages of the Inquirer on July 19 (“Deceptive advertising of federalization”), assailing the proposal to adopt the federal system for the country, I submit that properly refined to suit our culture and traditions, it will speed up development and help end the fratricidal war that has cost thousands of precious Filipino lives since the Spanish colonial era, and billions of pesos in property destroyed even if reckoned only from the 1973 uprisings led by the Moro National Liberation Front.

Neither does the proposal engage in “cherry picking” or “deceptive advertising,” as it was superciliously asserted.

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For the proponents are aware that federalization is not a panacea. What is simply suggested is that properly refined, the federal system will actually expand to the fullest extent possible the people’s power and authority to chart the course of their own destiny—short of granting them full independence—in their respective federal states.

Unless the federal system is adopted, the governmental powers and resources needed for national development would remain in the tight control of the power-hungry bureaucrats running the current highly centralized, unitary system of government.

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This, despite the passage of the Local Government Code (LGC) in 1991 that showed that the devolution of powers and resources of certain major government departments like Agriculture, Health and Social Welfare could very well propel the development of the localities where those devolved powers are suitably implemented.

Moreover, the federal system will make up for the LGC’s limitations in the matter of the devolution of those powers and the funds.

For the federal system will devolve practically all the major powers of government—but for a relative few that deal with national concerns—and the funds needed therefor to the federal states. And from the latter, to the local government units (LGUs) within their respective jurisdictions.

Here are examples of matters that would still be left to the jurisdiction of the national federal government: 1) maintenance and preservation of the nation’s security that would be addressed mainly by the Armed Forces of the Republic; 2) enforcement of national law and order against offenses by its national police; 3) maintenance of one monetary system by its central bank; and 4) implementation of its national educational system by the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education—subject to modifications to suit the peculiar needs especially of the indigenous peoples in the federal states concerned.

As to the sharing of government revenues under the federal setup, it is suggested that all incomes of the central government, not only the funds derived from the collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue—which the LGC mandates —would be divided between the central federal government and the federal states pursuant to a formula of 80-20 percent in favor of the federal states. And between the federal states and their LGUs, the suggested formula is 70-30 percent in favor of the LGUs—until revised by the federal states concerned to further enhance their respective development capabilities.

Why the bias for the federal states and their LGUs in this regard? The brief answer is that the federal states and their LGUs know better what are best suited for the development of their localities than the bureaucrats in Manila.

Moreover, only a few issues would be left to the national federal government’s jurisdiction. Hence, its funding requirements would likewise be substantially reduced.

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It is also suggested that instead of the LGUs’ share being remitted to them by the central government, as is the practice today, under a federal setup it is the federal states that would send the share of the national federal government in the income derived from their respective jurisdictions.

Would that lead to revolution, or the fragmentation of the Republic? Too far-fetched to think so. In fact, armed uprisings have time and again challenged the current highly centralized unitary government.

Hence, among other things, the proposal to adopt the federal system would, instead of aggravating, dissipate the causes of armed unrest that continue to bedevil our land.

Do the Moro people favor the adoption of the federal system? Yes. From my conversations with practically all the Moro rebel leaders from the MNLF uprisings in 1973 up to the present, I know that they want a federal state of their own so that their people’s culture and traditions may be more fully respected and developed.

Citing Canada as an example of a failed federal state smacks of a highly agitated imagination. There is no question that the Canadian state of Quebec—which is mainly French-speaking—has been trying to secede and declare itself an independent state. But, up to this moment, Canada exists—and functions—as a federal state.

In fact, we can take a leaf from Canada’s experience not only in the way it handles its Quebec concerns, but more so in the way it deals with its indigenous peoples. Even if errors blighted the Canadians’ federal experiment, we can still learn from them.

We can also take a leaf from the way the federal government of Australia deals with its “aborigines,” who are given what one might call extraordinarily high incentives to enable them to integrate into its mainstream society.

Now, the fear that political dynasties and private armies could get entrenched in the federal states may be assuaged by specifically barring such political and social evils in the very provisions of the Constitution. For emphasis, the extent of kinship sought to be banned to prevent the start, or even the continuation, of political dynasties should be explicitly spelled out.

If the evil sought to be avoided still happens, it could, and should, then be immediately suppressed without need of further legislative enactment by calling upon the nation’s armed forces, and even its national police, to preserve the democratic tenets of the Republic and maintain law and order nationwide.

As to the problem of corruption, suffice it to say that appropriate national laws can still apply in suitable cases, without prejudice to federal-state-crafted legislation that may also be designed to combat corruption.

To incorporate the federal system into our governmental setup is no walk in the park. People must first of all understand the ins and outs of the proposal.

Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., former senator and Senate president, authored the Local Government Code.

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TAGS: federalism, federalization, Local Government Code
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