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OPINION: WHY FEDERALISM?

WHY A FEDERALIST IS NOW AN ANTI- We should ask a constitutionalist to determine whether these recommendations
FEDERALIST? do not amount to a revision of the Constitution. The downside though is we might get stuck
with a debate on what constitutes an amendment and what constitutes a revision.
By Edmund S. Tayao
Let’s just say the recommendations were intended to suggest a “surgical”
approach, thus avoiding labels, i.e. federalism, as it could mean so much more or less than
Posted at May 05 2017 06:02 PM autonomy, especially the difficult concept of “shared sovereignty”, confused by many as “the
only” definition of federalism. Whatever was intended to be taken to mean with these
recommendations, it does not in any way contradict the points and recommendation of many
groups actively taking part in the federalism discourse. As another renowned political
Interesting how media works or is made to work today, especially in this part of the scientist, Dr. Ed Araral says, it is a “grand bargain”.
world. While traditionally the media is a source of information, it has since been transformed
to be a veritable source of misinformation as well. For a while it was just a matter of Political reform as it is very much debated today is couched on federalism, but is
editorializing news, now it can be outright misinformation. We can perhaps just assume, so not and cannot be limited only to a discussion or purport only to, however in detail, to the
as not to point a finger, it is due largely to the growing sophistication of technology. Now relational dynamics between the national and sub-national levels of governments. It should
everyone can speak and write to a big public audience, including this writer. include all the elements many have been taking pains to study and debate, such as:

So with the news that the renowned political scientist, Dr. Jose Abueva, is quoted a. Electoral and political party reforms,
as saying “I am not for Federalism, I am for a unitary state”, one can’t help but ask the b. Enforceable anti-political dynasty provision in the constitution,
question why? Why the sudden turnaround? After so many years an advocate of a shift from c. Amalgamation of the now fragmented local government units,
unitary to federal, starting as chair of the Philippine Political Science Association’s 4Cs d. Restructuring of the tax system and sharing of revenues between different levels
(Committee on Constitutional Continuity and Change) in the mid 90s and as one of the of government,
eminent founders of the “Citizens’ Movement FOR FEDERAL Philippines” or CMFP, Dr. Abueva e. Reconfiguring of the current presidential system, and even
is now quoted with that pointed categorical pronouncement that he’s not for federalism. f. Restructuring of the current administrative system, also strengthening a a more
professional civil service, and
All the more confusing is when this pronouncement is given more details in another g. Judicial Reform, including appointments to the judiciary and judicial administration.
news report. Still reported to have expressed opposition to a shift to a federal Philippines but
with 8 bullet points, Dr. Abueva is quoted to have recommended to amend the constitution It can in fact be a longer list. All these have to be given a serious, specific and
to: detailed study if we are to really have a real working political and governmental system the
country long deserves to have and in the process be liberated from the current oligarchical
1. Explicitly define political dynasty, system of clientelistic politics. In the words of Dr. Abueva in a 2002 book he edited with many
2. Extend term of Local Officials to 5 from 3 years other reform advocates, “our monumental challenge as a nation is to transform our elitist,
3. Political Parties to “uphold a solid political ideology”, ‘electoral or procedural democracy’ into a more egalitarian, functional and ‘substantive
4. Shift from Presidential to Parliamentary form, democracy.’” He says further in the same book that this can be done “Through good
5. “Change current ‘traditional, highly centralized’ unitary system of government”, governance in a federal and parliamentary government, our political democracy must
6. Restructure the entire tax system, redirect our capitalist system or market economy to make it work for the benefit of most of
7. “Amend provisions on foreign participation in the country’s economy and our citizens.” He echoed the same thought during a 22 April 2016 forum on the State of
education”, and Autonomy and Decentralization, anticipating then Presidential frontrunner Duterte to “open
8. Introducing a Bill of Duties apart from a Bill of Rights. the door for the amendment of the 1987 Constitution” and “allow for the shift from the
present unitary, Presidential form of government to a Federal form of government”. He says
that “It’s a one big step, it’s a good start.”
What many political scientist have already pointed out, from Edicio Dela Torre to With all the work of eminent scholars all over the world, reflecting on the various
Horacio Boy Morales and Paul Hutchcroft, the Philippines has weak institutions, rightly experiences of third wave democracies, most precisely point to systems and institutions as a
described by Dr. Abueva as the Philippines being a “soft state”. At this juncture on the other way to effect real reforms. We had so many opportunities previously to do this, starting with
hand, there should be an attempt to go beyond diagnosis and make a serious effort at looking the Malolos Constitution, the convening of the 1935 and 1971 Constitutional Convention,
at all possible prescriptions. and even of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.

The Philippines being a soft state is due largely to non-functioning state institutions With all these learnings and this new opportunity to effect real reforms, more than
and this can only be about systems. The country has not been new to reforms as our leaders just getting caught in partisan, color-coded politics, perhaps we can seriously contribute in
have not been remiss in reflecting on needed changes and enacting reform measures left and enacting our own real constitution and effect a working system of politics and governance.
right, translating the country’s people power to particular provisions in the constitution, from
social justice provisions, to party-list representation, decentralization and people’s direct
political participation not only thru referendum, but also thru recall of elected leaders.

There were also reforms in the public utilities, in telecommunications and in the
electric power industry. In all these on the other hand, which have been successfully and fully
implemented? If there is hardly any example of a successful reform in all these, what could
be the reasons why, other than limitations in our state institutions and political system?

If we argue that we should proceed only by amending any and all of these reform
laws, what assurance do we have that this time, after 30 or so years, it will work and transform
our struggling democracy to one that is really working and developmental state? Would there
possibly be a way where this time much will depend on processes and institutions instead of
political leaders?

Systems are mechanisms and federalism is a mechanism, popularly known to


empower territories, states and or local communities in a country. This is because as a
mechanism, it is supposed to provide leeway to local communities to decide for themselves,
following the principle of subsidiarity, a Christian principle popularized in Pope Pius XI
Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, which espouses that functions of government, however
complex, should be carried out at the local level unless it is more than its competence or that
its significance goes beyond its jurisdiction.

This explains why federalism is often identified with decentralization, or autonomy


that is given to local authorities, allowing it to undertake measures and or initiatives that
address the needs of its people. This feature of autonomy on the other hand, is not only by
administrative design but is due more to the provenience and therefore basis of Federalism,
which is the recognition of each people or community and or territory that decided to form
a “federation”. For the administrative design to work, a concomitant political framework
should be in place, which means any reform should be comprehensive and consistent with
the context of the country.