Seven months into his term, President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to instigate his plans for implementing federalism in the country, a proposed government shift from the current unitary system. Federalism is characterized as a system where power is shared or divided between a central government and provincial governments or states.
Being a staunch advocate for federalism, Duterte envisions a country where local government units (LGUs) will be autonomous from its larger counterpart. LGUs will have the power to make its own decisions based on its unique political, economic, and socio-cultural circumstances. The radical shift, according to the president, seeks to gradually cease the powers of “imperial Manila” and “end the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.”
A long way to go
Other than the war on drugs and criminality, the shift to federalism is one of the core platforms of then-presidential candidate Duterte and running mate Alan Cayetano during their campaign. Duterte highlighted the establishment of each region’s own government that would have little or no interference from the central government. The regional governments will only deal with national concerns such as foreign affairs and national security.
Bureaucracy is projected to decrease adequately as state governments would not need to pass through the different departments. From an economic aspect, each state is also expected to retain a large portion of its income, with only 20 percent allocated to the central government. The remaining 80 percent will be used for each state’s developments on law, business, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and more. Some other countries that practice federalism include the United States of America, Australia, Malaysia, and Brazil.
Duterte believes that the implementation of the federalist system is the only way to end the longstanding Moro insurgency and bring peace to Mindanao. Numerous attempts to administer peace led to unsuccessful results. In a statement, Duterte underlined the absence of unified actions by the central government and the Moro people as the cause for the struggle in Mindanao. He believes that federalism will bring that much-needed order and unity.
However, the president does not wish to force people to favor the implementation of this new system. He leaves the Filipinos to decide, yet warns that peace will never be achieved if the federal system is not implemented in the country. He reiterates that the country might as well give up Mindanao if the system is not executed during his term.
Currently, lawmakers who are in favor of federalism are working on a bill or resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention, also known as the Charter Change or ‘Cha-cha,’ to amend the 1987 Constitution before such shift can happen.
Lasallians weigh in on federalism
Associate Professor David Michael San Juan says that federalism may either stimulate or further slow down the economy, depending on how it will be implemented by the current administration. Federalism would prompt economic growth if the government is able to disperse and decentralize the budget allocation and certain forms of tax collection. This, however, could be problematic should the central government and the state authorities have conflicting goals and plans. Given the president’s popularity, San Juan also expresses that Duterte might be able to sway many Filipinos to support federalism given that he will be able to enact socio-economic reforms and fulfill his campaign promises.
On weighing whether such shift would be advantageous to the country or not, San Juan believes that federalism can be beneficial if implemented correctly. However, given the present condition of the country, he contends that the Philippines is not ready to embrace such change.
“Federalism will only be effective if political dynasties are banned, and if citizens’ organizations are able to actively engage in planning [and] governance from the lowest to highest levels,” he asserts. “Without these, any effort to achieve federalism will be disastrous. For example, federalizing while dynasties remain powerful will negate all of its supposed benefits [as] it will only multiply the layers of existing bureaucracy.”
Ella Baccay (II, EED-ECED) mirrors this perception, specifically on a federal system’s effect on the country’s economic growth. She expects more opportunities for economic growth given that the power is shared within LGUs and not only the central government.
On the other hand, Ailah Padilla (II, AB-PSY) believes that the implementation of federalism in the country allows for an equal distribution of power among governing bodies, which further grants progress on all the centralized and local units of the government. However, she claims that the country is not ready to implement the system. “We need to prepare more so that we can handle this change in the future,” she adds.