Second of two parts
By pressing for a system switch to federalism before Congress can choose between a constituent assembly and a constitutional convention as the vehicle for charter change, President Duterte and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez have put the cart before the horse.
A cart is a vehicle which is ordinarily pulled by a horse, so to put the cart before the horse is an analogy for doing things in the wrong order. The idiom is about confusing cause and effect.
In the case of the federalism project of the administration, the President and the Speaker are using federalism as the horse to drag Congress into amending the Constitution.
By failing to sequence their actions correctly and logically, they have tied themselves up in knots. Especially Speaker Alvarez.
The speaker vaulted over the cart and the horse, when he spoke before a business forum about a grand timetable: – A Constitution draft in one year, a plebiscite by 2019, and an election under a new Constitution by 2022.
This sounds as though we are being rushed or hustled into something.
Speaker Alvarez should explain why The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in its website reports that the Speaker is determined to destroy “imperial Manila” and bring full independence to Mindanao.
Destroy? Declare independence?
Would the turncoat legislators have joined the House super majority had they known of this independence agenda of the Speaker?
Will the Senate extend Alvarez its cooperation in enacting his plans?
A project with no terms of reference
Since it was first floated during the election campaign, it always troubled me that federalism was predetermined by its proponents as a solution to a problem or problems that they could not precisely define.
Sometimes federalism proponents say that it is the solution to conflict in the South.
At other times, they contend that it will assure development and better living standards for those sections of the country that feel deprived and neglected.
Equally troubling is the observation of some friends in business and public management, that federalism looks like a project with no terms of reference.
Terms of reference in project planning and management describe the purpose and structure of a project to accomplish a shared goal. It is often referred to as the project charter.
As someone who has spent a good part of his professional life in policy research and policy development, I submit that a change in political system is no ordinary change. It is a seismic shift in the political order and our political universe.
We can agree that all the country’s 13 regions, with the exception of the national capital region, will benefit from greater decentralization, increased devolution, and fiscal autonomy in relation to the central government.
We can agree that the country also needs more jobs, less poverty; more innovation, less inequality; and more unity, less conflict.
But there is clearly no urgent need for a wholesale shift to federalism to achieve such objectives. There are other more practical strategies and low risk alternatives, which also should be evaluated against objectives.
Federalism, or any major constitutional change, needs to be built upon solid foundations, not on the shifting sands of political opportunism, feeble political parties, electoral immaturity, weak institutions, and the dominance of political dynasties.
Drawbacks of federalism
Research among countries that have adopted or transitioned to federalism highlights some major issues about this governance model:
1. Federalism fails when it is driven by political interests and not social ideologies.
2. Federalism does not decrease inequality. In many instances it exacerbates inequality between states and regions.
3. Federalism does not create jobs, or a better business environment. States lack the skills to attract business, negotiate deals and provide quality services.
4. Federalism weakens the state as a whole.
5. Federalism prevents uniformity of laws and creates confusion.
6. Federalism is expensive to run.
7. Finally and for me most troubling, federalism will increase the number of politicians! And the overall cost of governing.
In a report published in 2006, the World Bank observed: “Presidential federal systems, compared to parliamentary systems, increase the probability of high corruption levels.”
Malaysia as model
During the recent election campaign, DU30 casually mentioned Malaysia as a possible model for Philippine federalism.
Malaysia, the worm inside the BBL Trojan horse?
Malaysia, which has been fomenting Muslim secession in Mindanao since the Marcos era?
The other day, presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza announced that the administration will resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Malaysia.
Why Malaysia again, when it has never been an honest broker for peace talks? Malaysia, which is suffering from a $1.2 Billion fraud perpetrated by its prime minister?
A few days after the May 9 elections, Malaysia was quick out of the blocks promising to help us shift to Federalism. Really?
The very fact that Malaysia is involved in the federalism project should consign it to the dustbin.
The shifty talk from con-con to con-ass to con-com demonstrates deceit and desire to take a quick, easy, and lazy approach to political change.
The Philippines needs to apply an evolutionary approach based upon gradualism, and focus upon the fundamental pillars of democracy which are common to any system, irrespective of structure.
The defects of the federalism project show in the way an old proposal of Nene Pimentel is being dusted off by his son, the new Senate president, and peddled as a solution. No research, no evaluation, just a simplistic approach that raises more questions than it answers.
The lesson of Australia
It is also worth noting that some federated states have been studying lately how to reform their federal systems because of increasing difficulties and shortcomings.
Australia is one example. At the conclusion of its study on the costs of federalism for Austrialia, which was commissioned by the Business Council of Australia, Access Economics observed:
“Reform – and the greater prosperity it could bring – is increasingly falling foul of the overlaps and inefficiencies in our federal system of government.
“In brief, Australia’s federal system suffers from:
(1) too much overlap,
(2) too big a mismatch between what the States get via taxes and their spending,
(3) too heavy a Federal hand in areas of State responsibility,
(4) too much ‘destructive competition’ across jurisdictions, and
(5) too little cooperation across States and between States and the Australian Government.
How much does this cost?
“This will show up as:
(1) Higher than necessary costs of government
(2) Higher than necessary costs of doing business
(3) And lower than necessary living standards for ordinary Australians.
And yet Australia is one of the most successful states and dynamic economies in the world.
How do you think will we Filipinos fare with the federal system, given our legendary incompetence in governance?