THE PHILIPPINES should develop its own brand of federalism and need not adopt the models of other countries that may be inapplicable here, members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s informal ‘core group’ on federalism said Wednesday.
Philippine-style federalism, which can emerge as a result of grassroots political involvement, would address concerns over the viability of the proposed federal states as well as the overall readiness of the country to shift to a decentralized government from a unitary or centralized one.
Federalism advocates Raul Lambino and Gary Olivar made the call during a roundtable discussion with The Manila Times editors and reporters, a day after Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte announced that Charter change deliberations would start by January 2017.
Lambino, a lawyer and law professor, contrasted his proposal with that of former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who is proposing to carve 11 federal states.
“The new Constitution should have a provision which allows different provinces, cities, especially highly urbanized cities, to discuss and agree among themselves what particular autonomous region or autonomous territory they want to be part of. They cannot be dictated upon [by the new Constitution],” Lambino said.
Shifting to a federal from a unitary form should not be difficult but could take a longer process, he said, citing the cases of Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.
Belgium and Switzerland were once unitary states that became federal because of diversity in languages and geography, respectively, he noted.
But the Philippines should not necessarily “federalize” based on enthno-linguistic or geographical groups.
“We should have our own model. You can’t just state in the Constitution that Regions 1, 2 and CAR (Cordillera Autonomous Region) will be the autonomous region of Northern Luzon. It cannot happen that way,” Lambino said.
“If certain provinces and cities want an autonomous territory, how big is that? How many people are needed to be a part of it? The Constitution should allow them to form autonomy because federalism will have to happen gradually. You can’t disaggregate the provinces [from existing regions]immediately,” Lambino added.
Provinces and cities that have decided to come together to form an autonomous territory, based on Lambino’s proposal, should then submit an application for Congress’ approval, just like how a bill becomes a law.
Deputy Speaker Romero Quimbo of Marikina agreed with Lambino, saying that the composition of federal states or regions should not solely be up to Congress.
“The Constitution may prescribe the [grouping]as an initial setup but allow the people to modify these regions through Congress,” Quimbo said in a text message.
“A plebiscite on the Constitution allows the people to participate in the determination of these regions,” Quimbo, a member of the Liberal Party (LP), added.
Former Palace economic spokesman Gary Olivar, also a member of the federalism core group, underscored that federalism would be part of the solution to poverty and underdevelopment in the regions.
“With devolved government, we will be able to make the people in local government more responsible because they will be the ones managing the resources. Being closer to the people, their constituents will be able to demand more in the delivery of services and can even take them to task by not voting for them again in the next election,” Olivar said.
Appointed Con-Con possible
Lambino made a case that delegates to a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con), one of the modes of revising the 1987 Constitution, need not to be elected.
The 1987 Constitution does not require the election of Con-Con delegates, he argued.
From being in favor of Con-Con in revising the Constitution, President Duterte now prefers a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) wherein lawmakers propose amendments.
Duterte said calling a Con-Con would cost billions of pesos.
Lambino however said: “If you are going to read the Constitution very carefully, it does not say that Con-Con delegates will have to be elected.”
“What is provided under Article 17 of the Constitution is that Congress, with two-thirds of its members agreeing, may convene the Con-Con,” Lambino told The Manila Times.
“The Constitution made no mention that the Con-Con should be composed of elected delegates. There was no prohibition of having appointed delegates,” Lambino added.
Lambino suggested that the Con-Con be composed of 48 delegates appointed by the President, as well as 12 representatives each from the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“This would not require additional costs because only those who have been appointed will have to be appropriated funds. The lawmakers already have their organic staff, and the Secretariat of the House and the Senate can be of help,” Lambino pointed out.
Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has proposed a
resolution calling for the establishment of a 60-person Constitutional Assembly composed of 12 senators, 12 members of the House of Representatives and 24 presidential appointees.
The 1987 Constitution was drafted by a Constitutional Commission whose members were appointed by President Corazon Aquino. The last time a Con-Con was called was in 1970, when citizens elected delegates to a convention that wrote the 1971 Constitution under President Ferdinand Marcos.