• The politics of transitions

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    MA. LOURDES TIQUIA

    THERE are good laws and there are good laws but implementation is always the area where well written laws go down the drain. That is why some veteran legislators would always say, “let us introduce a sunset provision” to deal with unintended consequences. Others call it phase in, phase out. While some would insist in having an oversight committee to see through implementation. People in the executive branch would tinker with intent via implementing rules and regulations (IRR) just so they are able to rectify issues at the policy and implementation levels. The drafting of the IRR is the surest way to amend a law.

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    Policy wonks, analysts and keen students of public policy understand the value of transitions in order to manage implementation and ensure the viability, sustainability and stability of policy implementation. Models are debatable. Ensuring models are implementable is a function of transition policy. Hence, considering “what transition policy would be optimal, it is useful to assume that a transition policy under consideration is both known by all concerned ex ante, at the time various investment decisions are made, and will be implemented ex post.” Transitions are all about managing risk and mitigating externalities. Set them aside and failure is certain.

    Last August 2, 2016, Pampanga Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales, Jr. and ABS-PL party-list Eugene Michael de Vera, filed proposed Joint Resolution No. 8, constituting the Senate and the House of Representatives into a constituent assembly, to propose revisions to the Constitution by adopting a federal form of government. The proposed resolution had an annex, a draft federal constitution, 79 pages long, where the existing regions under the present unitary system were just converted into federal regions. Easy work but fraught with dire consequences.

    Before talking of models, there are principles that should be agreed upon in a federal debate. One is economic viability and sustainability. We just cannot fail and then say to all that federalism is a failure, so we go back to unitary. Those opting for autonomy are just engaging in double talk. There is ARMM and CAR. ARMM has undergone several amendments and after 30 years, it has not fulfilled its promise and some provinces of ARMM remain one of the poorest in the country. CAR, on the other hand failed to pass the double majority requirement of the Supreme Court. That ruling has a long-term impact, even with our march to federalism. It will ensure that the country will not be dismembered because everyone will have a say if an area of the Republic wants to secede.

    The Local Government Code (RA 7160 s 1991), ARMM (RA No. 6734 s 1989 and succeeding amendments) and CAR (RA No. 6766 s 1989) are evidence of the inutility of our unitary system. ARMM and CAR are constitutionally mandated and yet 28 years after, these provinces remain poor. The Local Government Code would have been a living document had Congress performed its task per Section 521 on the mandatory review every five years and for the past 26 years, no amendment has been made, not even the lessons learned were incorporated. Worse, health has been a devolved function since 1991 without the concomitant budget and yet the budget of the Department of Health continues to grow year-to-year since 1991. And with all these evidence, some quarters are still saying, autonomy is the way to go. How can that be when we already had 30 years of the LGC and decentralization?

    The LGC would have been successful had we achieved administrative (deconcentration, delegation and devolution), economic and fiscal decentralization. After 30 years, we have not achieved these because the system will just not allow it. If we are willing to give decentralization 30 years and it has not changed the lot of those under the poverty threshold, what can 12 years of transition to federal do?

    We cannot have an overnight federal PH. It just won’t work. That is the surest recipe for disaster. Three important principles and phases are important in shifting to federal: start with bigger areas than the region to enhance economic viability and economies of scale (Phase I). Twinning should be mandated so that the poorest regions are assisted by the most economically viable regions (Phase II). Federal formation must come from below and not mandated by the national for it to work (Phase III).

    Only three regions can stand by themselves financially: NCR, Central Luzon and Calabarzon. So, we must go Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and NCR as the first federated areas for six years. This way, it does not shock the system and we are assured that federalism will succeed. Then we pursue twinning as a second phase. Twinning is like sisterhood pacts but with added directed function, nurturing economic viability of the poorest regions. Hence, in the first six years, transition work requires NCR and ARMM, Central Luzon and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and Calabarzon and Eastern Visayas to work together. The poorest regions learning from the economically viable ones from exchange of manpower, technologies and knowhow. On the seventh year, parliament should then pass an accession law where regions in the federated islands will now file a petition for the creation of federated regions. On the 12th year upon the passage of a Federal Constitution, a Federal Philippines gains traction.

    Let us never forget why we want to shift to federal. It is not about models, forms and organizations and elections. It is about people and how their lives will change. Will it mean a better future for Filipinos? A better economic future? Will it be sustainable? What are your metrics? Or are we merely focused on political power forgetting that economic power has been the root cause of our remaining feudal? A wise man once said: “An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.”

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