Part 4: Framework for federalism
IN last week’s Part 3, we proposed enacting four laws (the preconditions) prior to revising the 1987 Constitution. Once in place, a framework for federalism can be written in the revised Constitution as a constitutional pathway even beyond the term of President Duterte. Federalism as a solution for the systemic deficiencies in the country requires the collective energy of its adherents and the commitment of the bureaucracy to inform and educate the great masses of our people on its nuances and advantages. The messaging should give substance to what was once a formidable slogan cloaking it with a pragmatic step-by-step process.
To reiterate, federalism is the type of government where power and authority are not centralized but shared between the national central government (federal) and the regional governments (states). This system allows states to develop themselves the way they see fit based on their culture and specific conditions. Some areas of public life are under the control of the federal government (security and defense, money and coinage, diplomacy and foreign affairs, etc.). Some are left to the states (education, revenue generation and taxation, franchises licenses, and permits, etc.), and some are shared (raising taxes, borrowing money, criminal justice, etc.). These are all to be guaranteed in the Constitution.
Federalism is a multi-step process that must be clearly written in the Constitution. We can’t just legislate federalism or just write in the Constitution that we are a de facto Federal Republic tomorrow. What can be written is the framework, the road map as it were to attain the Philippine Federal Republic; beyond the term of DU30 and even in the next decade or so. So even with the Deegong gone from the political scene, we will have planted today the seeds of our Federal Republic.
Creation of autonomous territories
The Centrist proposal’s version has its roots on the concept of autonomy, subsidiarity and self-determination. Initially, we allow the existing provinces and highly urbanized component cities to evolve first to an autonomous territory with the decision to group themselves coming from the grassroots level (pinatubo). “Self-determination” is central to this decision. In other words, the citizens within a contiguous territory, with common language and culture must decide in a referendum that they become completely autonomous. Petitions are then passed by their local legislative assemblies.
Once a referendum is passed, within a year, parliament (or Congress) must enact an organic law defining the autonomous territory’s land area, powers, obligations and sources of revenues (taxes), mindful of the components’ economic viability. The autonomous territory then writes its own constitution to be approved in a plebiscite by its own people.
The Philippines may eventually end up with from eight to 12 federal states. Parliament can’t impose on the current provinces and cities but can give general guidelines on how states are formed based on criteria to be embedded in the revised Constitution (i.e. common culture, language, custom, contiguous areas and economic viability). Therefore, it is necessary that these contiguous provinces and cities need to negotiate among each other.
If three-fifths (60 percent) of the provinces and component cities of the Philippines become autonomous territories, then the Federal Republic of the Philippines is created.
Congress recently enacted into law RA 11054, an Organic Act creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The BARMM also adopted a parliamentary form where the executive and legislative bodies are fused. It could be the template by which autonomous territories can be created all over the country not by the sufferance of Congress but through the revisions of the 1987 Constitution.
Mode of changing Constitution
A critical consideration in the writing of the new constitution is the participation of Congress. Under the current 1987 Constitution only three modes are allowed: people’s initiative (PI), constituent assembly (ConAss) and a constitutional convention (ConCon).
1. PI is eliminated as the constitutional changes being contemplated are not mere amendments but a revision of the 1987 Constitution.
2. ConAss will involve the members of Senate and Congress writing a constitution. With 80 percent of congressmen and senators members of political dynasties and allies of the oligarchy, the finished product will be highly flawed.
3. The third option therefore, ConCon, could be the better alternative, provided a combination of elected delegates is balanced with the appointed chosen delegates of the President.
Most of these elected delegates would be the moneyed few, members of political dynasties whose clans and family interest take precedence. The chosen appointed constitutional experts even from the marginalized sectors — who could never afford and win an electoral campaign, can counter and balance these dynasts — and give the presidential agenda a chance to be debated and pondered upon well.
Case for federal-parliamentary system
Empirical evidence shows how countries under the presidential system have serious problems of corruption, development and peace. Consider the following:
1. Nine out of 10 countries in the 2015 Transparency International Corruption index’s most corrupt/least transparent countries are under a presidential system, with Iraq the lone exception that has a federal-parliamentary form.
2. And five of these are ranked the least peaceful nations in the world, according to the 2015 Global Peace Index (GPI).
3. Similarly, in nations with the highest Terrorism Index, more countries have a presidential form (Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, the Philippines) while the rest have parliamentary governments (Iraq, Pakistan and India).
With our unitary-presidential system, the Philippines ranks among these countries: Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola, Libya, Iraq, Venezuela and Guinea-Bissau; followed by Syria, Yemen, Central Africa Republic, Ukraine and Libya.
Least corrupt countries (the better ones)
In contrast, all of those in the top 16 “least corrupt” nations are under a parliamentary system, with the exception of the United States (presidential-federal); and these are also the 16 most prosperous nations in the world. They lead in curbing corruption and ranked high in human development in the 2015 UNDP human development index. These countries are Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the US, Iceland, Luxembourg, the UK and Australia.
Empirical evidence shows that a federal form is definitely better than a unitary system. But clearly it also suggests that a parliamentary system is superior to the presidential form in many criteria of government performance.
Last week’s SONA was a total disappointment to the fed-parl advocates and political reformers. DU30, the last hope of the federalists was eloquently profound in his silence on the revision of the Constitution that could usher in badly needed systemic reforms. I will just quote Senator Drilon: “…the non- inclusion of federalism indicates that the Cha-cha was laid to rest…Those who have plans to revive it this 18th Congress should better think twice. It will be an exercise in futility.” Thus spoke the head of the opposition in the Senate. In the end, the Yellows won!
And from the Deegong himself, after his SONA: “…federalism is complicated…it will not happen during my term.” The last nail in the coffin. Federalism is dead, please don’t send flowers.