Towards a Federal Philippines

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“Federalism is a system of government where a country has two kinds, or layers, of government with co-equal power.”

The shift to a federal type of government is one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign promises back when he ran for the presidency. He said the time has come for the Philippines to abandon the unitary type of government and allow regions to govern themselves with policies and laws appropriate to the needs of their constituents.

This is why on December 7, 2016, the President signed Executive Order 10 which created the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked to study, conduct consultations and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution. The ConCom is also required to submit reports, recommendations and proposals to the President.

Coming from diverse backgrounds, the committee is comprised of eminent figures ranging from a former justice of the Supreme Court and other legal luminaries to members of the academe and the Muslim community.

The committee is headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Its members also include former SC Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes; former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. – one of the early proponents of federalism in the Philippines; former SC Associate Justice and former Solicitor General Antonio Nachura; Julio Cabral Teehankee, former dean of De La Salle University’s College of Liberal Arts; Father Ranhilio Aquino, dean of San Beda’s Graduate School of Law and Radio Mindanao Network founder lawyer Reuben Canoy to name some.

Members coming from the Muslim community include Randolph Climaco Parcasio, lawyer and spokesman of Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari; former Mindanao State University Tawi-Tawi chancellor Eddie Mapag Alih, and former Lanao del Sur Representative Ali Pangalian Balindong.

As of this writing, it is expected that the President received from the ConCom the draft Constitution the body had approved. The draft Constitution is the culmination of more than four months’ worth of work for the panel.

The President may revise some of the proposed provisions if needed and submit it to Congress through a Constituent Assembly (con-ass). He will encourage Congress to study it very closely and if possible to pattern the proposed revisions after what the commission has recommended, as I mentioned previously. But of course, it is the members of con-ass who will approve whether or not they will adopt the proposed revision to our present Charter. To reiterate, we recognize that the decision to approve or disapprove will lie in the individual members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

A lot has already been said about the proposed Constitution from pundits to self-proclaimed Constitutional experts. But just what is federalism?
Federalism is a system of government where a country has two kinds, or layers, of government with co-equal power. One is the federal state or the national government and the local state, or in the proposed system for the Philippines, a federated region. These two levels of government have separate jurisdictions and they also have concurrent ones.
There are many kinds of federalism. There is the federal government of the United States of America, the federal government of Germany and the federal government of Belgium. But the important thing to remember is that the federalism of these countries is rooted in their history.

For the Philippines, the ConCom will be 17 federated regions plus the National Capital Region (NCR), the proposed federal capital. Each region will be headed by a regional governor and a deputy governor, to be chosen by and among members of the regional legislative assembly.

“The President is immovable with regard to his stance on not going beyond his 
six-year term.”

Edmund Tayao, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on the Formation of Powers of Federated Regions of the ConCom, said that this structure is politically feasible because no one will feel threatened that their powers and functions are suddenly clipped and would provide better perspective on how to merge regions later on or how to strengthen existing regions.

As former SC Chief Justice Reynato Puno has said, “It is time for our regions to be liberated, time to be freed from the shackles of the national government and this can only be done if we adopt federalism.”

For some, the move to overhaul the type of government that we currently have seems too drastic or overwhelming. Naysayers have cast their doubts saying that the country is not yet ready for federalism and have put out theories alleging that this is the Duterte administration’s method of extending the presidency despite President Duterte himself always saying that he is willing to cut short his term once a federal system has been put in place. The President asked the ConCom to provide a transitory President and said he would resign to pave way for the election of a younger leader.

Let me reiterate that the President is immovable with regard to his stance on not going beyond his six-year term. He has said what he said: not a second longer. With this, I ask that we put this issue to rest.

Another issue to address is the awareness of the Filipino people of federalism. The recent survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) reported that despite the government’s strong push for federalism, only 25 percent of the 1,200 respondents polled nationwide were aware of federalism, while 75 percent became acquainted with it only during the survey period of March 23-27. In short, only 1 of 4 Filipinos is aware of federalism.

The Duterte administration clearly has its work cut out for it. We must also remember that the draft submitted by the ConCom will still undergo a long process which includes its ratification by the Filipino people. The approval of the proposed changes in our current Charter ultimately lies in the hands of the Filipino people. Thus, we in government have to pursue a more active and effective approach in informing more Filipinos of federalism to sincerely win their approval. This is another challenge we are most willing to solve — for it is only a government of, by and for the Filipino people which can effect genuine and meaningful change.

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