Federalism, anyone?


DUMAGUETE CITY – Federalism is an excellent political philosophy. It accords autonomy to member states with out sacrificing the unity of the “Mother State.” It effectively devolves political and fiscal power, empowering smaller regions in the process. There is no question about it. Federalism, in essence, is a really great idea. However, the real question lies not in the system but in the country that is poised to adopt it, in this case, the Philippines. Are we, in all honesty, ready to be federalized? There lies the contentious back-and-forth.

Two reasons serve as the bases of the main argument for shifting to a new form of government. First, there is devolution of powers. No longer will the powers be solely centered in “Imperial Manila.” Smaller regions are empowered through more autonomy and less bureaucracy. Second, there is fiscal independence. Regions can now enjoy a bigger clout on their resources compared to the present form where they are at the mercy of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA).

While it does make sense that a shift to federalism can accord these benefits, it begs numerous questions:

· How will the country be divided?
· Will we retain the current regional divisions?
· If we retain the current regional divisions, how will the elections be?
· Do we have a system in place to ensure the dismantling of political dynasties which can be a potential concern in federalized regions?
· How can we regulate bigger and richer provinces so they do not lord over their respective regional divisions?
· How will the money flow look like?
· Will we be taxed both at the state level and the federal level?
· What will happen to smaller regions that cannot afford to run, let alone build, state-level infrastructures?
· What autonomies will be accorded to member states?
· How will the political organization chart look like?
· Will we maintain the current system or throw in a parliament in the mix?

Parallel to the looming Constitutional revamp (or even before), the current administration should present a federalism prototype of sorts. We deserve to understand what we are getting ourselves into especially since there are major risks involved.

Moving on to two more points. The first is a quick lesson in history. In the absence of a so-called prototype, US is constantly used as the poster-child of how federalism can potentially be. Apart from the US, the system also found immense success in Germany and Switzerland. What is common among the three? They were made up of different independent states before they agreed to form one unified federal government. We are about to do the complete opposite. By switching to federalism, we effectively go from being a unitary government to breaking off into smaller groups. This has virtually no precedent in recent history which makes it even riskier than it already is. The second is just an opportunity to think out loud. For all the rhetoric that seems to demonize a unitary form of government, we don’t have to look very far to see how this can be a vehicle for progress if it works well. There’s Singapore. There’s Japan. There’s South Korea. All these countries have a unitary form of government and yet they are massively successful both politically and economically. What makes them significantly different from us? They have a much lesser degree of corruption. Conclusion: Clamping down on the Big C is essential for any system to work.

At this point, it is important for us to be involved. We have to take the initiative to learn more and read more as the debates begin. We have to take it upon us to understand not only what federalism is but, more importantly, its implications in the Philippine context. Only then can we make an informed decision when the time to ratify amendments comes.