The ‘gospel’ of Federalism by Joel Pablo Salud

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The Duterte administration preaches Federalism as a sort of ‘gospel of liberation’.

My past interviews with executive director Joel Sy Egco and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said as much: there is an ‘urgent’ need to shift the center of power from ‘Imperial Manila’ to largely autonomous region-states all across the country.

The goal: spread the wealth around.

In a recent Pulse Asia survey dated March 23-28, 2018, 66% of Filipinos are against any move to to shift to a federal form of government.

The Pulse Asia report said, “The prevailing sentiment among Filipinos is one of opposition to replacing the present unitary system of government with a federal one (66%). Majority levels of opposition are posted in each geographic area and socio-economic class (54% to 75% and 60% to 71%, respectively). More specifically, 36% of Filipinos are against changing the system of government regardless of the timing of such change while 30% are opposed to changing it now but may be open to it sometime in the future. Sizeable to big pluralities in Metro Manila (34%) and Mindanao (40%) are against such a shift in the system of government, whether now or in the future. About the same percentages of those in the rest of Luzon, the Visayas, and all socio-economic groupings are either not in favor now but may be open to a shift sometime in the future (32% to 36% and 25% to 34%, respectively) or are completely opposed to changing the system of a federal one (28% to 39% and 35% to 37%, respectively).

“The rest of Filipinos are either supportive of the change to a federal system (27%) or are ambivalent on the matter (6%). Levels of support range from 17% to 42% across geographic areas and from 25% to 36% in the different socio-economic classes. Support for federalism is more marked in Metro Manila, the Visayas, and Mindanao (33% to 42%) than in the rest of Luzon (17%). In the meantime, levels of indecision on the matter range from 2% to 9% and from 4% to 7%, across geographic areas and socio-economic groupings.”

When respondents were asked of the amount of knowledge they have regarding the proposed federal system of government, 71% said they knew little, if at all, about federalism. Broken down, 43% admitted to having little knowledge, and 27% said they have none or no knowledge at all.

My questions are: could a ‘general ignorance’ of what constitutes a federal government be blamed for the people’s refusal? And second, could an information campaign on the grassroots level change the people’s sentiments?

In this regard, the Philippines Graphic is thinking of conducting a series of interviews at the grassroots level, combined with interviews of local government officials as to their support or the lack of it on the move to transition to a federal form.

I believe it’s only right, and in many ways crucial, to know the LGUs which are supporting the move and those which are not. For whatever reasons these LGUs may have, raising these same issues is important to the discussion.

My own misgivings border on several difficulties that arose with the proposal. First, Filipinos should not be too quick to accept any and all attribution of “imperial power’ to Metro Manila without any solid science or statistics backing it up. Hence the question: Is it true that a unitary government favors Metro Manila than other provinces?

See, we are always of the mind to blame the system for the political mayhem we see around us. I, for one, believe there is nothing wrong with the system. There is everything that’s wrong with the people running it.

Second, the question of warlordism and its possible augmentation and empowerment should a federal form of government is implemented is as real as it can get. The underlying political practice in the country is still largely feudal, not democratic. Powerful families hold the reins of government in most regions, leaving new blood to contend with old ‘feudal lords’.

Third, of course, are the other thousand-and-one questions which deal with government employees, salary grades of the same, federal taxes, inquiries regarding military and police, possible schism or secession, food security of the whole federal union of states especially during times of natural disasters, financially weak regions, and the like.

What worries me even more is the timeframe on which this effort would be implemented. Based on my interview with Egco and Alvarez, the Duterte administration is looking at the first three years of the Duterte presidency. This small window could prove disastrous to the country if and when serious problems remain unanswered.

Not only that, but the sudden shift would disrupt and shake the country due to structural changes. The realignment alone of the power dynamics, to say little of resources, could produce more inequality than what they blame imperial Manila for.

Social welfare structure and education, as well as the preservation of peace and order in all the region-states, at the very least, will require a sizable movement of resources and manpower that none of  the region-states may be able to bear, let alone raise.

Former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, in fact, wrote in his Inquirer column last week:

“In 2016, Dr. Milwida Guevara, former finance undersecretary and CEO of Synergeia Foundation, calculated that the total cost of financing a federal setup in the Philippines is roughly P2.4 trillion. This expenditure will be shared by the state and federal government.

“Assuming the current 13 administrative regions will be the 13 federal states, they will pay P1.18 trillion and the federal government, P1.22 trillion. Each state will shoulder P90.79 billion.

“None of the 13 putative states — except three — have the capacity to raise that money. Per Guevara’s calculations, only three regions have the adequate taxable capacity — the ability of individuals and businesses to pay their taxes — to be financially viable. These are the National Capital Region with a taxable capacity of P468 billion; Central Luzon with P114.8 billion; and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) with P201.5 billion.”

This costs money. Serious money. A bulk of which Imperial Manila will have to dish out for everyone, given that the rumors of its imperialistic bent are true. Money which could be better spent elsewhere, on other projects. Money which could fasttrack the rehabilitation of numerous storm-ravages cities.

Money we don’t have. G




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