PHILIPPINES GRAPHIC: It has been widely reported that the Calabarzon provinces are in favor of Federalism. As a mayor of one of the top three cities in Laguna province, do you think that Federalism is feasible in the Philippines?
Biñan Mayor Walfredo ‘Arman’ Dimaguila: I think that under a federal form of government, the governor and the local chief executives shall have greater responsibility. So it is imperative that the people have the maturity to select the right leaders for the job.
In other areas, there is the matter of political dynasties, where the husband, wife, and children are all elected government officials in one province or city. So, there is need for the people to be mature enough to understand Federalism.
Our baseline obligation or responsibility is to ensure that the people are mature enough for this type of government.
For now, the people in Biñan tend to equate Federalism with President Duterte, They tend to think that if the President says its okay, then it is okay for them, too, without really knowing what federalism is all about. It is like the time of the late President Corazon Aquino and the move to pass the 1987 Constitution. Back then, there was Cory magic. Tell me, did the people who voted for the passage of the 1987 Constitution vote because they understood or did they vote because Cory told them to?
Is federalism feasible? Why do you think so?
It is. But only under Duterte, because only Duterte has shown political will. He is the only one who can go against public opinion and even ban media coverage. Kakaiba siya [He is different]. Before, media was so powerful. Today, if Duterte tells them off, they can almost do nothing about it.
Do you think the mechanisms of Federalism can work in the Philippines?
Well, it’s like this. The people’s maturity may still take time. Maybe, on that score, federalism may not be feasible. But the problem is, when will we start? I think, the best way is to have federalism in place and the people will adjust from there. In the long run, people will appreciate it. They would say, ‘oh, so that’s how it is. It is right.’ And for areas that will have difficulties, they will say, for instance: ’How come federalism is working in Calabarzon? How come it worked in Mimaropa? Why is it not working in ARMM?’ And they will know the reasons by example. Why do I say this? Because each province, city, and municipality will have its own inherent budget and its own set of offcials. So, if there are mistakes, this could be a question of who gets elected because everyone has a budget.
Local government must be empowered. To date, its structure is very centralized. In fact, I have been signing documents regarding requests from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) for projects that can be done here in Biñan, without any prior consultation. Our development councils are not activated. So maybe, its about time to let the local government man its own business, with the national government concentrating on its monitoring function, like how to empower the Commission on Audit (COA) for example.
What activities do you intend to pursue to popularize Federalism?
We are popularizing federalism all the way to the barangay level. We conducted seminars on federalism and called it Federalism 101. The best way to get the people’s attention is to ask the question: What will the people be under Federalism?
People tend to correlate themselves with President Duterte. We tell them: “the President called us to relay the message of federalism and that he will be glad if the people support federalism. Now, what is federalism? Who are under this system?” Then the discussions will start. We tell them corruption will be lessened and criminality will be addressed. They believe that. We will not be depending on the national government. No longer will we have to wait for the national government when there is a problem like a calamity, for instance. The local government can now react with speed. The national government will just monitor the disbursement of funds for projects. All projects will be linked, correlated, and synchronized by the local government. Then we will say that the President supports federalism. That is the clincher.
Do the people in Laguna really believe in Duterte?
Not only in Laguna. Last week, I attended the graduation of my son in San Beda, Alabang. All the graduates of San Beda were there. We were told that the President would come but that he will not be able to deliver a speech; that he will only say hi. The kids heaved a sigh of disappointment. I heard it because we (parents) were up there looking down at them. The President then arrived. You know what he did? He entered and made the fist sign. All the students answered with a fist sign. Although, not all the parents made the fist sign, but all the students did.
What is the position of the Biñan LGU on federalism?
We are for a federal form of government.
How would Federalism manifest itself in the very structure of the Biñan LGU and in Laguna for that matter?
We are trying to position Biñan as one of the stakeholders, if not a dominant stakeholder under federalism. We want to project the fact that Biñan is rich in ideas and competent people. We have professionals and many investors here. We have two Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) areas. How do we protect our investors? We are studying this.
And with me leading the city whenever there are discussions, I always make it a point to explain in clear terms our position regarding investors and the incentives that we will give to investors. Biñan will be playing a big role in this area. Why? Because we make a big contribution to the revenue collection of Laguna province. Our workers are not only skilled, they are professionals like engineers and teachers. And I guess, without bragging, I am one of the elected leaders in the whole of Laguna who has -a good grasp of federalism. If you ask some of the mayors, they would say, “I don’t know federalism. Bahala na kayo [I will let you decide]. It is because they were probably elected on the basis of looks or patronage. They are not really knowledgeable.
How would federalism shape Biñan’s business, trade, and finance?
Businessmen here in Biñan are keen in discussing how we are going to retain the incentives given to them. Because incentives are given here, like instead of slapping them with corporate income tax, since we have an economic zone set up, we only impose a 5% tax on their gross.
I was invited by locators (investors) and they asked my view about Federalism. When they realized that I was a lawyer and that taxation was my specialization, they started to really engage in the discussion. As far as the city is concerned, whatever income locators may lose will be returned to them as exemptions in business tax. This is so they will stay, because we cannot afford to lose our investors. They provide employment to our constituents. G