When you do risk analysis of the Philippines, the light has always been on politics and political institutions. And it has been said, nations fail or succeed because of political institutions.
Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on August 6 2019.
When President Duterte did not mention revising the Constitution to secure a federal/parliamentary form of government in our future, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) went on overdrive. It said federalism was not dead. It was just placed in the back burner so advocates could agree on how to do it. There are attendant issues: timeline, process of voting for a revision, and whether we create an immediate federal/parliamentary form or we transition to it and the cost implications of the shift.
Still, the economic cluster of the Cabinet has not rallied behind the push. One member said we do not need instability at this time when the economy is peaking, and another simply put it that it would add to costs, discounting the possible benefits. They have raised the doubling of the costs, just like the division of the province of Palawan into three, thereby trebling the cost of maintaining three provinces. The breaking up of Palawan is said to aim at developing the full potential of the province and bring more funds to its least developed areas, the proverbial last mile. What the authors of the law are not saying is that the trebling of the cost would be due to electing three sets of officials from barangay to governors and district representatives. Gerrymandering, to most.
Time and time again, it has been pointed that the main risk to the country is the kind of politics we have. When you do risk analysis of the Philippines, the light has always been on politics and political institutions. And it has been said, nations fail or succeed because of political institutions. Acemoglu and Robinson theorize that there are two kinds — “extractive” institutions in which a “small” group of individuals do their best to exploit the rest of the population, and “inclusive” institutions in which “many” people are included in the process of governing. A central government is not at all inclusive while federal relies heavily on subsidiarity. It is “an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at the local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.” Imagine a president issuing a clearing order of pathways and thoroughfares to Metro Manila mayors in a State of a Nation Address! And it has been 30 years that we’ve had a Local Government Code where autonomy is enshrined.
When the DILG said that federalism was alive, it precluded other proposals and merely echoed the Puno draft and that of the PDP Laban. There are in fact several versions since time immemorial and instead of integrating these and getting everyone on one page, the central government controls the priming of federalism and parliamentary discussions. And that has been the problem of the presidential advocacy: PRRD wants it because Mindanao has been calling for it. Even the Visayas, in the early days of Reporma, was already calling for a federal Philippines. Unfortunately, Luzon is not ready, most especially the NCR. But PRRD does not have a core vision of a federal Philippines and that is why the process has been top-bottom, with PDP using the barangay consultations on federalism simply as a magnet to recruit members.
DILG should take hold of the transition costs of the three versions: the Puno draft will cost us P40.8 million and the PDP, P30.3 million; the People’s Draft would lead to savings of P13.4 million. Why? Because the advocates of the latter pursued political reforms in their draft.
The presidential daughter also opposes federalism, stating that “wider political and fiscal autonomy, when granted to areas long held by political clans, could spell trouble.” She is right so you need to deal with dynasties and pursue political reforms first, the position held by the Centrist Democrats. So, why are we not solving the prejudicial question — politics?
With the 15-20 sharing formula at the House of Representatives in place, two individuals will try to get the federal proposal over the hump: current Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and presumptive Speaker 2, Lord Allan Velasco. The easiest way is to get the proposal in the first 15 months of the 18th Congress. At the House, there are already four proposals filed: House Concurrent Resolution 1 (HCRN1), filed last July 1 by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez; House Joint Resolution 4 (HJRN4), filed July 11 by Rep. Aurelio Gonzales; and Resolution of Both Houses 1 (RBH1), filed July 15 by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez; and Resolution of Both Houses 2 (RBH2), filed July 18 by Velasco.
HCRN1 amends three provisions of the Constitution: Senate to be elected by region, term and term limits, and the economic provisions via enactment of Congress. HJRN4 focuses on three provisions: term and term limits, alienable lands, and voting capital stocks. RBH1 is a revision of the present constitution into a federal form with 56 pages of the federal constitution attached to the resolution, while RBH2 proposes to amend the economic provisions by enactment of Congress. There are no pending measures in the Senate on Charter change and the chairman of the standing committee on constitutional amendments is still headed by Sen. Kiko Pangilinan.
Can we secure a future federal Philippines? Yes, if PRRD pushes for it in clear and uncertain terms and no, because PRRD can’t even convince his economic team to work out the bottlenecks and the Senate remains a formidable opposing force. Timing is also closing, in with 2022 just 33 months away. Can we transition to a future federal Philippines? Yes, by going through the stumbling blocks: electoral reforms, political party reform (banning turncoatism, political dynasties, incentives to political parties, etc.), and a legislated FOI. The previous president never pursued political reforms. We are hopeful that the consolidation of the midterm should lead towards the passage of measures on political reforms.
We may not see the future federal/parliamentary Philippines soon but let us not miss the opportunity of planting the seed and start the transition in the last three years of the Duterte presidency. The missed opportunities are staggering if we do not act now. Building the roadmap of continuity is crucial.