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Are we ready for constitutional change?

(Part 4)


By Florangel Rosario Braid

Proponents of federalism argue its advantages – that it is essential for decentralization and that it is the mechanism that can address imbalances. Now, is the “political moment,” they say, to address the need to disperse power, and to build robust institutions.

But after weighing all the advantages, it seems like the disadvantages outweigh the positive changes that federalism would bring about. Earlier, we had pointed out how dividing the government into national and state (or regional) would weaken the entire country, as regional differences will be magnified. While the purpose of federalism is to promote collective leadership, this goal may not be attainable as yet because of a critical ingredient – lack of enough capable local leaders. Capacity building will take time and in the meantime, this inadequacy could widen existing disparities.

While the objective is to unify the regions, the structure may instead do the opposite – promote rivalries. With uneven development, poor regions will become poorer. It was suggested that the wealthier and more developed regions could provide their surplus resources to the weaker regions. But this may not be a realistic expectation. In the process of determining the sharing of responsibility, it is always possible to encounter overlaps in jurisdiction between the federal government and the state. It could also further entrench political dynasties. While the latter and their partners, the oligarchs, have indeed extracted resources from the regions for their own interests, they could also spawn counterparts in the regions who would act in the same manner in their own communities. Federalism will not solve inequality among regions. In fact, richer regions may even become richer. It could also lead to the neglect of national concerns as the states or regions may be too focused on local concerns.

How our local federal structure would look like will still have to be determined, but it is generally known that in countries with a federal structure, each state would have its own laws (and constitutions which would complicate the administration of justice. Imagine having different ways of dealing with concerns such as death penalty, divorce, abortion, and similar controversial issues. An example is the United States with 51 states and with varying policies on certain issues.

The shift to federalism would involve expense of billions of pesos in the setting up of state governments to support the cost of human resources, infrastructure, and additional layers in the bureaucracy. Liberal Party President Francis Pangilinan raises the issue of trust. Citing the demeanor of House committees during hearings on extrajudicial killings, Senator De Lima, shabu shipment, extension of martial law, and several other cases, he asks the public if it can trust Congress, given its track record. If Congress does proceed with the drafting of the constitutional amendments, Senator Frank Drilon adds, he would suggest separate voting for the Senate and the House.

But before that happens, former CJ Davide would like all public servants who propose to amend the Constitution to first examine and understand the Constitution and honestly ask themselves if they have done enough in upholding and defending the Constitution. “What our country and people need today, is not a change of the Constitution, but authentic and genuine change in their hearts and minds and values….and that they at all times be vigilant and assertive, and always unyielding to the whims and caprices of false or fake public servants, especially in these times of false news, fake news, post-truths.”

Davide goes on to say that federalism is not suited for our country and our people of our generation and those of the succeeding generations. It cannot fit into our history, culture, character, traditions, beliefs, hopes, aspirations, longings, and even our idiosyncracies and peculiarities. The best fitted for these is the unitary system which has proven itself to be so. Federalism would be a foreign invader or a stranger that would come not on its own . It would come at our reckless and imprudent instance, instigated only by a few.

After describing the general features of the three main proposals which would form the basis for drafting the draft federal structure, namely, the Nene Pimentel proposal, the Gonzales proposal, and the PDP-Laban proposal, Davide notes: “This dividing, breaking up, splitting, fragmenting, and disconfiguring of the Philippines will not build a just and humane society and will not bring a harvest of harmony, development, progress, prosperity, peace, and stability. On the contrary, it would build and bring about the opposite.”

He enumerates eighteen possible scenarios of what could happen should we shift to a federal structure of government.

(To be continued)

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