COMMENTARY: Federalization is a process

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MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/21 July) – Federalism is such a buzz word these days. In fact, many Filipinos want this to be a major issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.

Interestingly, we can actually have a good glimpse of how the country would look like under a federal system of government via Senate Joint Resolution No. 10.

This resolution was filed under the leadership of the main proponent of federalism in the country, former Senator Nene Pimentel, on April 23, 2008 during the 14th Congress. But like many much-needed reform measures in Congress, this one got stalled too.

Under Joint Resolution No. 10, the Republic of the Philippines would become the Federal Republic of the Philippines made up of 11 constituents states organized as follows:

  1. The State of Northern Luzon shall comprise the provinces of llocos Norte, llocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.
  1. The State of Central Luzon shall comprise the provinces of Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales, and the Scarborough shoals.
  1. The State of Southern Tagalog shall comprise the provinces of Rizal, Quezon, Laguna, Batangas and Cavite.
  1. The State of Bicol shall comprise the provinces of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, and Sorsogon.
  1. The State of Minparom shall comprise the provinces of Mindoro Oriental. Mindoro Occidental, Palawan, Romblon and Marinduque and the Island, Islets, shoal and reefs that are collectively called the Kalayan Islands or the Spratlys.
  1. The State of Eastern Visayas shall comprise the provinces of Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Northern Samar, Samar and Eastern Samar.
  1. The State of Central Visayas shall comprise the provinces of Masbate, Negros Oriental, Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor.
  1. The State of Western Visayas shall comprise the provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental.
  1. The State of Northern Mindanao shall comprise the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte, Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay.
  1. The State of Southern Mindanao shall comprise the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Compostela Valley, Davao, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
  1. The State of Bangsamoro shall comprise the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

Metro Manila would be organized as Federal Administrative Region and comprise the cities of Manila, Quezon, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasay, Pasig, Caloocan, Muntinlupa, Las Pinas, Paranaque, Malabon, Marikina, Taguig, Navotas, Valenzuela and San Juan, and the municipality of Pateros.

Enticing as this federalized Philippines may be, I must reiterate that the reform contemplated in Joint Resolution No. 10 is still not within reach. According to one of the Whereas clause in its explanatory note, “the shift from the unitary system of government to the federal system requires revising the Constitution;”.

And the recent debacle in Congress pertaining to “economic” amendments, which was lambasted by an academic from Mindanao as the “Gang rape of the Constitution”, has shown that Filipinos are not yet ready to undertake a constitutional revision process.

But the drive to reach the federalism goal should not easily be stumped by this reality. For according to noted expert on federalism, Professor Cheryl Saunders from the Melbourne Law School, in a paper entitled, Options for Decentralizing Power: Federalism to Decentralization, federalism is just one example of a decentralization arrangement among a spectrum of arrangements establishing greater or lesser degrees of local autonomy within a nation-state.

According to the good professor there are four general types of decentralization arrangements:

DELEGATION: Allocation of power by the centre to other levels of government in what remains essentially a unitary state, in which the centre retains authority to withdraw the delegated power or to direct its use. Typically the power delegated is executive or administrative power, or minor law-making power.

DEVOLUTION: Conferral of legislative and executive (and sometimes judicial) power on other levels of government in a manner that gives them substantial autonomy, without the complete surrender of, formal control by the centre.

REGIONAL AUTONOMY: Conferral on one or more regions of a greater degree of self-governing authority than is conferred on other parts of the state.

FEDERATION: Division of governing authority between the centre and one or more other orders of government in a way that gives each of them final autonomy in their own areas of responsibility.

The Philippines currently has two local autonomy regimes in place. The first one is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which would fall under the category of regional autonomy. And the second one, which applies to the rest of the country, is a blend of the delegation and devolution models. [See Section 2 and 3 of the the Local Government Code of 1991]

It is interesting however that Professor Saunders would describe the various kinds of decentralization arrangements as a spectrum─ with delegation as the weakest and federation as the strongest autonomy regime.

Because as a spectrum, this means that countries can actually navigate itself through the different levels of local autonomy. Indeed, Professor Saunders maintains that these general types of decentralization arrangement are not mutually distinct, but shade into one another as clearly demonstrated in the Philippine context.

Correspondingly, maintaining a rigid and limited view of federalization seems pointless and even counter-productive particularly given that our Constitution does not actually mandate a specific decentralization arrangement and has in fact empowered Congress to determine the structural mechanics of local autonomy. [See Section 3 of Article X]

The federal structure envisaged by Joint Resolution No. 10 may still be far down the road but I believe the point to be made here is that we can already initiate the federalization of the Philippines by incorporating federalist principles in the current local autonomy regimes through simple legislation.

Taking heed of course of Professor Saunders’ very important caveat that what is important is that the new design meets the needs of the state and its peoples and that they have a shared understanding of what has been created and a shared commitment to making the arrangements work. (Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.)

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