MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/15 June) — There is anticipation brewing within the electorate, particularly amongst voters in Mindanao, that shifting to a federal form of government will be a hot issue in the coming Presidential campaign.
The growing tide of believers in this groundbreaking reform are certainly keen to put their cause front and center now even as some Presidentiables are still scrambling and angling for patrons and supporters.
Ironically, many of these federalism advocates appear to be crippled by the notion that shifting to a federal structure requires amending the Constitution. Consequently, they seem genuinely convinced that a “super-politico” is needed to make federalization a reality. But the prospects of the advocacy are really not that grim because federalizing under the current Constitutional regime can actually be done.
According to Professor Cheryl Saunders from the Melbourne Law School, in a paper entitled Options for Decentralizing Power: Federalism to Decentralization, the functions of government can be decentralized in various ways. And 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.
Pertinently, our Constitution does not mandate a specific decentralization arrangement. In fact, Section 3 of Article X has given Congress the responsibility to determine the structural mechanics of local autonomy. It is therefore conceivable to incorporate through simple legislation federalist principles in the current decentralized unitary structure.
Due to space constraints, I cannot go into the nuts and bolts of this proposition. However, it may interest our legislators (and Presidentiables) to institutionalize these three fundamental tenets of federalism in the Local Government Code (LGC) to reflect a federal governance framework.
First, the allocation of responsibilities between the central and local governments must be clear and coherent. This is not exactly a pioneering innovation given the work done in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Therefore, the only task required here is to come up with a broader national arrangement that exhibits this streamlined division of government labor.
The point to remember here is that the devolution of functions has to be formulated in such a way that the assignment of accountability is unequivocal. We do not want a distribution scheme that leaves everybody clueless as to which government office can be held answerable for our dissatisfaction. Neither do we want overlapping designations that allow government agents to pass the blame for failure to deliver public services to our satisfaction.
Second, the local government structure must reflect a collective approach to local governance. Obviously, the current model must be replaced because local political families have exploited the LGC to ensure the fate of the local government is highly dependent on the person holding the gubernatorial or mayoral office.
This shameless manipulation of the current decentralization arrangement has actually further entrenched the patronage relationship between the local executive and his constituency thereby allowing local politicos to enjoy an unhealthy and corrupting prominence in local governance.
An effective countermeasure against this pattern of patronage in local politics is to integrate a sense of community in the administration of the kapitolyo and the munisipyo. The local leadership structure itself must be configured to facilitate the collective governance mindset among the local constituency. An example of such would be a parliamentary type of configuration similar to the “leader-and-cabinet model” used by local governments in the United Kingdom and in Australia.
As a corollary to this restructuring, the mechanism of sectoral representation can be further enhanced in the local “cabinet” to widen and deepen community participation in policy formulation and implementation.
Third, mechanisms must be established to foster cooperation and collaboration among the local governments in addressing national concerns. One solid truth about the process of federation is that it does not diminish the integrity of the state.
Indeed, decentralization is not just about the devolution of political and fiscal powers to the sub-national level, but it is also about clearly defining a shared responsibility between the two tiers of government for shaping the future of the whole country.
This idea is already reflected in Section 2 of LGC where it is explicitly expressed that “the territorial and political subdivisions of the State shall enjoy genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more effective partners in the attainment of national goals.”
It is painfully obvious that the current local autonomy regime in the country is afflicted with a slew of institutional defects. The overlapping and confusion of government functions, the hovering presence of Malacañang in the management of government, the myopic and parochial approach to development, just to name a few.
These deficiencies have ultimately led to the failure of both levels of government to effectively and efficiently deliver essential public services. Health care, public education, environment protection are just a few examples. Needless to say, these anomalies have severely and negatively impacted the general welfare of millions of Filipinos.
There is undeniably an urgent need to overhaul the current broken decentralization arrangement. And a determined federalist advocate would definitely be pushing for the necessary reforms mentioned here.
Indeed, a true champion of federalism in the 2016 presidential race would not be deterred by the popular view of the Constitution as a seemingly immovable hindrance to federalization. But those who blindly insist on the constitutional argument against federalizing now may not be ready to lose their handsome profits from the current structure, which is still too centralized on Malacañang. (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.)