COMMENTARY: We can continue electing our officials without antagonizing the process of shifting to federalism

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 07 January) — Experience will tell us that the practice of unitary form of government or the centralization of power does not necessarily work towards self-improvement of each region in the country. Political pundits and legal experts argue that RA 7160 already provides mechanism for Local Government Units to exercise authority by way of utilizing the resources provided to them by virtue of the principle of power of devolution.

The assumption therefore is that each local political unit in the country need not acquire further autonomy to run the internal affairs of their respective local governments for each of the implementing provisions of the cited law already guarantees them full administrative control within their locality.

As mandated by law, in the utilization of the 20% development fund inclusive of the Internal Revenue Allotment, LGUs are perceived not having been shortchanged to discharge their official functions owing to these available resources provided to them. However, the issue at hand does not only merit the fiscal arrangement and the share of each Region from the National Wealth as a matter of right guaranteed by the Constitution. Rather, the discussion that must be developed is whether this type of legal arrangement or the status quo empowers our Local Government Units especially in the rural areas to progress and develop further their potentials in order to catch up with the other LGUs in highly urbanized areas or does this existing policy inadvertently promote inequity between and among cities and towns in the country?

Federalism is not only about sharing and distribution of resources but political empowerment and social equity. It is a reasonable proposition as an alternative to the century-old unitary system that has bred a lot of ills in our country such as extreme inequality in development as it concentrates power and resources to the center and to a few powerful elites who are mostly in the capital.

Such ills as traffic congestion in Metro Manila is a problem created by the unitary set-up. Opportunities, business and services, employment, government agencies, transnational business operation even policy decisions are pulled in together making the capital not only the center of power but a strategic location to do just about anything.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Metro Manila has come to face the dire consequence of this present set-up:  over-populated cities, poor urban landscape and government services couldn’t simply match the demand of growing number of people from countryside moving to the center of gravity to simply get his or her fair share. The proposal brought about by Federalism is to bring down decision making to the lower levels of government on the theory that local issues are best settled at local levels. This will also spread development as it allows people to take charge of their developments and makes them more responsible for their political decisions. This also simplifies accountability.

In terms of development, it will unleash the power of the periphery and spread development more evenly. The simplest way, however, to render this proposal ineffective — at least on gaining mass support — is to argue on a possible extension of the term of office of elected officials and this has been proven repeatedly by the failure to pursue political reform in the days of the Ramos and Arroyo presidency as it led to the suspicion of people that those reforms were in truth efforts to extend the term of office of the incumbent administration.

We can still continue electing our officials as prescribed by law without antagonizing the process on the shift to Federal form of government. We’ve heard the President repeatedly saying that he is even willing to step down before the expiration of his term if and when our policymakers are able to put in place Federal set-up before his term of office ends on 30 June 2022.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong of Lanao del Sur is majority floor leader of the Regional Legislative Assembly at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He also served as spokesperson of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee during the five-month Marawi Siege. Adiong posted this piece on his Facebook page on 5 January. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this)