Why federalism is 'worth a try'


Mayor Rodrigo Duterte during briefing at the Royal Mandaya hotel in Davao city. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A former senator and a law dean on Sunday both shed light on why a federal type of government that might be formed under presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte's administration may be the key to solving the country's deeply rooted ills.

Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, explained that under a federal form of government, each state or region has its own discretion in managing its economy, natural resources, and law.

Compared to the central government in Manila, Aquino said regional governments have a better grasp on their region's various concerns. Greater independence would allow them to provide more appropriate solutions.

"Siguro iyan ang magdudulot ng solusyon sa mga problemang matagal na nating hinaharap, mithiin ng mga tao ng iba't ibang rehiyon ng Pilipinas... Ang umiiral kasi na sistema natin, masyadong makapangyarihan ang Manila (central government)," Aquino told radio dzMM.

"Ang Manila, hindi niya palaging nakikita ang pangangailangan ng mga rehiyon."

In the country's current form of government, all funds are centralized in Manila and provinces need to remit their income to the National Treasury. The national government also distributes and allocates the budget for each province.

Meanwhile, in the federal form of government, a state will no longer remit its income to the national government. However, they have to give a small percentage of their income as a contribution to the national government.

The percentage of income to be given to the national government will be determined in the Constitution that will be drafted if federalism pushes through.

(READ: What is federalism? Lawmaker explains)

Aquino added that federalism may be "worth a try" because it would also discourage insurgency in Mindanao, given the principle of governing based on distinct regional culture and traditions.

Former Sen. Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel, Jr., meanwhile, believes that increasing the power of regional governments would improve the prioritization of infrastructure projects, and facilitation of disaster response and other programs.

He also reasoned that this is because regional governments have a deeper understanding of their constituents compared to the central government.

Pimentel, a long-time advocate of federalism, also stressed that the Constitution will ascertain at the same time that regional governments would not have too much power.

He said the central government would still retain authority over the Army and the national police, the currency and foreign relations.

On the other hand, Aquino admitted that federalism is not a "silver bullet" against pervasive criminality, drug trade or corruption. "Kung mahina ang gobyerno sa isang estado, hindi pa rin malulutas iyan," he said.

The current unitary form of government may be changed to a federal government through Constitutional amendment, according to Aquino.

The Constitution may be amended through a Constitutional Convention, similar to when delegates from every congressional district revised the 1973 Constitution. Constitutional amendments may also be made through a people's initiative, or by Congress itself through a constituent assembly.

Duterte, who is poised to be the 16th Philippine president, has been vocal in his belief that federalism can help end the fighting in parts of Mindanao.