In consonance with the advocacies of Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration to have a federal form of government in the country, Western Mindanao State University through the Political Science Department of College of Liberal Arts (CLA) hosted a forum on federalism at the WMSU Social Hall last September 1, 2016.
Asec. Epimaco V. Densing III, Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs of Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Atty. Jose I. Lorena, Undersecretary of Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) served as the keynote speakers during the half-day event which was attended by the university officials, faculty members and students, college students from other schools as well as stakeholders from the different societal sectors.
One of the priority programs of the Duterte Administration is the proposed shift from presidential unitary to parliamentary federal form of government. This is considered as a strategy to introduce real reforms and genuine change in our country for the good and benefit of the Filipinos.
Advocates of the forum shared their thoughts on the theme “The Future of Mindanao in a Federal System of Government” and enlightened the public on the benefits, opportunities and thrusts of the federalism type of government which was first proposed in 1982. They envisioned that federalism will bring not only economic growth but it will also be the key to finally achieve peace in war-torn Mindanao.
Pros and Cons of Federalism
Asec. Epimaco Densing explained that in a federal system of government, there will be decentralization and distribution of government powers –political and economic- to regional and local governments throughout the nation. “Mindanao will have a peaceful and happy life for its citizens. Mindanao will have a prosperous and very energetic environment in terms of economic activities,” he said. “Under the federal system, the shares of provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays will be bigger than what is currently provided for under the Local Government Code,” he added.
Asec. Densing also 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 Metro Manila, Densing said regional governments have a better grasp on their region’s various concerns. Greater independence would allow them to provide more appropriate solutions.
Atty. Jose Lorena also added that since Philippines is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, regions have their own unique problems, situations, economics, cultural and social context. “Federalism allows these regions to create solutions to their own problems instead of Metro Manila addressing these concerns,” said the OPAPP undersecretary. “Federalism also allows the local states to have more power over funds and resources thus allowing them to retain more of their income and channel these funds towards their own development. They can spend the money on programs and policies they see fit without waiting for the national government’s go signal,” he added.
Atty. Lorena, who was born in Sulu, is certain that federalism is the solution to the Mindanao conflict. The creation of the state of Bangsamoro within a federalist system can address the concerns of separatists who crave more autonomy over the administration of Muslim Mindanao.
The advocates of federalism also assured the audience that in a federal system of government, all local leaders, including those part of political dynasties, become more accountable to their constituents. Local government will no longer have excuses for delays in projects and services unlike in the present situation, where delays are often blamed on bureaucracy in Manila. Federalism also encourages competition among local states. It will motivate leaders and its constituents to level up in terms of quality of life, economic development, progressive policies, and governance.
While there are advantages to federalism, there are also challenges and disadvantages to it. A federal system of government can lead to duplication of government and inefficient, over-lapping or contradictory policies in different parts of the country. Federalism may also lead to over-government that will result to corruption.
Federalism can lead to inequality between the states and lead to unhealthy competition and creating rivalries and promoting the regionalism that some say already challenges the sense of unity in the country. It could enflame hostilities between ethnic groups in the country. Federalism may not satisfy the separatists in Mindanao. It may not be enough for them. After all, the conflict continues despite the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Asec. Densing admitted that shifting to federalism will be costly. It would entail billions of pesos to set up state governments and the delivery of state services. They are yet to discuss and formulate a tangible model of federalism in the country. (Liezel M. Parreño, WMSU-PAO)