By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
Federalism
posted 7-Aug-2016  ·  
4,319 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Currently, the Philippines employs a unitary form of government with much of the power — decisions, policies, and programs — emerging from the central government. Most administrative powers and resources are with the national government based in Metro Manila. Generally speaking, it's Malacañang that decides how much to give local government units. Under federalism, power is divided or shared between the central government and local state governments. There is a national government responsible for issues that affect the entire country, and constituent political units for issues of local concern. It is a combination of a general government (the central or “federal” government) with regional governments (state, provincial, or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. In basic terms, Federalism will break the country into autonomous regions with a national government focused only on interests with nationwide bearing. The autonomous regions or states, divided further into local government units, will have primary responsibility over developing their industries, public safety, education, healthcare, transportation, recreation, and culture. These states will have more power over their finances, development plans, and laws exclusive to their jurisdiction.

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Federalism is not really an entirely new concept in the Philippines. Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini intended the Philippines to be divided into three federal states, Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. One of the first proponents of federalism in the Philippines is U.P. professor Jose Abueva who argued that a federal form of government is necessary to more efficiently cater to the needs of the country despite its diversity. There have also been recent attempts to shift to Federalism. In 2008, Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. proposed Joint Resolution No. 10, which would revise the current 1987 constitution and have created eleven autonomous regions out of the Philippine Republic, establishing eleven centers of finance and development in the archipelago. Eleven "states" plus one federal administrative region was proposed. Supporters of federalism say it will evenly distribute wealth across the country instead of the bulk going to "imperial" Manila.

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President Rodrigo Duterte is a known advocate of federalism. He saw the current system as "antiquated" where distribution of public funds is disproportionately biased towards Manila. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) collects national internal revenue taxes which include income tax, estate and donor's taxes, value-added tax, other percentage taxes, excise taxes, documentary stamp taxes, and such other taxes that may be imposed and collected by the BIR. The pooled collection of national internal revenue taxes is split 60-40, with 60 percent going to the national government and 40 percent to the LGUs through the internal revenue allotment or IRA. This distribution of the IRA is also contested by federalism advocates. Indeed, a look at the 2016 national budget showed that Metro Manila got a 14.27 percent share with P428.5 billion, excluding the budget for the Office of the President, Office of the Vice President and Congress which are based in the capital region. Meanwhile, Luzon got 20.94 percent with P628.3 billion, Visayas got 9.94 percent with P298.3 billion, and Mindanao got 13.23 percent with P396.9 billion. Too much centralization in Metro Manila is prone to abuse, with governors and mayors sometimes having to beg Malacañang for projects they believe their communities need. How local government units spend their budget has to be approved by the national government.  With the present leadership’s eagerness to amend the constitution in order to adopt federalism, it is high time for us to take a look at the pros and cons of the proposal.

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Arguments for Federalism: (a) Locals know their own problems better -- Regions have their own unique problems, situations, geographic, cultural, social and economic contexts. Federalism allows them to create solutions to their own problems instead of distant Metro Manila deciding for them. This makes sense in an archipelago of over 7,000 islands and 28 dominant ethnic groups. (b) More power over funds, resources -- Right now, local government units can only collect real estate tax and business permit fees. In federalism, they can retain more of their income and are required to turn over only a portion to the state government they fall under. Thus, they can spend the money on programs and policies they see fit without waiting for the national government's go signal; (c) Decongestion of Metro Manila -- Through fiscal autonomy for state governments, federalism will more evenly distribute the country's wealth. In 2015, 35% of the national budget went to Metro Manila even if it represents only 14% of the Philippine population. (d) Brings government closer to the people -- .Federalism will make all local leaders more accountable to their constituents. State governments will no longer have any excuse for delays in services or projects that, in the present situation, are often blamed on choking bureaucracy in Manila. Governors and mayors do not have to beg Malacañang for projects they believe their communities need.

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Arguments against Federalism: (a) Possibly divisive -- Federalism could enflame hostilities between ethnic groups in the country like Tagalogs, Cebuanos, Bicolanos, Ilocanos, Tausugs, and Zamboangueños. The sense of national unity which is beginning to take root already may be wiped out; (b) Uneven development among states -- Some states may not be as ready for autonomy as others. Some states may not be as rich in natural resources or skilled labor as others. States with good leaders will progress faster while states with ineffective ones will degrade more than ever because national government will not be there to balance them out. (c) Overlaps in jurisdiction -- Unless the respective responsibilities of the state and national governments are clearly delineated, ambiguities may arise, leading to conflict and confusion. For instance, in times of disaster, what is the division of responsibilities between state and national governments? (d) Resurgence of local dynasties and warlords -- Our political history is replete with accounts of local kingpins and warlords controlling entire communities. Federalism may encourage this nefarious system to rear its ugly head with renewed vigor. 

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