Sunday, August 17, 2008

Federalism Anyone?

First, the news: the remains of Corporal Angelo Abeto, the Philippine Marine who died in an encounter with MILF rebels in Basilan, has been flown to Iloilo City where he will be given a hero's burial (see GMA video here):

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The Abeto family reside in Sitio Calubihan, Mandurriao, Iloilo City (not far from the old Iloilo airport) and Corporal Abeto studied at the University of Iloilo before poverty forced him to enlist in the Philippine Marines. An interesting sidelight is Abeto's sister, Anne Grace, won 2 bronze medals in the Southeast Asian Para Games (read more here). I am fascinated because despite being poor, this has not stopped the Abeto family from contributing something to the country - Cpl. Angelo laid down his life defending the Republic, Anne Grace although blind brought honor and won medals for the country. The government should do its utmost to reward their selfless acts and help uplift their family from poverty. These are the types of people government should help.


I have yet to form an opinion on the proposal to federalize the Philippines but reading Senator Nene Pimentel's press release, I have to admit that I am attracted to the idea. Autonomy has indeed been good for the country and it has resulted to countryside development so why not take it further by granting the provinces total autonomy in running their affairs? (read Pimentel's entire press release here. I also found a soft copy of Joint Resolution No. 10 here).

I am currently studying Joint Resolution No. 10 (thank God for the long weekend) and I am about half way through. Under his 63-page resolution, Senator Pimentel proposes the creation of 11 federal states out of the existing political subdivisions of the country, and one federal administrative region namely; the federal states of Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Bicol and Southern Tagalog in Luzon; the federal states of Minparom (the island provinces of Mindoro, Palawan, Romblon, Marinduque), Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas and Western Visayas in the Visayas and the federal states Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and Bangsamoro in Mindanao. Metro Manila will be converted into a federal administrative region along the lines of Washington D.C. in the United States, New Delhi in India or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

There are several provisions in the resolution which I find objectionable. One is the provision proposing to transfer the Senate and the House of Representatives to Tagbilaran, Bohol and the Supreme Court to Cagayan de Oro in Misamis Oriental. The proposal of transferring Congress to Tagbilaran alone could prove to be problematic and could spawn a myriad of problems. For one, there are no direct flights from Iloilo to Tagbilaran (or anywhere for that matter) and I can already picture our legislators and their staff scrambling on ferries or ro-ro just to get to their sessions. Congressmen will have to sell their houses in Fairview and buy new ones in Bohol (but come to think of it, since MalacaƱang will still be in Manila, the political elite will have to decide to maintain three homes now: one in Manila, one in their bailiwicks and another one in Bohol). The pressure to acquire a house in Bohol will become another excuse for politicians to steal money from government and I pity the Boholanos once the politicians "invade" their province - land prices will surely rise beyond their reach and they will have to contend with numerous protocol-plated vehicles careening around their roads.

The resolution provides for a bicameral Federal Legislature comprised of an Upper and Lower House. Each federal state are allocated six senators, jacking up the total membership of the Senate to seventy five. It also puts a cap on the number of members the House of Representatives could have, which is 350 members broken down into 300 district representatives and 50 party list. I have misgivings on this because I feel this is too many. There will be far too many senators and congressmen (with protocol "7" and "8" car plates) running around the country and abroad (I pity our foreign service officers who usually act as their tour guides during their foreign junkets).

Another provision which I find objectionable is the provision on State Legislatures. Under the resolution, each federal state will have a State Legislature on top of the municipal council, and the city or provincial board and below the National Legislature. My main objection is that delegates to the State Legislature will not be elected via a general election but only chosen by the provincial or city council members from among their ranks. Even the sectoral delegates to the State Legislature will be appointed, not elected, by the State Governor. The Pimentel resolution also stipulates that the State Legislature cannot meet more than twice a month, which I think is not enough for it to deliberate and achieve anything worthwhile. The State Legislature in effect will just be another bureaucratic, "do-nothing" layer which will add to the expenses of the state. Rich federal states like Metro Manila and Central Visayas may be able to afford it but I don't think the proposed Bangsamoro or Minparom states will have the money to fund its operation.

I also think the resolution's proposal to abolish the Judicial and Bar Council is not a good idea. Under the resolution, all appointments to the judiciary will be made by the President from a list of at least three nominees to be submitted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) upon approval by the Commission on Appointments. I think the current set-up is fine. Under the current set-up, the IBP is just one of the members of the JBC the others being the Supreme Court, a senator, a congressman, the DOJ secretary, and a representative from the academe (usually a law school dean).

Since Iloilo City is currently the regional government center, it is more than likely that it will be made the capital of the proposed "Federal State of Western Visayas." The only problem is the city is already very crowded and if they propose to build a State Legislature I don't know if there will be a site big enough to accommodate it in the city (the only remaining open areas in the city is in the flood-prone Jaro).

But all in all, I still believe in diffusing power away from Imperial Manila. We really need to disperse development in other parts of the country simply because Metro Manila is already busting in the seams. Although past experience shows that autonomy has been good for countryside development, I still have misgivings about totally federalizing our archipelago. Maybe we should just grant the LGUs more autonomy and not give them absolute federal power. I am fearful because federalism tends only to rich provinces richer, poor provinces poorer and at the same time suspicious of the timing. But then talks of Cha Cha always surface everytime elections loom on the horizon and each president has been accused of plotting to extend his or her term. I agree that the best time to amend the Constitution is immediately after elections but the problem is, each newly-elected administration doesn't want anything to do with anything that will cut short its term. Nothing really happens in the end.

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