Despite the deafening issues of food security, increasing fuel and electricity prices as well as tuition fee hikes, the issue of federalizing the Republic of the Philippines would not die down. The reason: The federal system is seen to be an answer to the pressing woes caused by a centralized government.
Last April 23, Senator Nene Pimentel passed Resolution No. 10 entitled, “Joint Resolution to Convene the Congress into a Constituent Assembly for the Purpose of Revising the Constitution to Establish a Federal System of Government”. The idea is to amend the 1987 Constitution and institute what Pimentel calls as an “invasive surgery” and disperse political and economic power throughout the nation.
The idea of federalizing the Philippines is not anymore a new idea. During the Spanish period, Indios like Jose Rizal wanted the Philippines to become some sort of a federal province under the Kingdom of Spain. The Spaniards, however, loathed this idea as they don’t want to be on the same level with the early Filipinos. During the American period, a number of Filipinos also wanted the country to be a part of the United States just like what happened with Hawaii in 1959. But then, statesmen like Manuel Quezon would rather “prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans”.
But the seed of federalism remained and this time, it evolved to a different concept – the Philippine sovereignty is retained with its provinces or regions converted into federal states. Under Pimentel’s proposal there will be eleven States while others, like the idea being espoused by Dr. Jose Abueva, one of the leaders of the contemporary federalist movements, want it sixteen. In all proposals, the Bicol Region will be a separate State equipped with powers such as the power to tax and manage its internal affairs.
One of the professors from Bicol University, however, argues that the proposal is not only feasible but is also disconcerting. He reasoned out that we are already attuned to a central form of government so there is no reason to federalize. Asked why, he didn’t elaborate. But whether he has or he lacks reasons to back up his claim, we do not know. The only thing certain is that new ideas are usually opposed not because they are unmeritorious but because they are new.
It is undebatably true that we have tried and tested a unitary form of government. Since the Republic began, presidents rule the country and have extensive power over anything else – including the private lives of the people. The local government units (LGUs) – from provinces to barangays – only exist to help facilitate the collection of taxes and perform the necessary social services the national government should be providing. While these units are at the front facing the brunts of the people, it is the national government that enjoys the privileges brought about by a larger share of the resource pie. And this is true even with the passage of the Local Government Code of 1991. Thus, we hear of LGUs soliciting funds from the presidential coffers to augment the municipality’s income or wallowing in debt just to be able to answer the demands of their constituencies.
Aside from the unfair distribution of power and resources between the national and local governments, the present unitary system also makes it easy for the members of the central government to get involved in corruption. Hence, we hear of the members of the First Family involved in scandals as well as wheeling and dealing fiascoes like the NBN-ZTE Broadband and the Spratly Islands project. With the federal form, these will be minimized as power will be resting on the federal states. The fear that corruption will just only be decentralized under the federal government is hard to tell. Unless anybody has heard of Canadian and American presidents involved in corruption or noted federal countries like Germany and Great Britain on the corruption list.
The feasibility of an Uragon State, however, remains at the sidelines especially if the 1987 Constitution will not be amended. With Pimentel’s resolution, we can see hope. But along with this hope are questions particularly on the timing and method. Any moves to amend the Charter under the presidency of Gloria Arroyo will surely be shot down and will always be considered as tainted with the interests of the Arroyos. Even then, to quote an unknown poet of the past: Let each hope be a seed and faith, the rain. Let the day move its course and wait for the seed become a tree of fame.###