Bernardo M. Villegas
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Nurturing Leaders for Federal States (Part I)

           Except for the so-called “oligarchs” based in the National Capital Region, I am positive that most Filipinos agree with President Rody Duterte that it is about time that we decapitate imperial Manila.  Too many decisions about the welfare of the regions are being made by Manila-based politicians and government officials who are oftentimes ignorant of the real circumstances being faced by the masses outside the NCR, especially in the predominantly rural territories.  This concentration of political and economic power in the hands of Manila-based decision makers explains to a great extent the paucity of farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities and other rural infrastructures which have been denied the small farmers and rural workers for decades. Infrastructure spending in the past has been concentrated in the urban districts, especially in Metro Manila.

          There is no consensus, however, on how to carry out this “beheading.”  I am giving my full support to the opinions expressed by my fellow 1986 Constitutional Commissioner Christian Monsod in an interview he gave to Karen Davila in ANC’s Headstart.  In his opinion, federalism is not necessary to accomplish the task of breaking the hold of Manila on the various Philippine regions.  I hope that other living members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission appointed by former President Cory Aquino will express their views about this very important issue that the nation is now facing:  To federalize or not to federalize.

          If one reads closely the Philippine Constitution of 1987, there are enough provisions that will allow local government officials to raise and manage their own resources without kowtowing to the leaders in Manila.    Section 5 of Article X on Local Government states that each local government unit shall have the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges subject to such guidelines and limitations as the Congress may provide, consistent with the basic policy of local autonomy.  Such taxes, fees, and charges will accrue exclusively to the local governments.  Section 7 states that local governments will be entitled to an equitable share in the proceeds of the utilization and development of the national wealth within their respective areas, in the manner provided by law, including sharing the same with the inhabitants by way of direct benefits.

          The Local Government Code of 1991 was the enabling law that implemented the decentralization of political and economic power to the regions as mandated by the Philippine Constitution.  Under this Code, local governments can issue bonds, partner with the private sector to build infrastructures, and as Atty. Christian Monsod pointed out, local government units may group themselves consolidate or coordinate their effort, services and resources for purpose commonly beneficial to them (as the two provinces of Negros Island recently did).  Under the Local Government Code, President Duterte has all the authority to continue enhancing local autonomy, not only through suggesting legislative acts, but also by administrative and organizational reforms.  For example, the President can issue an Executive Order that Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) be distributed instantly and completely to the LGU units (this has been a bone of contention in previous Governments jealous of their budgetary power). 

          Before we adopt a federal form of government, which may be feasible in the long run, let us first make sure that there are enough examples of local leaders who are able to manage their respective LGUs under the autonomy already granted to them by the Local Government Code.  This could be a period during which, without imposing on them a pre-conceived set of federal states, they can on their own identify the common features they have that will make them compatible with one another (as in the case of the Negros provinces or of the two provinces of Mindoro—Occidental and Oriental—that are forming one island economy) or the complementary role that can be played by the economically stronger provinces grouping with the weaker ones.  This has to be a natural process and not imposed from above.  For example, I doubt that Panay will naturally gravitate with Palawan, Mindoro, Romblon, Marinduque as envisioned by some who have already prematurely grouped the various islands into eleven federal states.  The principle of subsidiarity requires that their leaders be given the freedom to choose to what federal state they will belong.  As a Batangueno myself, I am not sure whether the various political dynasties in the Southern Luzon area will actually want to cooperate with one another to form a single federal state.  Historically, there has always been bad blood between the politicians from Cavite and Batangas.   I also know for a fact that the people in Quezon have always been wary of the “imperial” or colonizing designs of the Batanguenos in their province.  It remains to be seen if Southern Tagalog can form a cohesive federal state.  Batangas and the whole island of Mindoro may more naturally belong to one regional state than to Southern Tagalog.  (To be continued).