In a bid to understand the newly penned Federal Constitution proposal of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) and its implications not only for the country in general but also for national government agencies like it, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas held a Federalism Talk on 7 September 2018, with no less than the very proponents of the draft constitution as resource speakers, led by the Father of the Local Government Code and ConCom member, former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. Joining Pimentel as resource persons were DILG Communications and Public Affairs Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya, who authored the book “The Quest for a Federal Republic;” former dean of Dela Salle University’s College of Liberal Arts and another ConCom member, Julio C. Teehankee; and the Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev.
The forum began by answering the question, “Why do we need to federalize?” Asec. Malaya gave a rundown of the big reasons why we need to change our country’s governance structure, starting with more equitable resources sharing with the poorer provinces and municipalities throughout the nation. He presented the percentage shares of the current 16 regions in the national budget appropriations, more than half of which is concentrated in the National Capital Region.
It was followed by Dean July’s discussion on the political reforms that are a necessary pre-requisite to a federal setup, such as the rules that prohibit political dynasties. With the devolvement of more power and resources, governance will still be controlled by existing political families even down to the barangay level if there is no prohibition on political dynasties, defeating the spirit of decentralization, which is the main goal of federalism. Another pre-requisite reform is the setting of higher competency qualifications for elected positions. For instance, under the current 1987 Constitution, only the ability to read and write is being required even for the highest position of President of the Republic. Dean July says that in these challenging time of big changes, we, as a people, deserve better from our elected leaders.
Ambassador Khovaev, meanwhile, shared Russia’s experience in their journey toward federalization that started in 1991. Russia became a federal government only in 1993. He discussed the areas of governance that have been shared with the federal states versus those that remained under national jurisdiction. The Ambassador emphasized that going federal is not easy, but the good news is that it is not impossible. He further said that the process of achieving the most ideal federal structure for any country is a never-ending one; leaders have to constantly assess where the hiccups are and fix them along the way. There is no one size that fits all; there must be dialogue among the leaders and the people.
Finally, Tatay Nene (as the former Senate President is fondly called by most everyone) talked about the draft Federal Constitution and its differences from the current 1987 Constitution. Tatay Nene went beyond what had already been said by the previous speakers and discussed the draft’s provisions for the judiciary and legislative branches of government, including the setting of deadlines for the dispensing of cases in the courts, as well as how upper and lower house representatives will be elected; how many per federal region; and the new 50-50 percentage sharing of resources between national and federal units as opposed to the current 60-40, in which only 40% goes to the local government that only includes the health, social welfare, and agriculture departments.
CFO Sec. Francisco P. Acosta gave his own thoughts on the Philippines’ move to federalize, which he says is long overdue, and formally introduced the honorary guest speaker Tatay Nene. Usec. Astravel Pimentel-Naik, for her part as the initiator of the federalism orientation for CFO personnel, was very pleased with everyone’s attentive and lively participation in the discussions. The forum ended with a group photo and book signing of “Federalizing the Philippines: A Primer,” which was authored by the Senator.