The federal form
Faithful to his pledge, the President loss no time in persuading the Filipino people for the adoption of a Federal system of government, vice, the current unitary system. Prominent individuals, civic and professional organizations, notably the Integrated Bar of the Philippines took the cudgels in support of Federalism. In fairness, this lecture-type discourse is highly educational. It is felt though that the merits and otherwise of the two political systems must be conveyed in a layman’s level of understanding. I am saying this because the issue of Federalism is no longer the esoteric concern of the intellectual mind. In this stage of our existence, a systemic shift in political structure is a paramount concern of ordinary citizens. The challenge, thus, is to enlighten the man on the street on the salient aspects of Federation if only to come up with a wise political decision— the choice to retain the present unitary, highly centralized system or the changing of the guards by establishing a Federal type of government. As this is a life-changing challenge, it is helpful to share some operative characteristics of the Federal and Unitary systems.
To begin with, “Federalism is a system of government in which States form a union by granting a central government supreme power in common or national affairs, while retaining their independent existence and control over local affairs.” It must be noted that in Federalism there is a precise separate hierarchy of powers between the Mother State and the Federal States which attribute is clearly absent in a unitary form. Federations today include the United States, Canada and Australia. In the United States, the Federal government is supreme in defense, foreign affairs, the postal and monetary system. All levels of government may levy taxes and spend money but the Federal government accounts for the greater portion of public spending. We have yet to see the major components of the envisioned Federal form of government for the Philippines.
On the other hand, in Philippine context, a unitary form of government is where the President exercises almost absolute control and supervision over national affairs, including supervision over local government units. In fine, under this set-up the local governments are not genuinely empowered to develop their own development plans based on existing local resources, priorities and even cultural orientation. Such indispensable power to solve endemic social and economic problems attendant in an archipelagic state is exercised for them from a command post in Malacanang.
The call of the moment is a system that allows freedom of action in a very fundamental aspect of life that requires on- sight action not long-distance prescription. Certainly, there is another faster, safer and surer way to achieve reform than by further empowering and pampering a unitary government that imposes its judgment on the whole spectrum of Philippine life. Federalism is more likely to achieve genuine progress and right wrongs than the present dispensation that imposed centralized solutions. This is because Federalism will permit an immediate substitution of local judgments and priorities, particularly in revenue-sharing arrangement to achieve a more rational distribution of governmental responsibilities and taxing powers within the State.