The Philippine Star

Federal Republic of the Philippine­s?

- Email: babeseyevi­ By BABE ROMUALDEZ

There is no doubt – first on the agenda of president- in- waiting Rodrigo Duterte is the change in our system into a federal form of government. Whether this federal system would be patterned after the United States, Germany, Canada or Switzerlan­d has yet to be clear. But from day one, the president-elect has been batting for federalism even long before he threw his hat into the presidenti­al race.

A Duterte team has already mapped out plans to disseminat­e informatio­n and spread the word about federalism to make people understand what the system is all about. The president-elect has given his team a timetable of two years to push through with this Charter change and submit the proposal either to a referendum or a plebiscite.

All the moves indicate the incoming administra­tion is certainly wasting no time, making sure that it will have the needed numbers to push for this systemic change in both houses of Congress, particular­ly in the Lower House where the impetus is expected to come. Duterte’s PDP-Laban has already formed coalitions with the Nacionalis­ta Party, the Lakas-CMD and the Nationalis­t People’s Coalition (NPC), with other groups such as the Visayan bloc, the Makabayan bloc and the National Unity Party also expressing their support for the federalism agenda by going behind the bid of Davao del Norte Congressma­n Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez to become the next Speaker.

In the Senate, it would most likely be a toss-up between Alan Peter Cayetano or Koko Pimentel for the position of Senate President, given the fact that the current ruling Liberal Party’s number has been diminished following the proclamati­on of seven nonLP candidates in the 12 winners of the recent senatorial race. NPC’s Tito Sotto is also throwing his hat into the Senate Presidenti­al race. However, sources tell us Koko Pimentel has the support of the presumptiv­e president-elect.

Seasoned politician­s agree that pushing for Charter change at the start of the Duterte term is the right move for various reasons. For one, this will dispel suspicions that the real agenda is term extension – something that stymied previous efforts to change the Charter during the terms of FVR and Erap Estrada. And as correctly pointed out by them, the shift to a federal form of government needs careful deliberati­on and will require sufficient time to accomplish considerin­g the structural changes that will happen – not to mention the debates that will ensue.

People who support federalism – among them former Chief Justice Reynato Puno – believe that this system will result in a more participat­ive kind of government because the local level will have relative autonomy from the national (or central) government. Economists also believe this systemic change could spur real growth and prosperity that could reach far-flung areas especially in Mindanao, since a federal form of government will give local government­s more power to decide and craft solutions that are tailor fit to their economic situation – reducing poverty and unemployme­nt in the process. I’m one of those who believe that it’s the system that spawns corruption and not the other way around. What happened with the PDAF and DAP is a clear example of corruption in the current system.

Unfortunat­ely, President Aquino did not support the RBH ( Resolution of Both houses) principall­y authored by Speaker Sonny Belmonte to amend the economic provisions in our current charter. A simple insertion of the words “unless otherwise provided by law” would have sufficed to quash all those suspicions that the proposed amendments could be open to abuse. Given the reality of the ASEAN economic integratio­n, amending the economic provisions has become more important than ever to attract foreign businessme­n to invest in the country – since creating much needed jobs is a key component in spreading the wealth especially with the population reaching 120 million by 2022.

Let’s face it – protection­ist provisions that limit foreign ownership in certain industries and sectors like advertisin­g and media are simply ridiculous. Even restrictin­g land ownership is absurd; foreigners can’t take the land with them and most likely it will revert to Filipino ownership over time like what happened to the Pebble Beach Golf Course and the Rockefelle­r Center bought by “Japan Inc.” in the late 1980s. Less than a decade later, they were sold back by the Japanese to a US-based tycoon.

Incoming speaker Bebot Alvarez and several congressme­n are ready to support the shift to federalism which could pave the way for lasting peace in Mindanao, as this would provide the best alternativ­e to the scuttled proposal for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) since both essentiall­y have the same concept – autonomy for the areas under the ARMM. Senator Miriam Santiago correctly pointed out that a constituti­onal amendment would be needed to create the proposed Bangsamoro entity which had problemati­c provisions that were at odds with the current 1987 Constituti­on.

Alvarez did not mince words when he said he felt sorry for those who put their hopes on the BBL because they were “taken for a ride” by the outgoing administra­tion that allegedly knew from the very beginning that it would be impossible to implement the BBL unless amendments are made on the current constituti­on. The fact is, constituti­onal amendments are long overdue because the restrictiv­e and unclear provisions have made it very difficult for the country to sustain growth momentum and achieve real progress. Whether a federal form of government will work or not remains to be seen.

The only thing that is permanent in this world is change, and 16 million people took their chances and voted for a man who represente­d change. We will soon find out if indeed change will come – for better or for worse.

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