Imperial Manila dominates in Puno proposal

The proposed draft of the federal constitution, drafted and submitted by the Consultative Committee chaired by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, establishes a presidential federal form of government for the Philippines. At its core, in its form of government proposal, the Puno Constitutional Draft provides for a delineation of the powers of two entities, namely: the federal government and the federated regions. It however retains the independence and separation of powers between the branches of government—the executive, legislative, and judiciary—and in spite of some rebalancing in favor of judicial independence, the supremacy of the presidency is once again asserted.

At the outset, let me clear that I have been for federalism as early as the late 1970s when I first became aware of the root causes of the conflict in Mindanao. It is not just decentralization of administration (which is what local autonomy is all about) but decentralization of power that is needed. A unitary form of government will never be able to satisfy this governance necessity.

Let me also say outright that, since the time I realized what martial law under Marcos was really like (dictatorial, oppressive) and what it was for (a power grab to perpetuate himself in power), I have been totally against the presidential system as it has evolved in the Philippines. The latter is a system established by the colonial masters of Spain and the United States to plunder the Philippine and oppress our peoples. No matter how good a president we elect, the flawed nature of our presidency will always likely result in bad governance.

In the Puno proposal, the Federal Republic, consists of one federal government which is the national government and sixteen (16) federated regions (the current administrative regions I assume) plus the Bangsamoro and the federated region of the Cordilleras. The latter two will have an asymmetrical relationship with the Federal Government, meaning they can have their own unique charters and assume more powers than the other regions, for example adopt their own family and marriage laws and establish their own judicial system such as the Shariah system for the Bangsamoro.

The Bangsamoro shall be governed by the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which shall be appended to the Constitution. The Bangsamoro Parliament can enact such laws and policies granted to it under the BBL.

In the case of the federated regions of the Cordilleras, there shall be an Organic Act under which they enjoy all benefits and privileges granted to federated regions. It is to be headed by a regional governor with a regional assembly as its legislature.

The federal government is composed of a bicameral legislature namely: the Senate and the House of Representatives, the executive headed by the president with a vice-president and the judiciary consisting of a federal supreme court, federal constitutional court, federal administrative court, federal electoral court and other courts which may be established.

The government of the federal region is composed of the regional legislature, the regional executive and the regional judiciary.

The regional assembly, the legislative making body of the region, shall be composed of duly elected members half of whom shall come from each province, highly urbanized city, and chartered city and the other half coming from political parties through proportional representation.

The regional executive shall be vested in the regional governor with a deputy regional governor both of whom shall be elected as a team by regional assembly from among its members. They shall exercise general supervision over all local government units and execute federal law as may be applicable, and regional law, among others.

The regional judiciary comprises the regional supreme court, regional appellate court and regional trial courts.

As provided, the federated government and federated regions have distinct and delineated powers. Thus, the federal government has exclusive powers over national defense and security, foreign affairs, international trade, customs and tariffs, citizenship among others. The federated regions shall exercise exclusive powers over socio-economic development planning, creation of sources of revenue, financial administration and management, among others. However, powers not given as exclusive are shared powers. Powers not exclusive or shared are reserved powers by the federal government.

The federal government and the federate regions both exercise taxing powers with the latter granted specific taxes and revenue to levy. However, federated regions are entitled to not less than 50 percent of all revenue generated which shall be equally divided among them and automatically released. Likewise, the net revenue in the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources the federated regions shall get a share of 50 percent.

Acknowledging the uneven economic status of the regions, the Puno proposal creates an equalization fund to support the poorer regions, which should be not less than 3 percent of the national budget.

Having summarized the features of the Puno proposal of a Federal design, I propose that we ask the following questions now:

Is this a good design for a system of government? Are the bureaucratic structures being proposed practical, efficient, and workable? I have serious doubts. I find too many redundancies in the proposal. I expect a massive bloating of bureaucracy as we are creating a new regional superstructure without serious diminution of the powers of the centralized government and without a clear vision of the role of local governments. It is unfortunate that the long and vast experience, positive and negative, we have had of local autonomy is not reflected in the Puno draft.

Will it lead to a better and more participatory democracy? If the anti-dynasty provision proposed by the Puno draft, which is self-executory, and the other political reforms that supports the development of political parties are adopted, then we would have a more vibrant democracy. Otherwise, without such reforms, federalism would be a gift to the political dynasties and will retard national development for decades.

Chief Justice Puno is right and I will hold him to his word on his commitment not to endorse federalism without an anti-dynasty provision.

Does the economics add up and will all regions, especially the poorest ones, be better off under this federal set-up or will this be more a net negative for most regions? I am not an economist but it is clear to me that the proposed fiscal and revenue allocation system is not equitable and will seriously disadvantage poor regions while benefiting the richer regions. In any case, I call on our best economists to run the numbers and think through scenarios for both geographic regions and particular economic sectors.

How will the transition and change management for such a massive transformation effected? In my talks, especially to audiences from the education sector who went through the K-12 transition, I compare the transition to federalism as 100,000 times or even more complex than what we had to do to make K-12 work. There will be immense resistance by both the national government agencies as well as the local government units. There is also a question of capacity or lack of it. For example, in my own profession (law) I cannot imagine where the 48 Justices of the highest courts and the larger number of regional supreme courts will come from. We won’t have a dearth of applicants, but many will not be qualified.

To deal with this challenge, the Puno proposal creates a Federal Transition Commission led by the current President that is given enormous powers to reorganize the government to make sure the new system is in place by 2022. That is so ironic that federalism, justified by the need to decentralize power, actually results in more power for the center.

In sum, under the proposed design of a Federal Philippines, with the retention especially of the institution of the presidency and the creation of a Federal Transition Commission, imperial Manila not only survives but will dominate.

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Topics: Reynato Puno , Puno Constitutional Draft , Consultative Committee , Federal Transition Commission , Federal Transition Commission , Bangsamoro Basic Law
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