Peace in the midst

GOVERNMENT and private entities in the Philippines continue to undertake researches on federalism for Philippine setting, including holding of fora, meetings and conferences to discover what is the best type of federal system that will fit Filipinos and their country.

One forum was conducted by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), in collaboration with the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) and the Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU), last September 7 in Zamboanga City.

The event, which had as its theme “Federalism as Policy Option for a Decentralized Inclusive Development: A Critical Inquiry”, is the first policy forum lined up for the 15th Development Policy Research Month (DPRM), an annual celebration to promote the importance of evidence-based policy research in program planning and policymaking.

Dr. Rosario Manasan, public finance expert of PIDS, presented the findings of her study on the possible fiscal impacts of shifting to a federal form of government. She discussed the importance of properly allocating financial resources to each level of government under a federal system. In her study, the distribution of fiscal resources may either enable or constrain governments in the exercise of their constitutionally assigned legislative and executive responsibilities, noting that taxing powers and expenditures are important instruments for regulating the economy. Citing some practices in the sharing of taxing powers in federal states, Manasan pointed out that customs and excise taxes are assigned most of the time to the federal or national government. The same goes with corporate taxes. However, in some federations, these may be under the concurrent jurisdiction of federal and state/regional governments.

For Romulo Emmanuel M. Miral Jr., director-general of the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department, however, the objective of equalization transfer systems is not to provide uniform services or even produce economic growth but to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their place of residence, are entitled to a prescribed standard of government service. He also maintained that one of the weaknesses of decentralization in the country is the failure of the national government to commensurately decentralize control over public finances and/or revenue-raising powers to subnational levels. He explained that planning and administration were decentralized to the regions, but budgeting decisions remained largely with the central offices of national government agencies. For Miral the provinces and cities, which are currently the first-tier subnational governments, are too small to absorb many of the expenditure functions and revenue-raising powers of the national government.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Malaya, executive director of the PDP Laban Federalism Institute, revealed that the Duterte administration is considering a semi-presidential system of government and not a unicameral legislature. Malaya said this type of a ‘hybrid parliamentary system’ will have a president and a prime minister. He said that the president will be the head of state while the prime minister will be the head of government, adding that the president will be in-charge of foreign affairs and national defense while the prime minister will run the day-to-day affairs of the government. Malaya said the president will be elected nationally with a term limit of five years while the prime minister will be nominated with the consent of the federal assembly who is appointed by the president. The prime minister, he disclosed, may be removed any time with the vote of ‘no confidence’ from the assembly. Three senators who will serve for five years will be elected per region. According to Malaya, the senate cannot initiate laws as this will be lodged to the federal assembly. He also explained that there will only be one reading of bills instead of three, which is the current practice in both lower and upper houses.

On the other hand, Atty. Kenneth Beldua, who represented Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco, underscored the importance of probing deeper into the proposed change in government system to “avoid the mistakes and pitfalls in older federations.” Beldua said in borrowing concept and ideas from federal countries, people would like to understand the guiding principles so that we can properly adopt them and even adapt them to local conditions to meet our specific needs. Beldua added that the present administration has to make sure that the people are satisfied with the division of responsibilities that will be included in the amendment of the Constitution. He also cautioned against building a federalist country that alienates certain states or leaves them behind.

But, for a Mindanaoan like Secretary Datu Abul Hj. Khayr Alonto of MinDA, one that will resolve the conflict in Mindanao must be most recommended and immediately adopted.

“Having witnessed and endured the turbulent years of strife in Mindanao along with my fellow brothers and sisters, I have come to realize that the only way to permanently put the regime of fragmentation and violence in Mindanao to rest is to pursue initiatives that will transcend beyond any affiliation or interest,” Secretary Alonto stressed. Alonto strikingly said Mindanaoans favor federalism over decentralization because “anything delegated can be withdrawn but anything shared cannot be dismantled.” Alonto said: “I can assure you that we are not going to stop until we get everyone on board in this undertaking. Every person, every voice, every opinion merits of great importance in establishing a state that values unity and empathy over divisiveness and indifference.”

Clearly, Mindanaoans are desperate to have peace, and while different types of federalism do have some effects on each level of government, like revenues to finance basic services, taxing and spending powers, sales or consumption taxes, and, generally, on development and financial stability, Mindanaoans take the risks of greater disparities under a more decentralized form of government to have peace in their midst.

Thus, whatever is posited on the proposed federal form of government for the Philippines, which provides the creation of bigger subnational, such as regional government, what makes greater sense for Mindanaoans is one with the propensity to provide lasting peace in Mindanao.

We hope that this will be given due consideration by our researchers, policymakers and lawmakers.

Peace – foremost, nothing less.

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