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What’s with federalism?

H. Marcos Mordeno .

AT least three things stand in the way of the Duterte administration’s push for a federal form of government – absence of consensus within the president’s circle on the supposed benefits of federalism, poor public awareness and acceptance, and the lukewarm attitude of the Senate toward the proposal.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has warned the draft federal Constitution would bring the country’s current investment grade credit rating status along with its stable interest rate environment to “hell.”

Speaking at a Senate hearing, Dominguez noted that the draft Charter was silent on the national debt, as well as on who’s going to pay for the military. He emphasized that if not managed correctly, “this can end up to be a fiscal nightmare.”

At the same hearing, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the National Economic Development Authority estimated that the shift to federalism could cost the government around P120 billion in the first year of transition. But he told reporters after the hearing that the amount could reach P131 billion.

He added this covers just the direct costs of running a federal government and excludes the indirect costs such as disruptions in projects and the economy. (philstar.net, Aug. 9, 2018)

As the country’s chief economic managers, the concerns raised by Dominguez and Pernia cannot just be swept under the rug. Moreover, their statements not only contradicted the official view [on the supposed benefits of federalism] but also gave the impression that the administration is rushing things even if it would mean “disruptions” in the economy as Pernia warned.

Dominguez highlighted the absence of consensus within the administration itself when, upon questioning by Senator Ralph Recto, he stated bluntly that there’s nothing to gain from federalism if it would only result in credit rating downgrades. It doesn’t look good for the administration that its chief financial manager speaks publicly against a political project that he fears could become messy from the fiscal viewpoint.

A Social Weather Stations survey released on June 28 found that only 37 percent of Filipinos support the shift to a federal system of government while only 25 percent of Filipinos are even aware of what it is. The remaining 75 percent only came to know it upon answering the survey.

Conducted from March 23 to 27, the survey said that of the 37 percent who support federalism, 14 percent “strongly agree” while 23 percent “somewhat agree.” On the other hand, 29 percent disagree with the shift and 34 percent were undecided.

Even in Mindanao, President Duterte’s bailiwick, federalism failed to obtain majority support. It only garnered +43 percent support, the highest among the geographic areas. The highest level of support came from the Muslims, 61 percent of whom are in favor of the proposed shift.

The numbers suggest that the administration may be running out of time in convincing voters to support the shift to a federal setup. While Duterte may still be enjoying a high popularity rating, the circumstances are different from those that enabled the Cory Aquino government to muster overwhelming support for the 1987 Constitution. The people ratified the present Charter as an affirmation of the People Power uprising that ousted the Marcos dictatorship.

Besides, Congress may approve the draft federal Charter minus its progressive provisions such as the self-executing ban on political dynasties. If this happens, the administration can kiss its federalism dream goodbye. Never mind Ms Mocha’s trivialization of the subject through her lewd, verbal antics.

The Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, has so far shown general disinterest in the proposed shift to federalism. This means one thing: The Senate won’t submit to a joint voting by both chambers of Congress on the draft Charter, a move that will diminish the chances of federalism reaching the stage of plebiscite.

Unfortunately for the House, it can neither force the Senate to a joint voting nor unilaterally submit the question to the electorate in a plebiscite. This will oblige the proponents of federalism to wait for the alignment of stars in the political cosmos.

 

(H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com)

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