Thursday, March 5, 2015

Time for a federal Philippines

 (The Philippine Star) | 

Finally leaders of both the Executive and Legislative have agreed on the necessity of a Bangsamoro Basic Law for there to have peace in Mindanao. The hearings on the law will be resumed. This is the call that responsible sectors of society like the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), representing more than 1,240 Catholic schools throughout the country, have been asking. This the same call of major business groups like the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines and the Mindanao Business Council.
There are still political obstacles that have to be surmounted like the objection of a Marcos who has refused to cooperate with the Peace Process. Unfortunately, this Marcos is the chair of the Senate committee that will conduct the hearings of the BBL. Hopefully, the new targeted date of June to pass the BBL will be met and peace will have a chance in Mindanao.
There have been calls for constitutional amendments if that is required for a Bangsamoro autonomous region. If we are going to discuss Charter amendments, I notice that there has been a growing clamor for the introduction of federalism to our country. While this is a separate issue from the BBL, I would like to express my support for converting the political system here into a federal system.
I have always believed that political power in this country is overly centralized and is detrimental to economic progress in the countryside. It is also time to decongest Metro Manila and spread the wealth more equally across the country. A necessary step would be to end what I call Metro Manila imperialism. This is the system where Metro Manila has established economic and political hegemony over the rest of the country.
What would a Federal Republic of the Philippines look like? For one thing, the problems of Metro Manila – like the MRT and EDSA traffic – will stop being treated like national problems and be relegated to its proper role as purely a local issue. It is hard to believe that there are actually commentators and lawmakers who believe that the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the MRT increase in fares are of the same level of importance. But one deals with issues of national peace while the other one simply deals with the comfort and convenience of those travelling in one part of this metropolis.
Imagine a Philippine Federal Republic where each of the regions will now be a federal state. Now Ilocos, Cordillera, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Bikol, West Visayas, East Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Mindanao, Northern Mindanao, Caraga and Southern Mindanao will be states.
Each one of these regions or states would now have a governor and a unicameral congress. There will be clear division of powers between the national government and the regional government. Some of the powers that will be devolved to the region will include the following.
Criminal justice and police
The Armed Forces of the Philippines will remain under the national government. The police forces will be under the region just like states in other countries. In the USA, the criminal courts are part of the state justice system. The Federal Courts and the Supreme Court are involved only if the issue is a constitutional case. States are only responsible for laws on crimes as long as they do not violate constitutional rights.
Some states, therefore, have the death penalty while some prohibit it. Some states have legalized marijuana while others still ban this product.
The only national anti-crime organizations can be the National Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Even the criminal jail system can be regionalized leaving only a national jail for crimes tried in federal courts such as treason, plunder, electoral sabotage and the like.
There should a single, national educational system and standards. Therefore, the K to 12 basic curriculum and accreditation of universities should be the responsibilities of the national government. However, the building of classrooms, the hiring of teachers, the management of the public schools and which dialect to use in the first two years are all matters best left to the regional governments.
Determining which sites should have a priority for new classrooms should be debated in the regions and not in Metro Manila by lawmakers who have never even visited the sites nor met the local parents and students.
Family laws
There are certain issues in family laws that should be considered as national issues. This may include issues like child trafficking, child abuse, abortion and the rights of women and children. But regional governments should have some leeway in certain areas of family laws which should conform to local cultures.
In the United States divorce is easier in some states – like Nevada – than in other states. Some states allow same sex marriages while others continue to ban the practice. Even family planning and the use of contraceptives should be regional concerns depending on local practices.
The building and maintenance of roads and bridges within a region should be left to the regional government. The national government’s responsibility are those roads, bridges and ports that cater to inter regional and international traffic. If a region or a metropolis wants to build a mass rail transportation system that caters solely to the people in a specific metropolis or region, then that is solely the concern of the regional government and not a national concern.
National powers
There are, of course, areas wherein the national government will retain its powers. Aside from national defense and security, these areas include foreign affairs; monetary and fiscal policy; postal services; citizenship; immigration and naturalization; tariffs and foreign investments; international trade agreements; environmental protection; and intellectual property rights.
There will be other areas where the national and regional governments will have to work out joint responsibilities such as the exploitation of natural resources, agriculture, agrarian reform, disaster relief and rehabilitation and land use.
I do expect this column to be a comprehensive treatise on federalism. I only hope that this can be a start on a meaningful change in our system which is necessary if growth in the areas outside Metro Manila will become truly inclusive.
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