FEDERAL TALK: Preconditions, Process, and Timeframe towards the Future Republic of the Philippines

Written by Lito Monico C. Lorenzana.

Federalism is a subject matter that has occupied its Philippine advocates over the last three or four decades but has only gained traction through the candidate Duterte. A lot of us are somewhat familiar with the concept, but allow me to examine Federalism thru the prism of the people of the South – particularly people from Mindanao – where the concept is much more understood.

Federalism is a subject matter that has occupied its Philippine advocates over the last three or four decades but has only gained traction through the candidate Duterte. A lot of us are somewhat familiar with the concept, but allow me to examine Federalism thru the prism of the people of the South – particularly people from Mindanao – where the concept is much more understood.

The longing for a separate country or nation by the Muslims of the south centuries ago is the precursor of the autonomy and federalism debate; starting a crescendo of injustices from the Spanish regime swelling towards the American colonial tutelage until it began to climax in pockets of insurrections in the 1950; foremost of which is the Kamlon rebellion in Sulu. The grudging debate assumed a deadly metamorphosis with the appearance of the organized secessionist movement of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the 1970s to 1980s; this time in the more articulate and compelling language of armed conflict.

In the recent decade or so the language of arms has switched back to the realistic dialogue of negotiations; having recovered from the “all-out war” of President Erap.

Federalism seems to be the common ground that both the GPH (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and the MNLF/MILF are converging on; being underwritten by a President who is investing his political capital on an “all-in gambit”.

But he needs a consensus of the Philippine citizenry to be built around Federalism. This needs massive political education without which the whole initiative of a paradigm shift in governance will fail; which by definition government bureaucracy is unable to engage in.

The process of Federalization

Now to the topic of the federalization process. I need not repeat the discussions on why we want to shift from the dysfunctional unitary system to a Federal-Parliamentary system. Instead I will attempt to present a case on Federalization.

We envision a federal-parliamentary government structure at the outset as a complex entity composed of autonomous states that need sound democratic fundamentals especially the inclusive democratic participation by the citizenry in governance; without which the whole configuration collapses – and the fragments subject to an even greater dominance by local traditional political elites, dynasties and the oligarchy.

Let me elaborate.

Federalism is a multi-step process that must be clearly written in the Constitution. In fact, ushering in Federalism requires the revision of the 1987 Constitution through ConAss which is the President’s option (but later he opted for Congress to convene as a constituent assembly).  For Federalism to succeed, there are three steps:

First – put in place four (4) preconditions:

1. Political Party Reforms;

2. Ban Political Dynasties;

3. Pass a universal Freedom of Information Law; and

4. Electoral Reforms 

Second – Immediate transition into a parliamentary government.

Third – Creation of autonomous territories leading towards a Federal Republic

In details.

Step1: Put in place four (4) preconditions.

First precondition is political party reform. We need real political parties. Not the type we have today or have had in the past several decades. Political parties are primarily formed not only to contest elections and hold power in government but they must possess an ideological core, aggregating the needs and aspirations of a diverse segment of our society.

This reform can be achieved through the passing of the Political Party Development and Financing Act (a bill pending in Congress for several years) which will:

Penalize “Turncoatism” (or the switching of political parties, “Balimbing”, “Political Butterfly”);

Enforce transparent mechanisms providing and regulating campaign financing to eliminate graft, corruption, and patronage (corporate & individual contributions); and through

State subsidy that will professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives.

Second precondition is to enact a law banning the Political Dynasties as mandated in Article II Section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. This will ban the concentration of powers by the dynastic families in the barangay, local, and national positions. If Congress will not again pass an enabling law, then what should be written in the revised constitution should be self-executory.

The third precondition is the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) to enforce transparency in all transactions in government. This law will allow public access to information pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, and compel transparency and accountability in public service.

The fourth precondition is initiate electoral reforms that would put in place a system that will not pervert the will of the populace. Any system that adheres to the democratic principles should consider clean and fair elections as imperatives.  The Commission on Elections (Comelec) must be reformed to remove all quasi-judicial work and transfer electoral contests to the judiciary.

These preconditions have a high probability of passage while we have a President endowed with tremendous political capital and have the political will to act decisively.

Step2: Immediate transition to a Parliamentary Government

The excerpts are lifted up from the comprehensive study of the 2005 Constitutional Commission (ConCom) created by President Gloria Arroyo. (Please access www.cdpi.asia)  

Briefly, Parliamentary system is known too as “Party Government”, as the political parties have ascendancy over personalities and because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance and public administrations.  In our proposal, the legislative and the executive powers are fused in a unicameral parliament; and “Head of the Government” is the Prime Minister with his cabinet recruited from among the members of parliament; while the President is the “Head of State” with mostly ceremonial powers; elected from among the members of Parliament. The Prime Minister (Head of Government) can be booted out of office through a “vote of confidence”; not impeachment.

Step 3: Creation of autonomous territories leading towards a Federal Republic

The 2005 Consultative Commission’s “out of the box” version of a Federal State (Bangsa) has its roots on the concept of autonomy, subsidiarity and self-determination.

In this version, we allow the provinces and highly urbanized component cities to evolve first to an autonomous territory. “Self-determination” is central to this decision. If a referendum is passed, within a year, Parliament must enact an organic law defining the autonomous territory’s land area, powers, obligations and sources of revenues (taxes). If 3/5 (60%) of the provinces and component cities of the Philippines become autonomous territories, then the Federal Republic of the Philippines is created.

Timeframe

Reaching the 60% hurdle rate may take years depending on how fast the other provinces and component cities can become autonomous territories. Provinces and cities that have not agreed among each other to become an autonomous territory will be disadvantaged, but the success of its neighboring autonomous territory would be a huge incentive to likewise convert themselves into one.

Federalism is indeed a complex process and may take several years before the country can fully implement it. However, if we do not educate and involve ourselves in the debate now, then we will never learn and be able to help build our beloved nation as immediately as possible. We need most especially to engage the millennials for they have the energy to manifest the positive changes we wish to take place in our society.


Delivered at the Kusog Mindanaw Conference 2016 on 29 November 2016 at the Waterfront Insular Hotel by Lito Lorenzana, Centrist Democratic Party; Transcript from MindaNews

Lito Monico C. Lorenzana served under four Philippine presidents in various capacities as a member of the cabinet and several commissions. A Harvard Kennedy School of Government-educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines; Secretary General of the 2005 Consultative Commission; and one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines, Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute.