Federalism – what they don’t tell you
Other than the external security threat imposed by the Chinese island grab, I would generalize the endemic problems of the Philippines to 3 areas – poverty, ineptitude in governance and never-ending political crises. It is a vicious cycle, each a cause and effect of the other. In Joeam style, if I were to set up 3 baskets for these ills and have people fill up forms to suggest a specific problem, I could easily throw the forms into one of these baskets.
To eradicate the country’s ills effectively, we need a serious cleansing of the deficits in the trinity of people, political structure, and form of government.
(a) On the people – just what is required of the people? This has been covered excellently by many blogs and related comments in this Society and this article will not discuss it. Suffice it to say we have discussed issues like civility, rule of law, voting wisely, thinking critically, smaller families, crab mentality, salvation by austerity, personal discipline, etc.
(b) On political structure – Serious reforms are required to address deficits in political parties, political dynasties and turncoatism. We have parties that have no platform or ideology, that admit into their ranks thieves, plunderers, liars, cheaters, those implicated in murders and others tainted one way or another. We have a uniquely Filipino situation where a President often ends up with a VP from a different party. So instead of preparing the VP for the unfortunate event of taking over the highest office in the land from an incapacitated President, we see the latter shut out from affairs of the state.
(c) Form of government. – The options on the table are (a) unitary or federal, and (b) presidential or parliamentary.
Very often, complex issues can best be understood and addressed when presented in its simplest association. So, in a nutshell, we have :
PROBLEMS : Poverty – Govt ineptitude – Political crisis
SOLUTION : People – Political structure – Form of Govt
Is federalism the answer?
It is politically fashionable now to talk of federalism as if it’s a panacea to the country’s problems. But is it, really? It is very apparent from the simplistic view above that no single solution on its own will ever cure the maladies that have stricken the Philippines since independence.
In 117 years, the Philippines has had 5 constitutions. It is a world record of sorts and betrays a democracy still struggling in a sea of instability.
(1) 1899 – the Malolos constitution
(2) 1935 – the Commonwealth constitution
(3) 1943 – the Japanese constitution
(4) 1973 – the Marcos dictatorship constitution
(5) 1986 – the Corazon Aquino revolutionary constitution
(6) 1987 – the current constitution
Here we are in 2016 trying to change or amend the constitution yet again. Since the time of Apolinario Mabini and Emilio Aguinaldo, the preference for separate states has been a lingering unfulfilled desire. From the git-go in the drafting of the first constitution, the unitary state was something that was never expected to survive long. It was hammered together to put on a unified front to the American colonizers. Over the years, we hear the not so sweet refrain of federalism ever constantly. President Arroyo made the first official attempt to get the federalism bandwagon moving. She set up a consultative Commission to study and put up a proposal which was completed hastily in 3 months. They favored a federal-parliamentary form via a Constitutional Convention (con-con). Then followed the usual Filipino prime time dramas – political bickering. Some others preferred the Constitutional Assembly (con-ass). Fear that Arroyo’s ulterior motive was to prolong her reign in a parliamentary constitution killed the whole idea for charter change (cha-cha).
I know only of 3 parties who have come up with some form of draft constitution for a federal constitution:
– Citizen’s Movement for Federal Philippines (CMFP) – who favors a federal-parliamentary constitution via con-con.
– Coalition for Charter Change Now (CCCN) – promotes federal-presidential constitution first and then transition into federal-parliamentary form via con-ass.
– Sen Aquilino Pimentel – his draft bill called for federal-presidential via con-ass.
On this big national issue of federalism, before jumping into the details and nitty-gritties of a proposed constitution, one should appreciate what are the core politiks.
(a) Con-ass or con-con
Con-ass : by simple majority, Congress can form a con-ass who will craft the new constitution. By ¾ majority, con-ass can approve the cha-cha for plebiscite. It’s all Congress say, Congress do.
Con-con : Congress can call for a con-con by 2/3 majority vote. Members of con-con are elected in constituencies. It is con-con members, and not Congress, who get to draft the new constitution. Cha-cha proposal then goes to the plebiscite.
What they are not telling you is that under con-ass, the public does not participate in the crafting of cha-cha, it is rammed down your throats. The public will not see behind the scene big power play by vested interests. It is mind boggling that an issue of such importance to a country lies in the hands of 148 congressmen. There ought to be tougher hurdles than a simple majority. For heaven’s sake, it is tougher to get through government processes for one to get married here. On the other hand, con-con has substantial cost issues for the government. It is notable that Duterte favors con-con.
(b) Presidential or parliamentary
A federal-presidential constitution is basically same-old, same-old. The same fragmented political culture will be sub-planted at federal levels. Pimentel’s draft bill is for this system. Is this then the defacto PDP-Laban, and thus Duterte’s, proposal? A federal-parliamentary will be a great change in the political structure.
What is the objective of Philippine federalism?
In very basic terms, we are told Imperial Manila is the cause for under-development of provinces, and thus poverty. Development and unfair allocation of resources concentrated in the National Central Region impoverished the provinces. Executives in the central government, far removed from the provinces, do not know what is best for the provinces. This has also led to the long struggles of the Moro peoples for justice and fair treatment. Federalism will decentralize power from the center to the states.
Crucial to a federal system is the demarcation of the individual states. Somehow, by splitting the land, we are told the Moro problems will be solved once and for all. We are not told of the politicking and the power struggles that obviously will take place. When you carve up the land, it goes without saying some will benefit whilst others will be disadvantaged. The carving of the land must be driven by cultural divisiveness, or to borrow a word from Josephivo, a cultural fault line. Yet the way I see it, multi-culturalism has not failed in Philippines. Where are the conflicts apart from the Moro problem? There are many who say that the Philippines is tribal and clannish and the concept of a nation has not sunk into the consciousness of everyone. Yet Filipinos have lived together for more than a hundred years as a nation with everyone getting along just fine at the cultural level, except for the Moros. They are not telling you the proper perspective of the violence of 5% in Mindanao and peaceful co-existence of 95% everywhere else where multi-culturalism is flourishing, vibrant, and beautiful.
The economic plight of the Moros is understandable but that the magic wand of federalism will make their problems go away is foolish thinking. The Moro problem is due to a deep religious fault line. The Islamic population tends to be inward looking and at odds with others who don’t share the faith. It is the same experience shared by all countries where Muslims form a minority. For those that think somehow Muslims are one notch above others on the morality scale and will prosper if they govern themselves, just look at the experiment with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The first chance they get when funding from Malacanang poured in for development of the ARMM, billions went missing. Gov Misuari has some explaining to do for the missing Php 4 billion. Personally, I’m of the view that a separate state for the Muslims is simply kicking the can down the road. I have no wise words on how this problem can be resolved with finality.
Federalists say that states will be forced to be creative to do well for their region. Other states will try to replicate the success formulae of the better states and thus improve overall well-being of the country. What they don’t tell you is why political elites under the current system don’t copy the success formulae of other countries in the first place. And now they expect the states will do just that.
The main thrust of the march to federalism is economics. But they don’t tell you that many problems of the country lies with the political elites themselves. Every other reasoning brought into the discussion are plain excuses. If they cannot solve the country’s problems under existing political framework, what is the confidence level that these same elites will have the solutions in a federal set-up?
The whipping boy is Imperial Manila. But they do not tell you that 14 of your past presidents came from the provinces. And now he comes from Mindanao.
They don’t tell you much about the money aspects, that much of the wealth of the country is generated in Imperial Manila and is re-distributed to the rest of the country. Instead they point to simplistic reasoning, that that is precisely the reason, because all developments have been Manila-centric. They don’t explain that Imperial Manila’s growth is historical, over hundreds of years, that if you look at the map of the Philippines, there is a reason why Imperial Manila is the gem of the Philippines.
A government does not run on free air and sunshine, it requires lots of money. They don’t tell you that if we go federal with say 10 states, we will have 11 governments to pay for. You are going to have maybe 2,000 incumbent lawmakers all over the country.
They don’t tell you that you have no say in how the country is going to be cut up. In fact, they can’t even agree on this themselves. Over the years there have been so many variations, from 4 to 11 states, with lines drawn all differently, depending on the artist.
Some of the Weaknesses of Federalism
Entrenchment of dynasties at state levels will become more pronounced and impossible to eradicate.
The whole country will become more ethnocentric leading to more fragmentation. Tagalog will be replaced by dialects. Meaning, increased dis-unity.
Inequalities between states will become more pronounced, setting the stage for inter-state friction and start a “race to the bottom” . They don’t tell you what this is all about.
“A race to the bottom” is a term used to describe how state governments will do all it takes to gain an upper hand over other states in order to retain economic activity in their jurisdiction. Examples of such action are regulatory impediments or practices, inequitable states taxes, etc.
In simple English: Filipino crap mentality gets promoted to state levels.
Political gridlock will occur as states block national policies. If you think existing Philippines law is byzantine, wait till you have State Laws vs Federal Laws. Just watch what is happening in the US. If you think TROs are a pain in your posterior, you ain’t feelin’ nothing yet.
They don’t tell you the details about the money split between the states and the Federal Govt. Just some percentages here and there being mentioned. The truth is, they can’t tell you, because nobody has figured that out, nobody has any metrics to work on. And yet they have the temerity to decide the income split. It will be just another can kicked down the road for future generations to fight it out. What if the percentage split turns out to be extremely inequitable? Remember, once decided, it will take another hundred years to change.
If a federalist wants to retain a presidential system, they won’t tell you the main reason that presidential system is bad
Fragmented politics leading to weakened trust in society and an impatient population disenfranchised with the establishment due to unmet needs, is a perfect storm for the rise of the angry vote. The political center has no chance against the angry votes who are swayed by extremist ideas of the ultra-nationalists, demagogues and outright racist voices. This is the scenario happening in many countries in the world. What is actually happening is that the world has back-slided into the ancient “voting on acclamation”
Voting on acclamation: Ancient Greeks and Romans have a way to vote in Senate – when an issue is discussed they go around arguing and chatting and the tone of their voice represents how strongly they feel on an issue. There are officials who will tune into the chatter and the stronger decibels registered in the room carries the decision.
The difference today is that the chatter is in the social media. Out of this cauldron unusual characters will step into the presidential office. This to me, is the madness in a presidential system. One man elected by a minority of the people gets all the powers. Duterte has about 29% of all those who voted, his supporters representing 16% of the population.
The president gets to appoint many key personnel in government. What the heck is universal suffrage for if people nobody voted for ended up in key positions? Remember Grace Poe said if she were president, none of her cabinet posts will go to politicians.
The president is King. There is nobody to hold him back. In a parliamentary system, the PM needs to tow party line. His party members keep him in check.
If a federalist wants to retain a presidential system, they won’t tell you what is good about parliamentary systems
Political parties have ideologies and platforms, so they attract members who are like-minded. The parties will self-police, ensuring good and principled members in their ranks. There will be no political turncoats.
Voting on the basis of platforms is so logical. For example, if the cry of the land is anti-dynasty, a party that promotes this will have established relevant party rules. If you are anti-political dynasty, you vote the party that promises this. No stupid anti-dynasty laws for Congress to sit on for donkey years.
Voters belong to specific electoral precincts. You vote for someone to represent your precinct in parliament. Very often people vote on the basis of what the party stands for more importantly than the candidates themselves. The candidate voted in becomes your Member of Parliament (MP) and he is your link to matters of governance in the country..
The party with the most number of members voted in is the winning party and they get to form the parliament. Party mates select their leader as Prime Minister. Party members fed up with their leader can easily remove the PM with a vote of no-confidence. No troublesome impeachment required. The PM appoints his party members to Ministerial post in cabinet. No one gets a free ride to cabinet — only members voted in can be selected.
In presidential systems all candidates self-fund their campaigns. Winning candidates assume office dead broke, so it’s assumed they seek to recoup their money illegally as incumbents. In parliamentary systems, elections are funded by the party. Thus a poor fellow from an unknown barangay has an opportunity to enter politics and contribute if he is capable. Parliamentary systems allow for greater people participation in politics.
The parliamentary system has two critical functions that are of great national interest, namely a shadow cabinet and a loyal opposition. These have been well discussed in Josephivo’s blog so I’ll pass except to stress on this. A shadow cabinet means for every ministerial position there is a shadow minister from the opposition. Actually, he does not work in the shadows, he is very much in the open. If he is a shadow Minister of Defense, he would keep abreast on all matters in his purview, make his relevant overseas contacts, and be able to offer solid counter opposition opinions in parliament.
At the social level, MPs play very important roles in connecting with the electorate. They hold regular meet-the-people sessions. People seek the MP’s assistance for all sorts of problems such as intercede on their behalf with some govt departments. Most often the MP helps in directing some other department resources to the needy and the helpless massa. The human touch is very much alive. In a presidential system, a congressman represents you. How many ordinary guy gets to meet his congressman in 6 years. A congressional hearing is’nt about listening to you.
The usual criticism of parliamentary system is that there is no separation of Executive and Legislative and there is no oversight on the Budget. The rebuttal to this is the ruling part will police itself. Members can force out their peers if they feel wrong decisions have been made. If they don’t, they loose the support of their respective constituents. That’s a more meaningful check and balance – indirectly that’s public participation in politics.
Worldwide Governance Indicator country ranking 2014
What I like about parliamentary systems has empirical basis. I was researching on this angle when commenter Intuitiveperspective started off a thread discussing some metrics pointing to the superiority of this form of government (Josephivo’s blog: Federalism – what are we talking about). It was a good discussion which has taken some zing away. But nevertheless, I’d like to share some more metrics that surely puts any doubt to rest.
The table below show that countries with good governance are preponderantly parliamentarian. I overlay the table with the one on country ranking by per capita income and the correlation is absolutely positive.
WGI ranking is based on 6 qualitative metrics:
- Voice & accountability
- Political stability & Lack of violence
- Government effectiveness
- Regulatory control
- Rule of law
- Control of corruption
The scores are in ranked percentile which is excellent for making comparatives, as in our instance here. For those who don’t understand statistics, let me explain in simple terms. If your son scored 60% on a math paper you may be disappointed, but you don’t know how he compares to his peer. Supposing there are 100 students and 95 of them scored 59% and below, then your son would have a ranked percentile of 95%, meaning he did better than 95% of the population.
The overall score is my insertion by simple average of the 6 criteria in order to have a basis for ranking..
Qualitative data is often suspect due to elements of subjectivity and bias. You may check out their methodologies at http://info.worldbank.org. The data is collected from very reliable sources. However, purely from worldly wisdom, the ranking seems to bear out.
Nevertheless, anomalies there always will be. For example, Singapore is the only country with perfect 100% in 2 categories and very high in 3 others and yet overall is only in 20th position. This is due to very low score in “Voice & Accountability” attributable to the country’s strong stance on libel law which liberals finger as suppression of dissent.
On per capita income – this is simply the GDP (at PPP or purchasing power parity) over population numbers. PPP is simply some methodology of adjustments to the GPD figure so that it is meaningful to compare across countries. Philippines is ranked 122 with $7,254. To improve in the ranking (meaning to improve poverty levels) is easy mathematically. Increase the numerator (GDP) or decrease the denominator (population). So one way to improve the poverty index is simply to turn off the spigot to population growth. If Duterte can implement his stop at 3 policy, he would have made the greatest contribution to Philippines. Killing a few criminals cannot improve wealth, but lowering population growth can.
With apologies for the lenghty table. Some small countries have been left out due to lack of data.
The approach to federalism is somewhat puzzling to me — have a bunch of guys hunch over the tables and craft constitutional amendments first, and then get the people to vote YES or NO in a plebiscite? Surely it should be to get people to vote YES to federalism first, then craft the constitutional amendments, finally have a referendum to vote for acceptance of the new constitution? An example is the recent Scottish referendum for separation for the UK. The Scots voted NO, but had the vote been YES, only then would they have proceeded to craft their new constitution. Of course, Filipino constitutional lawyers will point out that the way to amend a constitution is laid out in the existing constitution. That is no answer to my question of the logic.
As a matter of fact, the people should not only say whether they want federalism or not, they should express what form of government they want under federalism — presidential or parliamentarian. The political elites and the entitled will certainly want the presidential form to be retained.
Let us hope that Philippines have learned from BREXIT. Days after they voted by the narrowest of margins to leave the EU, Google searches for “What is the EU” hit the roof. Days following that, people protested to conduct another referendum — they are asking for a reset button. Lots of folks voted without full awareness of the implications of an exit from the EU. When the socio-economic impact reality set in, there are lots of regrets all round.
There have been a few surveys on federalism conducted in the past which pointed to a similar narrow margin either way. I tend to think those surveys were premature. The folks here are just like the Brits — they simply are not yet equipped with the necessary knowledge to understand the issues. Most of the sound bites are coming from the federalists, and they are simply saying lets split na, but silent on presidential or parliamentary form. It would be a travesty of equity if such an important and historical decision for federalism is carried by a tiny majority voting without adequate understanding of the complex issues. One hopes that the country’s leadership and academia will take on the responsibility to ensure that the people are thoroughly informed. Media and social-media broadcasts alone are not enough. Townhall meetings across the islands down to barangay level should be conducted.
Good luck to the Philippines. Choose wisely.