Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 March 2018


What does the evidence show? That’s what you, Reader, should be asking, so that you can make an informed decision about whether to vote for or against the proposed changes in our system of government. And no, let us not think that this is merely a political issue, interesting only to politicians. The results will affect us profoundly, whether intended or unintended.

What does the evidence show? Is the (proposed) federal system superior to the (current) unitary system? Or vice versa? The answer, according to Gene Lacza Pilapil, who delivered the 15th Jaime Ongpin Annual Memorial Lecture in October 2016 (and he read dozens of articles, books, etc. by the biggest names on the subject), is: There is far from a consensus on the claimed superiority of the federal over the unitary system, or vice versa.

There is more: He says that even for most scholars arguing the superiority of one system over the other, they never recommend the overhaul of the existing system, or dump it (willy-nilly) for the other. Instead, they recommend the reform of the system already in place. And one can see why: A messed-up “reform” process can be corrected; a messed-up “structural overhaul” is virtually irreversible.

Summing up so far: The evidence shows that there is no superiority of one system over another. And even if there were, an overhaul is not recommended. So why the rush to shift to federalism? There is no basis, according to the evidence.

But, Reader, there is worse: The way they want to go about the shift to federalism—by a constituent assembly (our Congress)—is sure to ruin whatever good intentions there were to begin with. Why? Congress is peopled by scions of political dynasties and/or protectors of vested interests, who will water down or distort the issues to protect themselves and their future. There will be no thinking about the good of the country. We have seen this happen over and over again: watered-down agrarian reform, watered-down mining law, no antipolitical dynasty law (it’s been 30 years now), etc. There will be a mangling of the Local Government provisions of the Constitution.

Example: did you know that Art. X of our 1987 Constitution, titled “Local Government,” provides that “territorial and political subdivisions shall enjoy local autonomy” and mandates Congress to enact a local government code “which shall provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure”?

Do you know that the 1987 Constitution mandates that local government units have the power to tax, have a just share in the national taxes to be automatically released to them, and have a just share in the proceeds of the development of national wealth in their respective areas? All with guidelines and limitations as determined by law—namely, Congress. So Congress came up with the Local Government Code which, by the way, provides the basis for the pork barrel—see how they work? And although they themselves mandated that there should be a review every five years, they didn’t do it, except once. Why? Prof. Rosario Manasan of the University of the Philippines offers an explanation: It was against their interest.

In other words, if, as articulated, the desire is to give local governments enough autonomy to be able to direct their own destiny, it is already provided for by the 1987 Constitution. And if it has not been fully implemented, we have only Congress to blame. This is what Hilario G. Davide Jr. and Christian S. Monsod (my husband), who were among the framers of that Constitution, are stoutly arguing. And yet it is Congress that we are entrusting to revise it.

Lastly, Prof. Ronald May had this to say on the Philippines: “For anyone familiar with the history of federal experiments in the latter half of the twentieth century, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the advantages claimed for federal over unitary system read more like statements of faith than reasoned arguments.”

The Duterte administration, it would seem, wants federalism as its legacy to the Filipino people. I will even concede that it may have the best of intentions. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So my unsolicited advice: Do your homework, and base your decisions on evidence.