The Duterte administration’s proposal to shift to a federal system demands a bold response and clear action from organizations and individuals. On its part, PIDS dedicated the third APPC to initiate an informed and participatory discourse on the major issues surrounding federalism. Specifically, the APPC convened policy experts to discuss the political feasibility of federalism in the Philippines, the form and fiscal design of a federal government, as well as the implications of federalism given the country’s political, economic, social, and historical contexts.
According to Dr. Gilberto Llanto, PIDS president, behind the current calls for a shift to a federal form is the frustration of Filipinos living in the Visayas and Mindanao on the concentration of both political and economic powers in Manila. Several PIDS studies have pointed to this fact, arguing that local governments continue to face various challenges in their exercise of functions primarily because of the imbalance in resource-generation capacities between them and the national government. However, Llanto urged federalist supporters to clarify the policy discourse on federalism given the presence of multiple models that countries have adopted in pursuing a federal government.
During his presentation, Dr. Paul Hutchcroft, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at the Australian National University, supported Llanto’s argument and reminded Filipinos that federalism is not a panacea that will resolve things automatically. But whether or not federalism pushes through, Hutchcroft said the government needs to strengthen the regions, which can bring development not only at the local level but in the whole country as well.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rosario Manasan, resident fiscal expert of PIDS, cautioned against adopting a federal form of government without a clear fiscal equalization formula as this could worsen regional inequality. Manasan underscored the concentration of local government revenues in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and CALABARZON. This situation, she said, requires equalization transfers to other states or regions under a federal system to offset differences in revenue-raising capacity or public service cost. She likewise encouraged the government to strengthen the regional development councils, which can help in addressing coordination lapses and ensuring integrated planning and budgeting at the provincial levels.
For her part, NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon stressed that the proponents of federalism still have to address a lot of questions on the structure of a federal form of government in the country. In terms of public management, for instance, Edillon cited her own experience navigating Metro Manila everyday, where each political unit is implementing a totally different approach to manage traffic in its locality. Apparently, such devolved setup seems ineffective as “it takes more than two hours to traverse this 14-km distance.” Aside from this, the NEDA official also urged the policymakers to examine whether the country has enough human capital at the highly technical level of governance that can be deployed to the different states.
Meanwhile, Dr. Alfredo Pascual, a member of the PIDS Board of Trustees, questioned the capability of a federal form of government to usher regional development given the country’s experience in developing state-like political units. He specifically cited the case of the two existing autonomous regions—the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera Administrative Region—which can be considered as states within the Philippines. Unfortunately, he claimed these are also the least developed among all the regions in the country.
Still, Mr. Edmund Tayao, executive director of the Local Government Development Foundation, encouraged the country to be open to major reforms given that the Local Government Code may no longer be producing its intended results. He likewise urged the conduct of a more in-depth study on federalism to completely capture the significance of changing the country’s form of government. He added that while the basic features of a federal form of government make it considerably better than the current one, the question lies on how it could be properly adopted given the country’s unique context.
At the end of the conference, more than 7 in every 10 participants disagreed that federalism is a necessary condition to ensure the growth of the country, according to a survey initiated by former NEDA Director-General Solita Monsod who was present at the event. In his closing remarks, Pascual said that the participants were asked to join an earlier poll on the question, “Given what you know about the Philippine condition and what you have learned about federalism, is federalism a necessary condition for Philippine sustainable growth and development?” The survey revealed that only 28 out of the 101 participants gave a thumbs up on federalism. Meanwhile, two participants chose to abstain.
The APPC serves as the culminating activity of the DPRM, an annual nationwide celebration led by PIDS every September pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 247. PIDS envisions it to serve as a platform to cultivate a strong culture of research and use of data and evidence among the country’s national and local decisionmakers in policymaking and program planning. Through the different topics highlighted in every DPRM celebration, this event also aims to raise the public’s literacy of important socioeconomic issues.