We can have local autonomy without federalism but we can have federalism without local autonomy. This is the essence of “Decentralization and Federalism in the Philippines: Lessons from Global Community” by Alex B. Brillantes, Jr. and Donna Moscare.

It wrote: “… it is possible to have good local governance under a devolved set up, governance here meaning the delivery of basic services to the people, not only by the local government, but in partnership with the other sectors in the community. The countryside is dotted with illustrations of good and best practices of how local governments have creatively used their powers to bring about good governance at the local level.”

For instance, we have seen how local governments have creatively generated additional resources by floating bonds and therefore provide public housing, something that was unheard of before local autonomy. There are local governments that constructed public markets through the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) mode. Having no resources available except for the land, Mandaluyong entered into a partnership with the private sector through BOT and has now constructed a public market that has approached world-class standards. Similarly, a small municipality in Ilocos Norte, Dingras, also entered into a variation of the BOT to construct its public market. We have seen local governments float bonds to meet public housing requirements. Victorias, Negros Occidental and Legaspi City are examples of such. In the area of environmental management and consciousness, contrary to the popular notion that projects with social and environmental concerns are not politically expedient because results are not felt immediately as, say, public works and infrastructure projects are and therefore unable to deliver votes, experience has shown that many local governments in the country have place environmental considerations among their priority concerns.”

Local governments have entered into joint ventures and cooperative arrangements within the context of maximizing utility of resources. They have set up their own provincial investment and business councils to maximize their entrepreneurial capacities. The list of examples of good practices goes on. Efforts at recognizing good practices at the local level may be placed within the context of proving that devolution is working. In other words, local government units, using the creative powers devolved to them under the Code, and inspite of the many constraints, have been able to respond to the enormous challenges brought about by devolution.”

Another concern that should be addressed in pushing for a federal system is the capacities and capabilities of the state and local governments. While preparing for federalism, the government should be more decentralized. It is necessary to promote and develop self-reliance in the local governments that will be converted to states. They should have the capability and resources to function effectively as states under a federal government. They should be enabled to respond to the needs and demands of the community and fulfill their roles under a federal set-up. Parallel movement, therefore, of devolution and federalism is vital.

Having said all these, one would think that the Paper would immediately schedule moves to further decentralize the present set-up. Instead, it drew an elaborate plan to promote federalism, making mention of implementing amendments to the LGC only on the fourth year of its execution. This means that federalists are more interested in setting up federalism than in promoting local autonomy. The paper pays lip service to local autonomy while actually stifling it. No amendment to the LGC until 2006!

So, what does the Paper offer? A slow, painfully slow, process of decentralization under the 1987 Constitution! Then, what? The death blow: federalism or the consolidation of provinces into States. No more shall LGU’s be free to manage their affairs! What would States be there for except as a regulatory body? Whoever wrote that “… federalism as an option should be considered to fully operationalize local autonomy and devolution in the country” is against local autonomy. He closes his eyes to the reality that local governments can function well enough without a State to look over its shoulders. And whoever wrote that “federalism is the next logical step after devolution” is far from being logical. Of what use is federalism when local autonomy is at work? And if it isn’t working, the law must be adjusted accordingly. The failure of devolution was caused by a defect in the law. Federalism is not the answer.

The 1991 LGC should be amended NOW. The changes should be substantial enough to be able to clip the powers of the Presidency over fund releases which should be made emphatically automatic. Local governments should be strengthened within the bounds of the present Charter. Except for the time frame, this is also included in the ten-year plan of federalists. So, the initial conflict would just be in the matter of thrusts and priorities. The real fight should only come 10 years from now when federalism is formally introduced. Unless the federalists, contradict its own stand on the LGC, and refuse to act accordingly!