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!


By J.A. Carizo

On the automatic release of IRA and share of the autonomous regions. By law, it is mandated but if you will review the LGC (RA 7160) and the Administrative Code of the Philippines (EO 292), there are a number of loopholes and it takes more than amending these laws like overhauling the Constitution. For example, it is still the central government that dictates the LGUs (through budget circulars, administrative and executive orders) up to what percent should be allocated to specific items. Emergency funds and gender and advocacy budgets for instance, are dictated to be at 5% of the LGU’s annual budget, or that budget on personnel should not exceed 55% of the total budget. Though by intent the same can be considered as a check to local officials who might overspend on staffing (for election purposes, of course), but that is unfair for good government officials who knows the real score on their areas of jurisdiction. In Albay, for instance, a 5% emergency fund is not enough as apart from Mayon Volcano there is also this 20 typhoons or so that pass by Bicol.

1. State operations yet to be drawn. Correct but if you will review Resolution No. 10 of Pimentel, the principles are already there only that they need to be polished. At this point, polishing such concepts need our cooperation.

And we need not abolish the cities, municipalities, provinces and even the barangays. That is also included not only in Pimentel’s proposal but also in other proposals. What we’ll gonna do is enhance their powers so that “they who collect the taxes shall have the prime share and not just the left-overs.” And, of course, they who are at the grassroots shall have the autonomy to design the development they wanted to have and not just wait for the plans from the top. Case in point – the Calabarzon. The area is primarily an agricultural country but what happened? More and more are becoming displaced having no skills to work in the factories. Another case in point: Rapu-rapu in Albay. Many thought the municipality, sitting atop coal and gold, will become richer and economically advanced. But in studies that have been conducted, the IRA of the LGU did not increase and the residents are still as jobless as before. Why? Because the nat’l government declared it an economic zone without due consultation with the residents. As a result, the venture was tax free and because there was no consultation, the residents were not trained or taught new skills so they were not hired. Even the provincial government did not get anything… except perhaps some officials who allegedly received bribes for the continuing operations of the Lafayette mining.

2. Rebellion and inter-tribal and religious rivalry. Maybe if we follow the present government’s prescription like redrawing the territories, that would happen. The present advocacy is to retain the existing subdivisions and ensure peaceful coexistence between religious, ethno-linguistic and other socio-cultural groupings. (RA 8371 is outside the picture as each state, being autonomous, shall resolve the issues on IPs and ancestral lands. Besides, we cannot at all times prescribe a sweeping law for cases that may appear similar but in fact differs as we go to the micro or individual level.) Second, if we study the war in Mindanao, we will find that it has basically religious undertones. Like Christians, Muslims also think that they are also children of God/Allah so why have a non-Muslim rule or dictate over them just like what Malacanang in Manila is doing? (Well, how many Muslims have become Philippine president?). So with Federalism, that gives them a chance to be at par with Christians first by giving them a chance to sit in States, and later, perhaps, in the national government.

Federalism is not the fast solution, though. But can we say that unitary system is a solution after a century of experience with it? Not even the creation of autonomous regions did answer the issue for Malacanang is also playing a hand on who to field and get elected in the autonomous regions. Greed is one of the reasons, of course, and more than this is the lack of a genuine political party law.

3. On the idea of revolution. I think we both agree with that. Federalism in itself is a revolution. 🙂

But apart from federalism, I am studying the case of Spain. It has a proto-federalist system (in-between unitary and federal systems). Some says it’s working fine as it is getting the best of both the unitary and federal systems. I don’t know how that can be applied in the Phils.

By: TaxJ

I think I have touched all your concerns in my letters to Senators and opinion writers. Briefly, let me pass on them. Re purse: as with the LGC and ARRM, isn’t release supposed to be automatic and mandatory. It’s a matter of law-enforcement!

1. Cause the speedy development of the entire country by unleashing the forces of competitiveness among the States; and,

This is hogwash. State operations is yet to be drawn. At most it would go through a experimental stage. Cities and provinces are operational. Its weaknesses are identifiable and can be remedied at once.

2. Dissipate the causes of rebellion in the country and particularly in Mindanao.

The contrary will happen. States will foment inter-tribal and religious rivalry. At the provincial level tribes and Christian settlers generally get along well with each other. It is easier to deal with the problem at this level. This is provided for under RA 8371 which would issue AD titles to actual, not historical, occupants. Seldom will you find inter-ethnic/cultural conflict within the confines of a province.

3. Congress will not part with its largess. Precisely. This is why my idea calls for a revolution, no less. This is not a band aid solution, but a lasting one.

I think that would be impossible. Filipinos love shortcut and the easiest way for politicians to get money is through the status quo — waiting for the largesse from Malacanang.

Besides, the first thing we need to do is to convince our Congressmen as you say, to pass a reinvigorated Local Government Code. But would they work on something that will hurt their pockets? Of course not especially considering that the present system allows them to dip into government budget in the guise of pork barrel, etc.

Okay, I may sound pessimistic. Our Congressmen are pro-people and they love their constituents. But retaining the unitary system with all powers still centralized will do no better even if there is this “new LGC”. Why? Because what is the “purse” without the corresponding power and autonomy to use it? Look at the CAR and the ARMM who, according to some officials, are still dependent on Malacanang because they have no autonomy to enact their own budget, etc., etc. This is because the problem now is the system and as such we need to address the system and not just offer simple reforms (or vulca seal solutions) like taking paracetamol in dealing with our fractured bones.

My whole take on this issue is at: http://politechwatch.blogspot.com/2008/08/federalizing-philippines-right-track-at.html

(Original post and comment is found here.)