Decentralization, Not Federalism

Manila Bulletin, October 7, 2016 | Go to article overview

Decentralization, Not Federalism


Last Thursday's Diliman forum on federalism turned out not as a debate between opposing views but in fact, a consensus. That the way to go is not federalism but by making local government more responsive - strengthening its decentralized structure and autonomy. This would address the problem that avid supporters of federalism continually decry -- Manila's imperialism and the concentration of power at the center.

But would federalism address this concern? Four experts were asked to respond to this topic with the main guest speaker, former Supreme Court Justice, UP law professor, and constitutionalist Vicente V. Mendoza, former UP President, current president, of Kalayaan College, and authority on federalism Jose V. Abueva, Dr. Maria Ela Atienza, UP political science professor, and Atty. Rommel Bagares (substitute for human rights advocate and now party list representative Harry Roque).

Justice Mendoza's arguments centered on our lack of readiness to transform into a federal structure. Unlike countries which have successfully federalized like the United States, Great Britain, and the Federation of Malaysia which share common features in terms of historical direction, the process of federalizing our country is in the opposite direction. The US was formed out of 13 colonies, which after independence, formed a confederation and adopted a federal system. Malaysia was formed out of several separate states or territories held by Portugal, Netherlands, and the UK.

But the Philippines will go through a reverse process which may have negative consequences such as.

* Dividing the government into national and state will weaken the entire country

* There is no turning back should the federal system fail. Its effect will even be more devastating than the breakup of a federal state. Each state will be prey to annexation by other states.

* Each state will have its own constitution with its own principles and policies, a court system. This will complicate the administration of justice.

* Regional differences will be magnified and the rise of village tyrants and despots is more probable than the rise of a national dictator.

* Diversity in the country will enfeeble the government with the rising threats to our territorial integrity.

* Lack of training in public policy among our leaders

* Possible neglect of national concerns as states may become so focused on local government and its security.

The main issue is readiness, and Justice Mendoza believes that Dr. Abueva's notion that it may take only 10 years to achieve maturity, may not be realistic. That it may take a longer period, several generations, perhaps to develop a state and enable it to be economically self-sufficient, and unified instead of fragmented. …

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