Federal Government in the Philippines

Eye Opener Column
Bohol Sunday Post

In one of the issues of the Post ex Congressman Eladio Boy Jala was of the opinion that time is still early for a charter change. One of his reasons was the escalating Mindanao conflict. This is not reason enough. Charter change would be the answer and it must start now. However, before we start to prove our case, the Mindanao problem should be first analyzed. Then the merits of federalism discussed.

 First of all, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF is not really a coherent organization. A splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front, the MILF is only a gathering of warlords, which want to have their cake and eat it too and a group of chosen spokesmen who have no authority over them. They have only a parody of a central government.

 While the latter negotiates with the Manila government for a piece of real estate to be their so-called homeland, the former commits acts of terrorism like banditry, mindless mass murder, extortion and arson. When the government requests the so called leaders to order the field commanders to cease and desist and to hand over the culprits, they can only mouth lame excuses because their designated leaders have no power over their armed contingents Functionally, it is like the case of the tail wagging the dog. It is no wonder why peace negotiations lasted for years.

 If the Philippines were to be federalized, it would follow a different process from the federalization of the United States of America or Switzerland, where non central governments of states or cantons formed a central government. It would be more like the Dominion of Canada whose central government was broken up into provinces with some powers retained by the central government and certain other powers devolved. The processes may vary but the result is the same.

 A non central government or federal unit, whether a province, state or region as proposed for the Philippines , would have powers of local character like taxation or a large part of it, public works, an education system, civil service and summary justice. The central government has powers that deal with finance, foreign or international affairs, peace and war, communications and administration of basic justice.

 A federal unit is a microcosm of the unitary government. It has its executive, legislative and judiciary bodies. The unit has its own constitution and a set of laws, which may be similar or different from other federal units. The regional governor, who is the chief executive, heads the executive body and if the regional constitution allows the local government units like the provinces, the mayors and barangays are retained. The legislative consist of a house of regional representatives, and a regional senate if the government form is bicameral. The region may elect several federal congressmen and senators to the central government.

 The judiciary has its regional Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals several regional trial courts and municipal circuit courts. These courts may impose maximum penalty, which if approved by the regional Supreme Court becomes final and executory unless commuted by the regional governor.

 In the case of the MILF, they will be integrated into the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, a federal unit for the Muslims. There, they will have to interact with the more sophisticated MNLF and educated Christians. They will have their constitution and local laws based on Islamic tenets while respecting the rights of Christian constituents. Who will have the ruling power depends upon them Muslims, who will be the majority. Being a federal unit, the ARMM will have the same footing as the rest of the federal units of the Philippines .

 Since transition to the final form of federalism is a slow process, the good time to start is now, Mindanao trouble not withstanding. Snags are likely to be encountered and getting used to the federal system after centuries of unitary government would be tedious. Good governments are not attained overnight so the best time is to start now.