A WEEK ago, Davao City Mayor Sarah Duterte expressed strong opposition to the move of making our country a federal government saying it would only empower “warlords.” This came as a surprise considering that a major reason why her father won the presidential seat was precisely because of this promise.
This makes me wonder if such pronouncement was just intended to measure how much the people clamor for a new charter depending on public reaction as they try to calibrate away from it. Such news did not pick up much buzz but I would like to make an issue out of it because I have been an advocate of federalism long before Duterte even became president.
Sarah must have only seen the trees and not the forest. Just because there are few ‘warlords’ in the south as she calls them, doesn’t mean that such fundamental change in government will not bring the desired outcome we so wish to happen in our country.
Allow me then to discuss again what federalism is as a government system to better shed light on why I am one of the millions of Filipinos who are clamouring for such system to be in place as soon as possible.
We are a unitary government for now. Today, the power of the state is centralized. As such, our laws are uniform, they apply to all regions, provinces, cities and municipalities. For example, the income tax rate here in Bacolod is exactly the same in all parts of the country. In the same manner that the punishment of murder in Iloilo would be exactly the same to that in Cebu.
In a way there are advantages of a centralized government such as what we have now. It promotes fundamental and general interests. It is good especially for poor provinces since even if they don’t have much income, they get subsidized by the central government taken from the income of the richer cities. In our context, we call that IRA; we get a share of the national budget regardless of whether our LGUs earn or not.
But if we look closer and assess the situation in our country today, we would see how the centralized system became a limiting condition to progress.
We have to understand that we are an archipelago. As such we are geographically divided and that we are culturally diverse as well. A one-size-fits- all principle just would not work. I mean, why else would our Muslim brothers push for the Bangsamoro law? That is because some of our laws don’t quite fit with their culture. And they too have every right to live in the culture they grew up with. This is where federalism comes in.
You see federalism embraces regional autonomy. With federalism we are given the freedom to rule each region the way we want them to fit our economic needs as well as our unique culture. In this part of our region for example, we can create taxation schemes that are more sensitive to our set up as a sugar capital. For instance we can better allocate health services by subsidizing health care to all workers to make sure our population is healthy and productive all year round without being restricted with the previous national laws. As a labor intensive region, we can put premium on working conditions and strike a balance on profit and social development. For sure we will not be held hostage to moves such as sugar liberalization and rice tarrification that only serves the interest of few individuals since we will have local autonomy.
With federalism, our cultural nuances are recognized and respected. With federalism, our local resources get harnessed to its maximum with the locals enjoying the fruit. With this system, progress is very fast.