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    LOGODEF organized a Capacity Building Program for the Municipality of Tuba, Benguet
Arrested Development of the State That is the Philippines

Arrested Development of the State That is the Philippines: Getting Back on Track with Federalism

Fragmentation characterizes politics and governance in the country right now:  fragmented national government, fragmented local governments. Interestingly, we seem to want to further fragment the country by creating more agencies of government and more local governments.  We have maritime issues; let’s create a Department for Maritime Affairs.  There’s a need to address OFW concerns, let’s have a Department for OFW and so on.  The same goes with local governments.  There’s a problem with resources, difficulty to get to the capitol so let’s create another province.  We don’t have enough budgets every year; let’s turn our town to a city.  Hardly was there a time when policy makers considered stepping on breaks and for a moment assess the situation and look for a systemic solution.  And then we expect to have different results.

There’s no gainsaying how fundamental a systemic approach to politics and governance is if we are to still consider developing and in the process not only promote but more so strengthen the sense of pride for everyone for being a Filipino regardless where we are anywhere here or abroad.  This is not just a Federalism project; it is the country’s nationhood and statehood project getting back in track.

Yes it is a question of resources that we haven’t been able to maximize decentralization.  But it is not just about resources, it’s as much a question of how much resources are raised by whom or by what level of government. It’s as much a question of what is done with these resources, even the timeliness that these resources are used and for what purpose.  It is as much as who does all of these and who benefits most from what is done.  It is as much as accountability, transparency, representation and responsiveness.  Simply put, you can’t just bring down powers or give more resources to LGUs.  Reforms should improve the capacities of local governance, not just by local governments.  Federalism cannot be pursued without the concomitant political reforms; otherwise we will just be creating more warlords and political dynasties.  Without political reforms, that is, changing the rules of the game, we won’t just be having more of the same; we will be having something worst of the same.

This is the logic that we followed in formulating the heart of the Federalism initiative, the creation of meso-level governance with the establishment of Regional Governments (RG). Contrary to the opposing argument that Federalism will just create another level of government, the RG is a strategy to amalgamate fragmented LGUs and at the same time rationalize the national bureaucracy.  The idea is to address fragmentation at both levels of government.  The idea is to focus on the mechanism of governance, the instrument that is necessary to make the principles and objectives stated in the constitution implementable, one that is sorely lacking in the 1987 Constitution.

Instead of arguing that there will just be another boss on top of the local chief executives (LCEs), why not look at the RG as an incentive, a mechanism for local leaders to get together, pool resources and in the process plan and act together, especially on issues that go beyond political boundaries?  In the first place, how can the creation of the RG amount to be just another boss for the LGUs when it is constituted by the existing LGUs (see Section 5, Article XI and Ordinance I of the draft Constitution).  Note also that it is the Regional Assembly, composed of representatives of component LGUs that will “enact a law which shall provide for the accountabilities, compensation, discipline, removal, vacancy, and succession of the Regional Governor and Deputy Regional Governor” (Section 17, par. c, Art. XI).

The Regional Governor then is the “primus inter pares” only of the members of the Regional Assembly, therefore acting only at the behest of the LGUs that makes up the whole region. This then addresses the problem of fragmentation of LGUs without abolishing any of the existing LGUs nor diluting their existing powers.  If at all there will be any change in the make up and powers of the LGUs, it’s no longer the National, or Federal Government that will change it, is the RG as provided for under its list of powers under Section 2, Article XII.  Considering that the RG is made up of, and therefore ran collectively by constituent LGUs, any decision about local governance is all theirs to make, not the Federal Government.  What else can be gleaned from these provisions other than as a mechanism to amalgamate currently fragmented local governance?

Perhaps we should also ask how integrated or at least coordinated the national government and LGUs are. With decentralization in place, are LGUs actually able to at the very least, exercise the powers supposedly afforded by the 1991 Local Government Code (LGC)?  How much of the 5 powers supposedly devolved and 2 powers tangentially devolved actually exercised by the LGUs now?  Is it just a question of resources that LGUs are not able or even would no longer want to have anything to do with these powers?  Is it because the national government has been taking over much of the powers instead of at the very least sharing it with LGUs or putting them to task so that ultimately there is coordination that takes place between the different levels of government?  How many measures are pending in Congress calling for a recentralization of various powers, especially Agriculture and Health?  Is Social Welfare a function of the national government or of the LGUs as provided for the by the LGC?  Can we not consider an alternative where the national government consider partners in LGUs and have them able to perform these devolved tasks instead of taking over and bypassing the LGUs?

The effect of all these is a bloated bureaucracy.  Of course, anywhere you go, the government will always be the biggest employer, but compared to the private sector, employment in the government is not about employment, it’s about service, it is about performing the function supposedly assigned to a particular office.  Will an agency be able to perform well if a function is fragmented?  For example, when we say foreign relations, should it not include trade, labor (including OFWs of course), even defense?  At the home front when we say local governance, should it not include trade, transportation and of course security? When was the last time the government looked into the administration code and considered rationalizing the bureaucracy?

Federalism is also about administration reform.  Instead of fighting fires here and there by creating more and more agencies, Federalism, if it is to done right will have to also look at how the government agencies are organized and made to work together.  In this sense we learn from the experts in public administration and political science (Werlin 1988: 48).

  1. Political systems are most effective when authority is widely dispersed without diminishing the ultimate responsibility of top leadership for results.
  2. Administrative Effectiveness- the ability to achieve goals- depends upon the capacity and willingness of leaders to delegate operational responsibility to subordinates without reducing supervisory prerogatives and correctional potential.
  3. Insofar as leaders must rely upon nonpersuasive forms of power (e.g. coercion, corruption, or intimidation), their capacity to delegate responsibility is limited.

While elastic power is generally persuasive in form, it can be coercive when necessary (ibid.) and this is the principle we followed in outlining the powers of the Federal and the Regional Governments in the draft constitution, the very reason why it is called “Bayanihan” Constitution.  We ask everyone then to take a serious look at Art. XII or the Distribution of Powers of Government in the draft and see how these principle is reflected.

One particular function that kept on getting into the rather lively discussions in the Consultative Committee is planning.  It was noted that,

  1. It was difficult to have a real long-term plan, say at least a 10-year plan (of course, easily, everyone agreed that this is mainly because of the political system that allows only a very short 3 year term).
  2. Plans are very centralized. We require LGUs to have their own plans but how much of these plans actually coincide with the national plans and vice versa?  Considering also the rather very small size of many LGUs, how much planning is useful and or effective?  How many of our LGUs actually are able to put in place and maintain digital maps and a reliable and updated database of households, businesses and so on?
  3. How much planning is actually done at the regional level?  Are regional plans actually regional in the sense that the plans reflect the LGU plans?

And so national socio-economic planning will be a federal function and regional socio-economic and development planning will be regional.   What this means is that NEDA will remain only for the federal level and RGs will have their own planning agencies.  And note that these are “exclusive” powers.  One cannot impose on the other but at the same time the federal nor the regional planning agencies will not be able to function without the cooperation even collaboration of the other.  Basically, this setup makes it fundamental for the region to have its own plans and for these plans to be integrated at the federal level.

There is no duplication of functions with this setup and thus it does not make sense to assume that the federal planning agency will have regional offices and regional governments will have their own planning agencies.  We already have existing regional agencies for NEDA, it will now only be a regional agency and institutionally related only to the federal agency by way of function and not of administration.  There is then no such thing as unreasonably increasing the annual budget of the government as some would suggest.  There is no mimicking of national agencies at the regional level; if at all the existing regional offices will now serve as regional agencies answerable to the regional government.

On the other hand it is not accurate to assume that what is going to happen is that a particular agency or department will just be devolved hook, line and sinker, and cease to exist at the federal level.  This is where the rationalization of the national bureaucracy becomes imperative. Note for example that among the powers given to the regional government are the powers to collect vehicle registration fess and transport franchise fees (Section 2, Art. XIII).  This goes without saying that the current LTO and LTFRB will now be regional agencies.  This should not be taken to mean however that there is no longer a need for a department of transportation at the federal level, which then means that current agencies have to be reconfigured so that duplication is avoided and as a result, rationalization of the bureaucracy becomes a reality.  This means that in the long-term, instead of the doomsday scenario painted by critics, it will actually result to a more streamlined government where cost will be at least closer to the function.

For the longest time we have been arguing among ourselves why the Philippines remain underdeveloped and why as a people we are divided.  The usual answer is it is because of culture in that we are not a nation-state.  We should however understand that the “nation-state” is not a “natural” sociopolitical form (Weekeley 2006: 86). A nation-state results from evolution and conscious effort to effect a shared consciousness, not necessarily having the same identity.  We could have enjoyed the same opportunity as many earlier states had during their time, consciously fashioning their public institutions, their state, so that the result is a system of politics and governance that reflect their being a people. Unfortunately we belong to the second wave, and even share a sense of the third wave of state making as we were established by colonial powers that occupied the country before.

Mckoy argues that the United States established a tutelary colonialism aimed at preparing the Filipinos for the governance of an independent nation.  How can that be when Philippine independence had been declared as early as 12 June 1898, and by January of 1899- after the Philippine Republic, founded on the bedrock of a duly ratified Constitution, was proclaimed- the Philippines was set on running its course and pursuing its destiny as an independent nation (Quibuyen 1999: 284, 285).  What we then have is a state whose development was arrested.  This Federalism initiative is an opportunity to get this back on track.

Still, some will insist its not because we don’t have a well functioning state but because we are not a nation.  The nation as an ideological construct however, cannot be separated from the state as a set of politico-economic structures.  The state reproduces the nation through myriad quotidian acts reminding people that they are citizens- in economic, social and cultural senses. The fewer such reminders of how the state organizes our lives, the less the citizen feels part of a national community. If the population, and especially, at a certain state in a state’s history, the bourgeoisie are insufficiently committed to the abstract notion of the nation (rather than, say primarily to local communities), then in general, the state is less able to function (Weekley 2006: 87).  If the population, and especially, at this stage in our country’s history, the bourgeoisie are insufficiently committed to the abstract notion of the nation and thus the establishment of a real functioning state, then we might as well just forget about reaching a level of development other countries have and be contented with whatever we have now, which is close to nothing.