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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.

Begging the Question in Constitutional Reform-new

Begging the Question in Constitutional Reform

The purpose of the Constitution is to constitute, one could say “to put together”, therefore consolidate. The assumption could only be that the idea is put together otherwise separate and uncoordinated stakeholders, even institutions and possibly determine a common direction. This common direction is another way of looking at the constitution, hence at times called the “Charter”, to chart the direction of the country. If there’s an agreement that this is what the constitution is for then we have a good measure what makes it a good one.

A country can have the longest most detailed constitution, with a litany of all ideals but the ultimate question is if any and all of which can in fact be implemented. The measure of a good constitution is if it is able to set up the right political framework for the country that it leads to an effective mechanism needed to effectively implement what is prescribed by it. It is the right political framework that it fits the unique conditions of the country. This means a political system is in place accommodating the various interests in that not one particular entity dominates and subsequently limits the possibilities in the country. This political system in a word results only to strong, that is, effective public institutions, the kind that we simply do not have at this time.

When a country’s government is able to not only come up with good policies but also to effectively implement without bias or favor to a particular interest, then there is strong public institutions. So much depends on public institutions that without it there is simply nothing good that could be done in any country that fails (There had been so many good books in this regard but a popular read recommended is Acemoglu and Robinson’s book “Why Nations Fail”. This book gives concrete cases, contrasting different countries with supposedly similar locations even situations but simply didn’t turn out the same). To argue then that we have to first strengthen public institutions is a step in the right direction, as it will only lead us to looking at the mechanisms in place right  now that it only strengthens the argument that we have to revise the constitution.

It is also right to say that we have pressing problems at this time, the most fundamental of which is poverty. The government under probably all presidencies has not been remiss in addressing this pestering problem, but it still remains the same. We can check from both the government’s official statistics and the poverty surveys conducted by private organizations and you’ll see that it barely changed after all theses years. This despite the continuously increasing budget for a supposedly directly targeted program on poverty that is the 4Ps. Is the problem the policy and or program? Is it the implementation? Is the problem because of both?

There are many good programs and reform initiatives propounded under different administrations. An assessment of how all these turned out will give us the idea whether anything can be effectively implemented under the present setup. We can always bewail the non-implementation of the social justice provisions in the constitution that supposedly cuts it above all our previous constitutions but the question remains why it has yet to be implemented. The argument that the current constitution should be fully implemented is right, but again it only brings us back to the question of how. It is an argument that calls for revising the constitution not in  retaining it, as precisely the problem is that what is lacking is the capacity to implement that can only be addressed by a system change. It is not even a question of leaders. It might be interesting that there are leaders who are not popular as they seem to act differently in public, appearing empty and or callous, but talking to them in person could show an exact opposite. So one can only ask why? Is it a strategy that the public persona is different from the real person?

We always attribute things that don’t work or things we don’t like that’s happening to culture. This argument however is arguably the most lackadaisical one could come up with. To cite culture to explain all the negative things we have is to simply say there’s simply nothing we can do about it, that we are cursed and therefore should just sit back and do nothing. Culture is different from behavior, perhaps we can ask experts to elucidate more on this. What is certain however is systems impact on people’s behavior.

Taking off from the foregoing, let’s take the example of political dynasties, probably the most used up reason used to explain why we are in this rut. A reason that takes off from all previously argued description of Philippine Politics, that is patronage politics, clientelistic, bossism etc. Now, are all these the cause of the kind of governance we have today? In the first place, the better question to ask is why do we have the kind of political dynasties we have? The reason why this is the better question can be answered by comparing our political dynasties, at least the most number of them to political dynasties in other countries. In fact we can even ask, why is it even possible to have so much political dynasties in this country?

Let’s start with the size of our local government units (LGUs), what has been explained better in a chapter in the book “The Quest for a Federal Republic”. We have very small LGUs, especially in the countryside that it is simply impossible to even just come up with good plans for development. We can compare the size of our political units with other countries and see the staggering difference. How can we then think of development in the countryside? If there’s no development, poverty will simply persist. If there’s continued poverty, it will simply be easy to dominate the local economy and thus local politics. It is not because voters can be bought, that it is culture that explains why they allow themselves to be bought. It is simply because any opportunity that they can have to allow them to buy what they need will be welcome. Moreover, there won’t be many families in the poverty stricken countryside that will likely have the capacity to contest elections. Precisely, the size of the political unit, the constituency itself is so small you can’t have more contenders. Then you have the perfect environment for the kind of political dynasties we have.

There is a need to further study reforms, specifically the ones we want to have institutionalized. This is the only way we can avoid Begging the Question in Constitutional Reform. We can’t continue to push or prevent charter change based only from where we sit and which group we belong and protect. If this continues, then perhaps there’s really nothing we can do.

Pursing Federalism is not a Question of Time

Pursuing Federalism is not a Question of Time, It Is A Question of Opportunity.

Why change the constitution now? Is it the right time to change it? These questions are probably the most instinctive of questions asked the moment charter change is discussed or considered by any sitting President or by any political leader. We will never be able to reflect on the significance of public institutions and the need to change if we can’t get pass the question of timing. This question prevents the understanding of the significance of political systems, of institutions and mechanisms. Timing should be considered more as any opportunity to change what needs to be changed. Any leader who vigorously pushes it should be supported, especially with the objective of making sure that everyone is able to take part and contributed. In the first place, there is no answer to the question of time, especially that the main considerations for it are always given, as it is essentially a political question.

The fact that timing is always raised as an issue in fact shows the need to take a really close look at our public institutions; it shows that reforms should be introduced before it is too late. Timing is always an issue because we barely trust our leaders. How can we trust our leaders if good leaders are chosen only by chance? The existing political system is limited only to those who are popular and have the money to sustain a very expensive popular campaign. How many of these popular and moneyed would-be leaders prove to be capable and trustworthy? Qualifications in the first place barely matter or considered, as precisely the choices are limited. You can very well surmise that those who are consistently against changing the current system benefit from it that it is difficult to consider any substantial reform to be introduced.

Self-interest is the foremost reason used to explain the issue of timing, and the answer to it is simply another question, who doesn’t have self-interest in the first place? Politics is precisely aptly defined as “who gets what, when where and how. . ?” Self-interest is a given, it is not something that cannot be taken out of the question. In fact, there shouldn’t even be any effort to take it out of the equation. Self-interest is what makes the idea of freedom and popular participation relevant to everyone. The very reason why there is dissent or assent is self-interest. Anyone pushing for any initiative will have self-interest, as will the ones opposing any initiative.

The point is not to prevent self-interest, not even to judge one person or group to only have self-interest in pushing for whatever in any given occasion or opportunity including pushing for charter change. This can in fact be considered as the densest most desperate reason that can be raised. On the contrary, what should be ensured is to have everyone’s self-interest considered and ensured that a new system can contain these and produce a veritable output and outcome that can be acceptable to most. Acceptable to everyone is ideal but is quite a long shot. It is such a pity when any well-meaning individual takes part in this initiative to finally reform our current ineffective political system and dismissed by some as being a tool or being self-interested himself.

It is thus not surprising to always find a good number of well-meaning individuals to contribute without hesitation in the pursuit of political and governmental reforms regardless of who is in power. We have seen many during the time of former Presidents FVR, Erap and GMA, each presidency seen by these individuals as an opportunity to change the current system. Opportunity that is so critical as there has been so many unsuccessful attempts before that didn’t succeed. There were in fact a good number of structural reforms successfully introduced in all presidencies after the end of the dictatorship, indicating a good understanding of how institutions matter, but all came short of being far-reaching. All of these reforms came only by legislation, by policies and programs that most of these reforms simply could not be implemented or could not be implemented effectively. The point that is shown then is that is not so much about the right policies and programs but in terms of effective public institutions in place.

Why support charter change under President Duterte, given his ways that is a significant departure from all previous presidents? Is it not precisely this different way that is the very reason why the public continues to support him? We don’t even have to base it on his person; we should not in fact base our support only on his person. Compared to all previous who pushed for system change, who could have pushed it as vigorously as he is doing it now? He has been doing it from day one as he has been talking about it incessantly during his campaign. As a result there has never been a more critical and detailed discussion of systems and forms of government than we have now. Then we can understand why support for charter change has been more because of the support to him as a person. The objective is to contribute substantively, not just simply supporting the initiative without understanding.

This brings up the other reason that is often used to support the issue of timing. Charter change apparently, should be considered only after pressing problems like poverty is solved. Interestingly, the very reason why charter change is being pursued is the critical need to put in place a better set of public institutions ran by more capable leaders in order to have a better handle of the country’s development and ultimately better address the problem of poverty. The country has constantly struggled to find the right mix of policies and or programs only to perform considerably behind many other developing countries. How many similarly situated countries have now left us behind only after a generation? And we will always hear the argument that it is a matter of implementation that we have been constantly lagging behind. Precisely the reason why we have to revise the constitution is to zero in on the problem of implementation, caused by none other than a non-functioning, even non-existent political system.

Federalism and the BBL

Federalism and the BBL

An attempt to put things in perspective

By Edmund S. Tayao

Why the BBL was not included in the recently declared priorities of the government is not clear.  What is more unclear is the assertion from some quarters at the outset that because Federalism is declared to be a priority, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is then not a priority.  While it is not categorically mentioned in the list, the fact that federalism is given priority after the new BBL was drafted and submitted to Congress, it can only mean that the Bangsamoro initiative is very much a priority.  Continue reading “Federalism and the BBL”

Why Federalism Why a Federalist is now an anti-Federalist.pptx

Why federalism? Why a federalist is now an anti-federalist?

By Edmund Tayao

As posted: May 05 2017, ABS-CBN News, Blog

Interesting how media works or is made to work today, especially in this part of the world. While traditionally the media is a source of information, it has since been transformed to be a veritable source of misinformation as well. For a while it was just a matter of editorializing news, now it can be outright misinformation. We can perhaps just assume, so as not to point a finger, it is due largely to the growing sophistication of technology. Now everyone can speak and write to a big public audience, including this writer.

Continue reading “Why federalism? Why a federalist is now an anti-federalist?”