By Milwida M. Guevara
While many of us were sleeping, our Congressmen have been diligently working on how to change our Constitution and adopt a Federal form of government. I forced myself to read the draft that Sub-Committee 1 of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments of the Lower House has submitted, lest ordinary citizens like me, lose by indifference and attrition. It gave me a big scare that the proposals are ambiguous, amorphous and vague.
The proposal retains the basic political units of the country: provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. But the country will be divided into five (5) states: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, Bangsa Moro, and Metro Manila. A province or a city may transfer to a state that is “contiguously located to its territorial boundary.” As to how, will be dependent on a plebiscite in the local government seeking the transfer, and the LGU where it would like to be a part of. Each state will have a Premiere with his/her cabinet, a state assembly (with two representatives from each province and 1 representative from each city), and its own Constitution.
The Central government (Federal) shall be headed by a President who will head the armed forces, appoint federal officials, and, enter into treaties. All the other functions of the President shall be exercised by the Prime Minister who will appoint the members of his/her Cabinet. The Office of the Vice President will be no more.
And then, there will be a Federal Assembly and a Senate. The Federal Assembly will be composed of 240 members representing legislative districts and 60 party list representatives. Every province and a city with 350,000 voters will be considered a district. The Senate will be made up of state representatives with each state having a minimum of three (3) seats. As to how the number of Senators will be determined remains undefined.
Good grief! What a burden to have 6 Lower Houses. It is as if the current House of Representatives is not enough. Certainly, financing their debates, committee hearings, investigation, travels, salaries, per diems, offices, and a staff complement, will gobble up a great portion of our taxes instead of being spent for improved public services. I surmise that each province, city, municipality, and barangay will have its own Local Chief Executives and local legislative councils! By having several layers of legislation and execution, we will be bringing the citizen more distant from his government. This is what decentralization should not be.
But more bad news is coming. The proposal is blurry with respect to how local governments will be structured. Let the Constitution of each state take care of governance, it says. I cannot imagine the chaos on the first day if we ever become federal. Certainly, we have regional differences, but they are not that great to require different forms of governance!
Currently, the Local Government Code, with all its shortcomings, clearly defines the responsibilities of each level of government. We know who will deliver what and who will be blamed if a service is not delivered. Confusion only arises when the central government usurps the power that belongs to local governments and provides them with unfunded mandates. The proposal offers a worse alternative. It provides that the Federal government and the states shall have CONCURRENT powers over: administration of federal laws and programs; education, social security, social welfare, cultural development; sports development; research and development; penitentiaries; language development, environmental protection, energy ;tourism; ancestral domain; population management; labor and trade unions; science and technology; common infrastructure; creation of municipalities. CONCURRENT powers presage a constant tug of war, confusion, and inefficiency. We can already predict overlaps, over-spending, passing the blame, inefficient outcomes, and under-served citizenry. A clear delineation of responsibilities between the federal and state government is a sine-qua non for Decentralization and even more, for Federalism. It will provide a clear basis on what revenue-raising powers should be given to the federal government, to the states, and to the local governments. Revenues must match their expenditures. Otherwise, we will be worse-off. Expenditure needs will not be met because revenues in all levels of government will be insufficient.
The country has more than 25 years of experience in devolution. There are outstanding practices on how local governments have served their communities well. In many instances, even better than the central government. There are also excellent studies on how things can be done better. Why move towards a radical and precarious alternative that does not even have a Complete Staff Work?