One size does not fit all

Published April 14, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Milwida M. Guevara
Milwida M. Guevara

The move towards federalism in the country did not have a good start. It was proposed by officials whom we did not trust. The proposal carried a dangerous provision that would enable the President to stay in power for an indefinite period. There were no studies that provided an empirical base to rationalize an efficient allocation of powers and resources between the central government and the states. The proposal was simply based on a whimsical campaign promise.

But Covid 19 showed us how federalism can yield good benefits especially if the central government is weak and unable to rise to the challenge of a national crisis. Local governments that demonstrate leadership and resilient governance provide our safety net and continuously spark inspiration and encouragement. But instead of leveraging on their management skills and innovations, local governments are being threatened and controlled. More confusion is sowed by the inability of the central government to make quick decisions, devise streamlined processes, tap the expertise of the private sector, and clearly communicate how the crisis can be managed. The supply chain has been broken and we are at a loss on how to assist local communities that are in need of basic necessities, especially PPEs and food. Changes in rules create confusion and tension. The spraying of disinfectant has been disallowed only after resources had been spent by local governments in sanitizing public places. Local governments are still confused on who are covered by the social amelioration program and how to pacify those who need coverage but are left out.

But despite all these challenges, local governments refuse to be discouraged. Local governments like Valenzuela City have moved faster than the central government in conducting mass testing. The local governments in Region 6 report no new cases of infection by the virus. Even municipalities in BARMM such as North Upi and Pandag report 0 case of the virus despite resource constraints. Out of frustration from delays in mass testing, some mayors are considering moving ahead and setting up their own laboratories.

When we see how many local governments can be more efficient and responsive to our needs, we are encouraged to view federalism in a more positive light, but only when a new government is elected.

Secretary Jesse Robredo talked about asymmetric federalism. He walked with many local government leaders who like him, were a cut above the rest. Among his peers were Governors Josefina De la Cruz, Rafael Coscolluela, Rodolfo Agbayani, and Miguel Dominguez. And if here alive, he would be proud of Mayors Rex Gatchalian, Vico Sotto, Raul Banias, Oscar Moreno , Jerry Trenas, Ramon Piang, Tong Paglas, Carlo Medina and Gila Garcia. But he also recognized that there are still many mediocre and perhaps scoundrels, among local government leaders. This is the reason why he instituted the Seal of Good Housekeeping. He wanted the good ones to provide the benchmark and incentivize the rest so that excellence can be mainstreamed.

Asymetric federalism is the provision of different powers and autonomy to local governments. It recognizes and accommodates diversity in political cultures, socio-economic factors, and demography, among others. It is practiced in many countries like Spain, Canada, Indonesia, Italy, and Malaysia. Quebec for example has its own health and pension plan. It exercises authority over employment and immigration issues. Some regions in Italy are allowed to keep up to 100% of the taxes they collect and decide on how the revenues should be spent.

The accreditation system of universities is a simple example of how asymmetric federalism can work. Universities that pass criteria and standards of excellence as determined by their peers are granted autonomy by the Commission on Higher Education. Accredited institutions can develop new programs without seeking a permit or authority from CHED. They can increase tuition fees and grant honorary degrees. They are subject to less supervision and can access more assistance like grants from the central government. But they are bound by national policies and standards. They can also lose their accredited standards if they fail to sustain their excellence. Meanwhile, all those that do not pass the accreditation process are subject to control and supervision by CHED.

The process of thinking how to respect diversity among local communities without sacrificing unity and efficiency in public service can start now. We must allow excellence to flourish. Controls and censure should be reserved to those whom we wrongly elected.

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