Lack of understanding drives criticisms on federalism: Puno

By Azer Parrocha

August 4, 2018, 1:03 pm

MANILA -- Criticisms on the draft federal constitution pushed by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) are borne out of lack of clear understanding, its chairman said.

Former Chief Justice and ConCom Chairman Reynato Puno made this remark in a forum on Wednesday in Quezon City, where he stressed how federalism would benefit the regions the most.

“The last few days have seen an all-out assault on the alleged defects of the draft federal constitution. Let me say that most of these criticisms are borne out of a lack of clear understanding of the spirit of the draft Federal Constitution,” Puno said during the Forum on Federalism in Quezon City organized by the Regional Development Council of MIMAROPA.

Puno said others also doubted federalism because they were “driven by fear and displeasure that they will be the losers politically and economically” should there be a shift from unitary to a federal form of government.

He, however, allayed these fears, noting that the proposed Federalism Constitution is designed to have a “strong federal government” to hold together the different regions and make them equally viable and sustainable by spreading the funds and powers to the regional level.

“The antidote to the problem of over-concentration of powers is non-concentration of powers, which is the sense of federalism. Federalism therefore, is for the benefit of regions, for the benefit of local government units,” Puno said.

Puno encouraged “those in the regions” to ask the “hard questions” about the unitary government and “dissect” to find out why it has failed in addressing the country’s problems.

“It’s time to put the unitary government on the cutting table to dissect it in order to know what is wrong about the system. The diagnosis will show that what is wrong with unitarianism is the over-concentration of powers in the national government,” Puno said.

Puno acknowledged that advocates of a unitary form of government argue that the national government can always decentralize powers and give them to local governments.

However, he described this as an “unfulfilled promise” that would probably remain unfulfilled.

“After more than a century, what powers have been decentralized to our local governments? Worse, they have devolved a few functions to our local governments without following them with necessary finances. The result is a tragedy,” Puno said, noting that responsibilities are also given without financial support.

“Why federalism? Let me be as straightforward with you. The unadorned submission that the move towards federalism is for you--for the benefit of our people in the regions, for the giving of genuine power to our local government,” he added.

Federalism, Puno stressed, gives the regions the power and financial resources enough to govern their constituents effectively since it “equalizes” conditions especially in regions where poverty reigns.

Earlier, ConCom spokesperson Ding Generoso spelled out the sources of revenues for the federated regions namely (1) the regions’ own collection of taxes and fees; (2) share of top revenue sources; (3) share from equalization fund; (4) additional funding through the General Appropriations Act; and (5) share of income from natural resources.

The equalization fund will be distributed based on the needs of each region, with priority to those that require support to achieve financial viability and economic sustainability as determined by the Federal Inter-governmental Commission (FIGC).

FIGC will be tasked to administer the equalization fund; assist the federated regions in attaining economic viability and sustainability; formulate programs and policies in regard to grants in aid and fund transfers to the federated regions; ascertain the effectiveness and efficiency of the fiscal administration and management of the regional governments; and assess sufficiency of regional governments in raising revenues; among others.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) MIMAROPA, meanwhile, said regions need more studies and time before a shift in a new system of government takes place.

NEDA Undersecretary Adoracion Navarro underscored the importance of a transition period that should consist of “phases” since not all regions are as ready to shift to federalism as others.

“Accompanying this shift to federalism should be proper and extensive studies on the requirement for such effort to be successful,” Navarro said.

“Such shift in government should not be rushed and we should allow sufficient time to prepare the economy,” she added. (PNA)