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DISCUSSIONS on Federalism took center stage during the recently concluded 21st National Press Congress of the Publishers Association of the Philippines, Inc. at the Development Academy of the Philippines in Tagaytay City. The media event had its theme focused on the subject.

It is now almost a certainty that we will shortly and eventually shift from our current Presidential system of government to Federalism. Despite this likelihood, however, most Filipinos remain ignorant about Federalism and their stakes and options under it.

Federalism is a form of government where sovereignty is shared constitutionally between a central governing authority and constituent political units called states or regions. The more known Federal government systems are those of the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, and Malaysia.

Under a Federal set up, there is a mixed government system that combines a central or ‘federal’ government with regional or state governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature is the power parity relationship between the central and state governments which enjoy equal status.

Under our existing Presidential system, we have a unitary government where most administrative powers and resources are with the national government. Presently, Malacañang decides how much to give local government units, a system that is admittedly prone to political abuse, with LGUs practically begging Malacañang for projects and resources they need.

Shifting to Federalism entails breaking up our unitary government system, redefining and consolidating existing regions and provinces and other LGUs within them into autonomous regions or states. The central government remains but largely emasculated of its “imperial powers.” It will focus mainly on concerns with national dimensions like defense, foreign policy and relations, etc.

The autonomous regions or states and their LGUs – provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays – will have primary responsibility over developing their industries, public safety, education, healthcare, transportation and related local concerns. The states will have more power over finance, development planning, and laws exclusive to their jurisdiction. On certain concerns as the new Federal Constitution will determine, the central government and states can exercise power sharing.

Advocates of both systems stress the positive merits of their choice. Let’s learn more about the comparative merits, strengths and weaknesses of the two systems and help come up with a Filipino hybrid model that will effectively address our development needs. (Johnny Dayang)