Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel weighs in on potential change
While it cannot be denied that the Philippines has consistently remained to be the “chic man of Asia” in recent years due to a thriving economy, a robust stock market, and steady GDP growth, much more could still be achieved if the country adapts federalism as its system of government.
For decades now, budgetary allotments, decision-making and political influence has remained transfixed in the National Capital Region, or specifically Manila, thus causing over-centralization of power and resources up north while the rest of the country receives scant attention from the national budget.
“This highly centralized unitary form of government has caused an imbalance of economic resources in the Philippines, resulting in the formation of rebel groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front,” declared former Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel.
Under his version of federalism, the cities and provinces will remit only 20 percent of their Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) income to the executive department while retaining 80 percent for their own usage.
The usual practice is the remittance of 60 percent of their BIR taxes to the national treasury while retaining only 40 percent to be divided still within the region.
Pimentel recommended the setting up of an Equalization Fund for the poorer provinces to ensure they receive a bigger allotment. Strict accounting procedures will be in place to ensure proper disbursement and usage of funds.
“There will also be the creation of a Loan Commission that will monitor loans and grants. This will be composed of representatives from the federal government and the federal state. One fourth of the members will come from qualified non-government organizations,” he said.
Pimentel added that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is equipped only with supervisory powers, and not control, over the local government units in behalf of the president.
Police powers remain under the mayor, he said, while calling for a more vigorous citizenry
to check and report possible abuses for a more active check-and-balance system.
This also covers the broadening of the powers of the people subject to certain acts of the executive, legislative, or the judiciary to plebiscites, referenda, or initiatives.
A staunch federalism advocate for decades, Pimentel proposed a federal system with the presidential form of government where the president and vice president are elected as a team for six years without re-election.
The country would then be divided into 12 different states distributed all over Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
“Each federal state would have its own governor and vice governor whose jurisdiction covers all the cities and provinces in their territory. If needed be, each province may still retain their own governor and vice governor to serve as a conduit to the state governor,” he declared.
Regarding the seats of power, he proposed that the federal executive department will hold office in the federal administrative region of Metro Manila.
The Federal State of Central Visayas would host the federal legislature while the Federal State of Northeastern Mindanao would host the Federal Supreme Court and the constitutional court.
On the judiciary, he proposed that the Supreme Court, constitutional court divisions, and the Sandiganbayan divisions be located in suitable places all over Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The Intermediate Court of Appeals divisions will be permanently assigned in every state.
“We also have deadlines for court decisions. The Supreme Court will have two years from the filing date. The Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan and other appellate courts have 1.8 months from the date of filing,” he revealed.
He hastened to add that his plans are only general proposals that can be defined as doable and not to be implemented as is. He clarified that he is open to modifications and alterations in accordance to the needs and specifications of the region concerned.
When asked on how to go about a constitutional convention in order to set the groundwork for federalism, he recommended three steps to jump-start the situation.
“Get organized and stir up some activity so Cebu will be noticed. Work with the media since this is the easiest way to inform the people and the government officials. And grab the attention of President-elect Duterte so Cebu can serve as the trailblazer for the rest of the country to see and follow,” he concluded.
By RICHARD RAMOS