Press Release
August 4, 2016

Senate Centennial Lecture Series
Keynote Speech by
Hon. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III
Senate President

Recto Room, 2nd Floor, Senate of the Philippines

Good morning to all!

Allow me to begin by thanking Senate Secretary Lutz Barbo and Director Ronald Golding of the Senate Economic Planning Office for your kind invitation for me to speak today at the third installment of the Senate Centennial Lecture Series.

I am glad that you have invited me to speak about "Federalism" not only because it is the hottest issue in town nowadays but because at no other time in our history has this dream been closer to reality. President Rodrigo Duterte campaigned and won on a platform of federalism and we in PDP Laban have been advocates of federalism since our party was founded in 1982 by Sen. Nene Pimentel, among others. In fact, federalism has been part of our party's platform since its inception in the early 80s.

More importantly, the debate on the appropriate form of government for our country has been fought since the beginning of our Republic. As early as the 1890s, our national hero himself Jose P. Rizal advocated for a federal form of government for our country. In his seminal work, The Philippines A Century Hence, Rizal wrote that the country would probably adopt the "freest government" and he predicted that the "islands will probably declare themselves a federal republic."

While Rizal was a federalist, Andres Bonifacio, on the other hand, was a unitarian. Therefore, this debate is nothing new and the discussion on decentralization, devolution and local autonomy has been alive and well for more than a century.

So, let me begin my talk by discussing our experience with decentralization and how the adoption of the federal system of government maybe the next logical step for us to take after 25 years of devolution of certain central government powers to the local governments. I will also speak about the French system of government that our President has proposed for our country.

Briefly, our experience with decentralization or devolution has generally been positive. Since the Spanish colonial era up to the American Occupation and all the way to the years of our independence as a Republic in 1946 our system of governance had always been highly centralized or unitarian. All power belonged to "Imperial Manila." This system of government has stunted economic development and heightened tensions among the people in the impoverished areas of the country, particularly in the Moro dominated areas of Mindanao.

Then, in 1990 the landmark Local Government Code was introduced by Tatay, Sen Nene Pimentel, and was passed by Congress and made effective in 1991. Since then, certain powers of government like those that pertain to health, agriculture, and social welfare, and snippets of power over education, environment, tourism and to some extent, police had been devolved to and exercised by local governments.

Under the Local Government Code of 1991, local autonomy would now mean less reliance on the national government, including the "allotments" given by Imperial Manila, and increased reliance on internally-generated resources, or resources jointly generated with other institutions be they other LGUs or private institutions.

Before the adoption of the Local Government Code, the taxes of the nation and the revenues accruing to the government from natural resources like geothermal plants, gold, copper and iron mines, and timber had been monopolized by the central government. With the adoption of the Code, these were now mandated to be shared between the central government and the local government units.

Because of the devolution of certain central government powers to the local governments and the compulsory sharing of central government taxes and revenues derived from natural resources between the former and the latter, the local governments are now able to provide many of the basic services that they used to rely on the central government to deliver. Moreover, the Code gave LGUs the power to create their own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges, thus allowing them to become self-reliant communities.

Today, more and more roads are constructed or repaired by the local governments through their local engineering offices. More and more schools and teacher needs are provided by the local governments (through the local school boards). More and more health services are delivered by local governments (through the local health boards). More and more agriculture and social welfare services are delivered through locally organized agriculture and social services offices.

In a word, more and more socio-economic activities are now undertaken by local governments than ever before.

While some local governments failed to deliver on the promised development for one reason or another, nonetheless by and large there has been a huge leap in the delivery of basic services to our people since the devolution of certain powers, finances and resources from the central government to the local governments.

Having seen what devolution can accomplish, there is no turning back. In fact, local governments now want more. They want at least 50% of the taxes and revenues collected by the central government. They want more powers over the police, tourism, trade, and development issues in general. In fine, local governments want to raise the ante in the matter of power-tax-and-revenue sharing with the central government in order to spur more growth and development across the country. Notwithstanding what the Code was able to accomplish, much remains to be done. Our country is still mired in poverty and underdevelopment. A separatist rebellion is still raging in Mindanao and a communist insurgency lives on in the countryside. And more and more of our young people are flocking to foreign shores to earn a living because our economy has not grown enough to provide jobs for our growing labor force. While our GDP has grown considerably in the past 10 years, the rich just keeps getting richer and the vast majority of our people who are poor, even poorer.

Clearly, the highly centralized and unitary system that we have had for more than a century has resulted in an imbalance in the distribution of resources among LGUs. And most importantly, it has hampered the speedy development of most areas in our country, particularly those in the countryside. This has to change.

Nothing shows the yearning for change in this country more than the election of our first Mindanaoan President who lamented about the "erosion of the people's trust and confidence in government and its leaders" in his inaugural address to the nation.

The problem, we submit, is our highly centralized form of government and the solution, we submit, is the adoption of the federal system. We believe that the only way to bring about equitable development in our country is for the central government to share power - political and economic - with local governments across the nation.

Federalism is derived from the Latin word foedus meaning "covenant." A covenant signifies a partnership or marriage wherein individuals or groups consent to unite for common purposes without giving up their fundamental rights or identities, thus giving birth to a federal society.

A federal society is one which recognizes the diversity that exists among the people. Indeed, federalism is a form of government made necessary by certain diversities in society. For a diverse and multi-cultural country such as ours with 7,100 islands spread across our great archipelago, federalism provides a system wherein national unity is maintained while at the same time recognizing and protecting the diversity of Philippine society.

In federalism, sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units, like states or provinces. Each level of government usually has its particular jurisdiction; areas of public policy in which it alone has final authority, unless it decides to share it with the other. Simply put, federalism can be viewed as a system that accommodates both self rule of the constituent unit and shared rule at the federal level. While there is no single model of a federal system in the world, there are common attributes that characterize federal systems:

1. Distribution of powers between central and constituent units;

2. The participation of constituent units in central decision-making;

3. The constitutional autonomy of constituent units;

4. Accommodation of diversity;

5. Fiscal equalization; and

6. Intergovernmental instruments.

For me federalism rests on the principle that the smallest unit of government knows what is best for the needs of its constituents. Decisions should therefore be made by the local governments because they know best who need help and how to help them. Since the beginning of my career, I have always believed that greater autonomy must be granted to the far flung regions of our country that are neglected and left behind in economic development.

This is a vision I share with President Duterte who recognized that with federalism, the wishes and aspirations of the various groups, tribes, and peoples in Mindanao would be addressed.

Thus, aside from expanding the powers and increasing the resources and finances to local governments, the next logical, and perhaps the only peaceful, legal and constitutional avenue left open to those who wish to lay down the foundations for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, which will also speed up the economic development of the entire country, is for us to adopt a federal system of government.

May I, however, strongly emphasize that under a Federal system we will be one country. There will only be one constitution. One armed forces. One flag and anthem. One central bank. One monetary system. One foreign policy. And One public education system, among others. There will only be one federal republic with states and local governments under it.

My tatay, Sen. Nene Pimentel, has proposed 11 states under our Federal Republic and he has, in fact, already proposed a constitution for our new government. He will elaborate more about his proposal later.

In his SONA, the President proposed the French Model which is a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system while others have proposed the pure Parliamentary system of the United Kingdom and the Presidential-Federal system of the United States. There are also others who propose the Parliamentary-Federal systems of Canada and Germany, among others.

Since we are, more or less, somehow familiar with the US and British models since we have been exposed to these systems through the media, allow me to speak about the French system of government being proposed by the President.

Unlike the American political system and the British political system which essentially have existed in their current form for centuries, the current form of the French system is a much more recent construct dating from 1958 and today's Fifth Republic. The current system - which gives substantial power in the President - is a response to the political weaknesses of the pre-war Third Republic and post-war Fourth Republic. Following a political crisis over France's colonial war in Algeria, Charles de Gaulle took power under a new constitution which gave the President new executive powers; making the post uniquely powerful in European politics.

Under the French system, the head of state is the President and the head of government is the Prime Minister. The government under the leadership of the PM directs and decides the policies of the nation and is responsible or accountable to the French Parliament. As in other parliamentary systems, the French Parliament can dismiss the government with a motion of censure. But the similarities end there.

In the past, the President was a largely ceremonial and powerless position but the constitution of the current Fifth Republic greatly increased the President's powers. Consequently, the Presidency today is easily the most powerful position in the French political system.

His duties include heading the armed forces, appointment of the Prime Minister, power to dismiss or dissolve the National Assembly, chairing the Council of Ministers (equivalent to the Cabinet), appointing the members of the highest appellate court and the Constitutional Court, chairing the Higher Council of the Judiciary, negotiating all foreign treaties, and the power to call referenda, but all domestic decisions must be approved by the Prime Minister. The President also has a very limited form of suspensive veto.

The term of the President is five years and he can seek a second term and normally secures it, but two Presidents of the Fifth Republic have failed a re-election bid: Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Nicolas Sarkozy.

While he may just be the second highest official, the Prime Minister is nonetheless also powerful. The head of the government is the Prime Minister who is nominated by the majority party in the National Assembly and appointed by the President for an indefinite term. The Prime Minister recommends Ministers to the President, sets out Ministers' duties and responsibilities, and manages the daily affairs of government. He issues decrees and is responsible for national defense.

The Council of Ministers or the Cabinet is headed by the Prime Minister but chaired by the President. The total size of the ministerial team is typically 30-40. The members of the Council are called Ministers, while the junior ministers are known as Secretaries of State - the reverse of the nomenclature in the British political system.

In the French system, the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister is critical. It is not always the case that these two individuals come from the same political party and when they are of different political persuasion (as was the case in 1986, 1993 and 1997), the two figures must practice a process of 'cohabitation'.

France has a bicameral legislature. The lower house is called the National Assembly while upper house is called the Senate. The lower house has 577 seats representing single-member constituencies. The 2.5 million French people living abroad have the opportunity to vote in one of 11 constituencies grouping areas of the world together. Members serve five year terms.

Members of the National Assembly are directly elected in a two-stage voting system. A candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote in the first round is elected. However, if no candidate receives 50%, there is a second round which is a run-off between all those first round candidates who secured more than 12.5% of the votes in that first round. This is held one week later.

The National Assembly tends to specialise in scrutinising day-to-day government operations. In cases of disagreement with the Senate, the position of the National Assembly prevails.

The Senate, on the other hand, has a total of 348 seats: 323 representing mainland France, 13 representing French overseas territories, and 12 representing French nationals abroad. Many French Senators are also high-level local officials. The Senate has limited powers compared to the National Assembly. They tend to specialize in constitutional matters and foreign affairs including European integration.

Members of the Senate are indirectly elected by an electoral college of 88,000 made up of city councilors and local officials. Members serve a six-year term and one-half of seats come up for election every three years.

Just like us, France uses a civil legal system; that is, law arises primarily from written statutes; judges are not to make law, but merely to interpret it. The basic principles of the rule of law were laid down in the Napoleonic Code. The highest appellate court in France is called the Cour de Cassation and the six chief judges are appointed by the President. Unlike the supreme courts in other countries (such as the US), it does not have the power of judicial review.

The power of judicial review is vested in a separate Constitutional Court which is a unique creation of the Fifth Republic. The court consists of nine members: one appointment made by each of the President, the President of the Senate, and the President of the National Assembly every three years for a nine-year, non-renewable term. This contrasts with the US system where the President makes all appointments to the Supreme Court but then the appointments are for life.

Although there have been recent moves to decentralisation, France is still one of the most centralised major countries in Europe and the world. France is not a federal state. That is the French system. But what model do we pattern our proposal for the change in the form and system of government? I propose that we adopt the best features of the governments in Europe, North America, Australia and even Malaysia and adapt them to our needs. We should not also close your eyes to the newly emerging federations in South America and Africa. I am sure that their experiences will be a big help in crafting a federal government responsive to our needs.

Since under the federal system we will be empowering our local governments, we need provide them the needed resources to be able to fulfill their mandate. Towards this end, we propose to increase the revenue share of local governments to as high as 70-80% of all government revenue. This is consistent with our belief that local governments deserve a bigger share of government resources since they are in a better position to address the needs of their constituents. To address the reality that not all states have the same resources and financial standing, there shall be an equalization fund administered by the federal government which shall be made available to states states should they need assistance.

Thus, we must act now. There is no time to lose. If we want to speed up progress and economic development and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, we must go federal.

Towards this end President Duterte has tasked PDP Laban to take the lead in advocating for a federal system of government in our country. In compliance thereto, the party convened our leaders from across the country in a Conference on Federalism and Charter Change to consult them about moving forward in building a Federal Republic. We have also convened Study Groups composed of experts, scholars, and practitioners to help us craft our party position.

Federalism's complex nature demands careful study. Scholars contend that there is not one model in the world that fits all. Each country must discern its own version of federalism according to peculiar conditions of their societies. Therefore, it is important to learn from the experiences - whether good or bad - of existing federations.

We do not see federalism to be the cure-all to all our problems. In fact, there is no cure-all to all our nation's ill. Federalism is not a perfect system; but it may be the answer to the country's lingering problems rooted in our country's multi-cultural nature. Maybe it is time to recognize the Filipino identity as a "diversity of identities" and not one single monolithic artificial construct. I submit that it is the recognition of differences that make communities prepared to embrace a common identity with others.

In the end, federalism is not the only step after devolution but it is the next logical step, if the Philippines chooses to further decentralize. And since we should, the decision should be well-informed, well-thought of, and participatory. In the ultimate analysis, federalism is a covenant that is made by citizens, and ultimately the decision to federalize should reflect the will of the people who choose to unite amidst their diversity.

Thank you.

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