[OPINION] Time now to focus on RegGov

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M, Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco
[OPINION] Time now to focus on RegGov
The ultimate reform objective we must have in mind is to establish a RegGov framework which can facilitate and maintain economic prosperity in the regions

On its face, the assertion that RevGov is necessary to facilitate the shift to a federal system of government seems like an attractive radical idea.  But the underlying contradiction really makes such a proposition comical.

It does not make sense at all for us to simply throw our country’s democratic and economic gains away by reverting to authoritarianism, such as RevGov. The real head-scratcher though, is mixing this insane notion with the serious business of federalization.

But given the anaemic public support the RevGov movement received last November 30, Filipinos can now properly wear our thinking hats and intently reflect on the more serious matter of RegGov or regional governance.

Both sides of the federalism debate wholeheartedly agree that the best way to break the domination of Imperial Manila over our nation’s economic development is to establish a robust RegGov framework.

Empowering the regions, both in fiscal and administrative terms, is an undeniable requisite to spur regional development. Designing the specific mechanics of RegGov however, is where this unanimity ends.

RegGov without Cha-Cha

There is merit to the proposal of simply improving the present RegGov framework as opposed to the federalism movement’s push for a complete overhaul of the entire system of government. The former does not require the revision of the 1987 Constitution, whereas undertaking Charter-Change (Cha-Cha) is necessary for the latter.

The fact is the current administrative organization of the regions means that there are already working institutional offices ready to carry out any new mandates. Doing this will be relatively easier and perfunctory because they already enjoy familiarity amongst communities within their respective territorial jurisdictions.

More importantly, historical data concerning demographics and other pertinent economic indicators within the regions are already on hand. Hence, to simply institute improvements covering fiscal distribution and administrative devolution would arguably be more practical and logical than a total re-design of the current RegGov framework.

It must be noted that implementing substantive RegGov reforms is sanctioned under Article X of the present charter. Either through legislation under Sections 3 and 13 or by executive fiat under Section 14.

Cha-Cha without RegGov

But there is credence as well with pushing for comprehensive improvements to be cemented in a new constitution. Moreover, some necessary reforms require constitutional amendment. For instance, the regulation of local dynasties.

Note however that the critical difference here is that the enhanced RegGov framework must be self-evident in the national charter itself. Meaning, the realization of meaningful regional autonomy must occur when the new constitution is ratified in the plebiscite.

'FOR THE MASSES'? In this file photo, pro-Duterte demonstrators gather in Mendiola, Manila on November 30, 2017 calling for the establishment of a revolutionary government. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

If an enabling law is needed to devolve powers and functions to the RegGov apparatus, then this is not really an improvement to the current structure. Case in point is the draft charter proposed by the PDP-Laban.

In their draft, the devolution of fiscal and political powers to the regional level government will only happen if the envisioned Federal Assembly enacts a Regional Local Government Code. Obviously, this merely copies the decentralization procedure found in the present charter.

Alarmingly, pending the passage of such a law, the country will be ruled by an even bigger and more complex Imperial Manila because executive authority will be shared by a still powerful President as the head of state and an equally influential Prime Minister as the head of government.

The closest to a proper RegGov framework is in the draft charter of former Senate President Nene Pimentel. Here he elevates the current administrative regions to the status of constituent states in the envisaged federal republic.

Notably, the grand old stateman would also say that the allocation of fiscal and political powers between the two levels of government in his draft can still be refined. But his trademark humility also indicates that a robust RegGov framework is still not automatically assured in the Cha-Cha process.

Two paths to RegGov

Filipinos must remember that the goal is to break the monopoly of Imperial Manila on economic policy decisions impacting the entire Philippines. Hence, the ultimate reform objective we must have in mind is to establish a RegGov framework which can facilitate and maintain economic prosperity in the regions.

There are two paths to attain this aspiration. One is through Cha-Cha whilst the other is through purposeful legislation only. As responsible citizens, it is incumbent upon all of us to delve deep into each of these options.

With regards to the federalism project, it is worthy to note that the House of Representatives is now in full Cha-Cha mode. The chairperson of this chamber’s committee on constitutional amendments, Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, anticipates this process to formally commence on January 2018.

Curiously, the Senate has not made any such commitment at all. Hence, as to whether Cha-Cha will really push through next year, remains to be seen. But understanding the mechanics of the constitutional revision process is still an absolute must for all Filipinos. We must not allow a “pre-ordained” draft charter to be forced on us like the 1973 Constitution was, and end up suffering under a constitutional dictatorship all over again.

On the other hand, the respective committees on local governments of the Senate and the House are presently focused on passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). This is fortuitous because the BBL is an example of a robust RegGov framework. Hence, the hearings to be conducted by these committees in the coming weeks can produce insights which can form the basis of legislation to improve the current decentralization structure.

Notably, the Senate committee, chaired by Senator Sonny Angara, is also in the midst of a comprehensive review of the Local Government Code of 1991. Therefore, there is already an active venue where the appropriate legislative reforms to improve the existing RegGov framework can be pursued.

It cannot be overemphasized enough that our ultimate task now is to determine which option will effectively diffuse the over-concentration of power and wealth in the National Capital Region.  There are practical considerations for sure. The political context will be a huge factor, no doubt. But there is no room for compromise. Neither can we afford to waste time with inanities such as RevGov.

For our sakes, and for the future generations of Filipinos, we must determine now which path will finally break the chokehold of Imperial Manila over the rest of the country. – Rappler.com

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