Autonomy limited in a unitary government
By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — “In many other countries regional autonomy granted in a unitary system of government did not work… If you want drastic change federalism is the answer not regional autonomy.”
Dr. J. Prospero De Vera III, vice president for Public affairs and professor of Public Administration of the University of the Philippines emphasized during the Cordillera Autonomy and Development forum held here in Baguio City last July 12. He was the guest speaker in the said event.
“We have to recognize the limits of autonomy under a unitary government,” De Vera stressed. He added that autonomy is not equivalent to freedom and will not answer all the problems of the region.
“Adopt a federal system if you want to do away with legal questions. In a federal system the central government can not interfere with the defined function of a federal state,” he stressed.
De Vera reiterated that there should be a balance between the commitment of the central government and political leaders in the autonomous region to make the autonomous government work. He further reiterated that the autonomy law should have specific provisions on how to ensure balance in the power and resources transfer from the central government to the autonomous region to make sure that the set up would work.
He stressed that if the autonomy law does not put mechanisms to ensure this balance the regional autonomy structure will just be another bureaucratic layer in the administrative structure that will benefit only the politicians.
He pointed out that in the experience of other countries autonomy failed because of the reluctance of the central government to devolve powers to the autonomous region. He explained that in an autonomous set up the inherent power of the central government is delegated to the region to exercise therefore the central government can still interfere or even take back these powers.
In the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) experience, he shared that political leaders took advantage of the powers devolved to them and to some extent was condoned by their counterparts in the national level because they benefited from the set up. He added that release of funding for projects in ARMM was still based on favoritism that the regional government finds ways and means to prioritize the projects in the provinces where they come from.
He also pointed out that without enough resources the autonomy set up will fail. He explained that the basis for the creation of an autonomous region is to correct the historical neglect and underdevelopment of the area therefore the region should be given a substantially higher additional budget to be able to cope with the more developed regions.
“If you do not have the resources for autonomy forget it. And the resources must be huge,” he reiterated.
He explained that the autonomy law should have specific provisions about resource generation and transfer to make sure that the autonomous region will get the funds that it will need. He added that there should also clear and specific provisions placed for power over the region’s resources.
He shared his experience with the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) of 1997 which he said failed because the national government did not give the funds needed for the implementation of the project. He disclosed that AFMA required a P20 million additional budget allocation over and above the regular agriculture budget but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reinterpreted the provision of the law. He said that the DBM’s interpretation was that the P20M budget allocation already includes the regular budget. “But in reality, the budget given to the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the implementation amounted to roughly around P12M to P13M,” he added.
De Vera suggested putting into the law an equalization fund to ensure that less developed provinces must be given more funds as opposed to the equal sharing proposed in the present version of the proposed autonomy law. He also said the law should have specific provisions to ensure fair fund appropriations mentioning the ARMM experience where regional leaders play favorites in allocating funds for projects.
“I hope that those drafting it (Cordillera Autonomy) should be more imaginative and creative in putting into law mechanisms to ensure that what happened in ARMM will not happen in the Cordillera,” he stressed.
De Vera also highlighted the need to make sure that the autonomy law would work before passing it. He added that this can only be achieved if the law is well crafted. He clarified that while there is no existing blue print for a successful autonomy, the ARMM experience has many lessons that can be very helpful in the crafting of a better law. # nordis.net