Federalism advocates face big obstacles


BAGUIO CITY — A policy consultant from the Ateneo School of Governance sees three major obstacles for federalism and charter change to advance.

ALTERNATIVE TO FEDERALISM. During a forum on federalism sponsored by the Hans
Seidel Foundation and Pimentel Institute of Leadership and Governance, Atty. Michael
Yusingco of the Ateneo School of Government floated the enactment of a Local Autonomy
Act that will strengthen federal character of the Constitution and Local Government Code. (Photo by Sherwin De Vera)

Speaking in a forum on charter change and legislative reform, Attorney Michael Yusingco said “charter change’s path has really big obstacles that probably cannot be overcome by the current administration.”

“The problem with charter change is Filipinos don’t like it. We all know that. That is reflected in the surveys of SWS and Pulse Asia of this year,” he said, noting the historical pattern the people rejected changing the Constitution.

But besides the Filipino’s rejection of the idea, Yusingco identified three major issues in the federalism push.

Big obstacles

The Ateneo professor said the patent disunity in the administration casts doubts on the practicality of shifting to federalism.

“If the proponents of federalism are not in the same page with the ‘road map’ towards a federal system how can you expect Filipinos to rally behind that proposal,” said the lawyer.

At least three members of the Duterte cabinet expressed their disapproval to shift to a federal government citing fiscal issues and the country’s readiness.

Yusingco also pointed out the toxic atmosphere of discourse affected the people’s proper understanding of the matter.

Among the three, he underscored Filipinos’ deep mistrust on members of Congress as key influence on the resistance against changing the Constitution.

“We cannot trust our lawmakers or at least most of our lawmaker [because] how can you expect them to institute reforms that will go against their interest,” he pointed.

He explained that while the Bayanihan Draft contains “a grand bargain of reforms” its provisions on political dynasty and turn-coatism are likely to be turned down by Congress.

“In fact they have put on the table their own draft with provisions against political dynasties and no term limits. If we cannot trust our lawmakers, how can we trust them of leading the process of changing the constitution,” he said.


The 1986 Constitution, according to Yusingco, already contains federalist provisions, particularly on local autonomy, citing provisions on fiscal independence and regional governance.

He said under the Constitution, LGUs enjoy fiscal autonomy with automatic share from the national revenue plus they can raise their own. Exploitation of natural resources in their localities also generates income.

They can also create regional governance framework for their efforts to consolidate for them to cooperate and coherent approach to development.

As such, Yusingco is proposing the enactment of a new local autonomy law that will replace the current local government and administrative codes.

“Forget about amending them, but rather replace them that will embody three federalism features,” he said.

The proposed legislation contains regional governance framework, clear designation of power between the different levels of local government and the national government, and mechanism for government partnerships.

However, he lamented the proposal “suffers the same trust deficit,” repeating his point that “if we cannot trust [Congress] on charter change how can we trust them for these reforms.”

An election issue

Yusingco, reminded the audience that charter change and federalism is an election issue.
He said the administration candidates will surely go on a federalism platform while the opposition will definitely rebuke the idea.

“We should ask the candidates which draft are they supporting, the Bayanihan Draft or the GMA draft. You should also ask those against for alternatives,” the lawyer said.

He said the answer can help voters identify if the candidates are truly for reforms or only wants to hold on to power.

The Pimentel Institute for Leadership and Governance, supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation organized the forum last October 24 at the Newtown Plaza Hotel in the city. # nordis.net