House to designate 12 deputy speakers for federalism dry run
(The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - To practice the federal system of government, the House of Representatives will implement a dry run by designating 12 deputy speakers representing the regions of the country.

House Majority Leader Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said this is in line with President Duterte’s concept of federalism, where provinces and regions may be lumped together and/or subdivided into federal states for purposes of fiscal autonomy.

“Since the Duterte administration is into federalism, we looked at the possible creation of the states, our federal states and they (his House colleagues) came up with 12,” Fariñas told reporters.

“This will also be a trial balloon to see how we can work with it,” he said.

Fariñas was referring to the caucus held Tuesday by members of the super majority coalition under the ruling PDP-Laban party led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

Currently, there are five deputy speakers – Raneo Abu of Batangas, Romero Quimbo of Marikina, Eric Singson of Ilocos Sur, Fredenil Castro of Capiz and Mercedez Alvarez of Negros Occidental.

A deputy speaker for the party-list groups may also be in the offing.

Traditionally and by practice, the House leadership designates a total of six deputy speakers – with two each representing archipelagic islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and this has always been the maximum number.

“So, perhaps we could try if it is viable here in the House to divide ourselves into 12 states and then politically we can assess the grouping and everything, for a more efficient harnessing and coordination of members,” Fariñas explained.

To start with, there can be one from northern Luzon, comprising the Regions 1, 2 and 3; one from Central Luzon; one from Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog, Bicol region; three from the Visayas (eastern, central and western) and three or four from Mindanao (northern, southern, central).

There have also been proposals to include the Bangsamoro, Tausugs and others in Mindanao.

The most “problematic areas,” according to Fariñas, are those that are geographically aligned with Luzon but can be lumped together with either the Visayas or Mindanao – such as Palawan, the provinces of Mindoro and Marinduque.

There will be efforts to “re-group” what provinces or islands should be banded together so that the poor local government units will not suffer, especially since richer LGUs can always thrive even with little support from the national government.

“We will no longer abide by the political boundaries because the apprehensions of many people were some LGUs may not survive, or those states may not survive. So you have to regroup them in such a way that there will be rich and poor states,” Fariñas explained.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, however, stressed the need to strengthen local government units (LGUs) before shifting the country to the federal system.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the federal system of government is not a cure all to the problems of the nation.

He said federalism is “not the only step after devolution, but it is the next logical step if the Philippines chooses to further decentralize.”

Pimentel emphasized the need to further decentralize power from the national government down to the local government level in order to address many of the problems faced by the countryside.

“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,” he said.

The first step in decentralization was taken in 1990 when the Local Government Code was passed and certain powers of the national government were devolved to the LGUs.

“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,” he said.

Pimentel explained federalism is based on the principle that the smallest unit of government knows what is best for the needs of its constituents.

Atienza, for his part, said the government should strengthen the implementation of local autonomy to allow provinces, cities, towns and barangays to grow before transforming and grouping them into independent federal states.

“No president has ever implemented the full intentions of the present Constitution on local autonomy. This is why LGUs have been left wanting in development and continue to practically beg for funds, even though the Constitution already provides for it,” he said.

Atienza said local autonomy “guarantees self-rule, self-governance and independence for local government units.”  – With Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz

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