Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Federalism--the Logical Fiddlesticks of Big Government Fantasists

JOSE ABUEVA, talking to Manolo Quezon on The Explainer (ANC), repeats the mantra of justification for the idea of Philippine Federalism--that it will bring government closer to the people. It was his answer to virtually every question raised by the audience ("Will it reduce corruption? Will it promote economic development? Will it make government more efficient? Will it make popularity less important a factor in electability of public officials?").

Yet the hypothesis that a federal system will bring government closer to the people is apparently controverted by an obvious architectural fact about Federalism--that it will necessarily and unavoidably lead to a vast expansion in the levels, agencies and personnel involved in government. Under the 11-state vision of a Federal Republic of the Philippines sponsored by Nene Pimentel and the Senate, for example, it is inconceivable to me that we shall end up with a smaller government if it is adopted. On the contrary, who can honestly argue that we won't end up with eleven times the government we have now. "Devolution" under the federalist fantasy is just a deceptive buzzword for multiplication as every new federal state acquires those organizational accoutrements that now litter the present Republic's government. It's all a matter of the Filipino politicians psychology, their obsession for plantilla and org charts.

Abueva himself confirms my fear and suspicion of what a disaster this will actually lead to when he mentions the effects of devolving "education" to those eleven (or whatever number) of newly enfranchised government homunculi--the adoption of multiple languages of instruction as a way of "showing respect" for local cultures. I think it will be irresistable for State Chief Executives and their political leaders not to engage in such linguistic jingoism and thus accelerate the complete Balkanization of the country.

At bottom, I think of persistent attempts to perform such radical reconfigurations of the country's Constitutional makeup as the desire of a certain people to imitate or acquire the God-like powers and actions of our former colonial masters--to found the nation in their own image and conception--rather than to engage in harder more mundane task of actually building it!

I'm for reforming the Constitution in small, concrete ways that address it's many flaws in small digestible and perhaps largely reversible steps. The Federalism proposal however strikes me as the logical fiddlesticks of Big Government fantasists like Abueva and Pimentel.

On Pia Hontiveros' show, Nene Pimentel reveals perhaps the most objectionable feature of his proposal: there will be a right to secede (by a two thirds vote of a State's population with Congressional approval). I think this is a completely hare-brained idea (and please don't bring up Canada!)



Re: "Yet the hypothesis that a federal system will bring government closer to the people is apparently controverted by an obvious architectural fact about Federalism--that it will necessarily and unavoidably lead to a vast expansion in the levels, agencies and personnel involved in government."

Agree with you there Dean!

I have a suspicion that Sen Pimentel got the idea of a federal form of govt from the Belgians. I understand he has a Belgian son in law.

Belgium which has a 10 million population could barely make do with their federal form of govt. The reason? Like Filipinos, Belgians have very little discipline, if not for EEUROPE, i.e., Brussels capital of the European Union, I doubt Belgium will know the prosperity it enjoys today.

Did you know that a Belgian member of parliament gets to speak an average of 9 minutes a year in Parliamnet(in service of his consttuents)?

I wrote a post about this a couple of years ago but can't find it. It contains some statistics on the cost of layers and layers of bureaucracy in govt to make it work.

Also, remember Belgium speaks only two languages officially -- what about the Philippines? Unless of course there is a move to make all federal govts' documents officially in English (both as spoken and written medium in all govt political and commercial transactions internally and vis a vis other federal govts in the country)...

If Sen Pimentel's (and not so long ago, Joe de V's) idea of federal form of govt came from Belgium, forget it -- the Belgians are not exactly the most wonderful or most efficient source of political ideas. They are just as bad as the Philippines!!!!


OK, here is a letter of mine that was published by the Daily Tribune after Joe de V's visit to Brussels in Dec 2005 vaunting the merits of federalism à la Belge:

On the federal form of government and the logistics required or how to make it not work!

On Consultative Commission findings


Dear Editor:

On the federal form of government and the logistics required or how to make it not work!

Speaker Jose de Venecia came to Belgium in December last year as a guest of the federal government of the Kingdom of Belgium and from what I gathered from members of his entourage then, JdV was so overwhelmed by the success of this form of government in Belgium, he was just simply ecstatic. He was one of those invited from Asia because JdV was known to be a die-hard proponent of the federal form of government.

To me, JdV is out of his depth on the issue.

Let’s take the case of Belgium, which he spoke very, very highly of in several press and other political sorties.

First of all, Belgium has only about 10 million people and it somehow works because lots and lots and lots of money are poured in by the presence of European institutions and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member-governments which help a great deal with the financing of Belgian federal institutions (25 percent of the overall population of Belgium, by the way are European Union expats!). Second, Belgium was already practically divided into two distinct “forms” of governments long ago — Flemmish and Wallonian — so that with or without a federal form of government, it would have somehow worked; officializing it as a federal form of government merely formalized the system.

JdV must not think that Belgium is a good example of a federalist state of government — I believe, Belgium is one of the “worst” examples of a federalized state.

The cost of that extra layer in terms not only of money but also logistics will be horrendous. And even then, there is no guarantee that this type of government will succeed for the Philippines because of the omnipresence of a political culture inherent in the Philippines today (political dynasties and others).

Moreover, to transform this existing form of government into a federal form will require extraordinary discipline and sacrifices and EDUCATION. It is not the right time to do it. One needs a certain measure of stability to be able to enforce such measure or government structural change.

To give you an idea of what federalism has done to Belgium after 25 years (these are official statistics):

• One out of five Belgians is a civil servant, in other words, out of an active working population of 4,500,000, there are 900,000 civil servants or 20 percent of the active work force that are paid directly by taxpayers’ money. If you follow that kind of statistic as a model for RP, given its current population (but taking only into account the DECLARED, active working population), then a federal set-up of government for the Philippines would require 17 million Filipino civil servants to be paid by taxpayers’ money!

• The Belgian government counts 58 ministries (or departments equivalent to RP’s government departments of whatever) and has 534 members in national parliament alone tasked to manage the interests and requirements of a federalized nation populated by only 10,400,000 people. (There are more MPs in Belgium than in France where the population is six times that of Belgium.)

We must not forget that this sort of government structure requires astronomical cash outlays to make the system work. Does the Philippines have the financial capability to support the structural change? I doubt it!

In this type of configuration, can you imagine translating the amount of time a member of national parlimanent is alloted to speak in parliament for his constituencies? ONLY NINE minutes in total per calendar YEAR!

• Then, if you go down to the next layer — the federal layer — you will find hundreds of other federal parliamentarians doing the same tedious work some kind of redundancy work, thus requiring more money, more time, more of everything, etc. (As you know, because of the added bureaucracy, it takes between 18 and 24 months to get a building permit to build a 25 sq. m. annex to a tiny town house in Brussels, one from Brussels City Hall through the commune, another one from the Brussels-Wallon State federal government then to cap it all, one must receive the OK from one or two national ministries, etc., eeeeeeek!)

• Because of the cost required to maintain and run the current system, EACH Belgian citizen has a standing current debt of 26,000 Euros (or roughly US$45,000) or a cumulative OUTSTANDING public debt of 276 BILLION EUROS.

Belgium’s current debt will cost the state 34,025,000 Euros PER DAY to service debt interest payments alone this year.

By illustrating Belgium’s predicament today, I wish to point out that even in so-called developed countries, federalism does not always work — what more when a nation is not ready for it.

I am not saying a federal system of government is bad — it works very well when a nation has a stable political set-up to support it as in the case of France, Germany, Switzerland, etc. But to transform RP’s current system of government requires more than just lip service — the population MUST BE EDUCATED, MUST BE PREPARED on top of which, the country essentially must already have a kind of financial and political stability — two ingredients that are lacking in the current Philippine set-up.

JdV and his pals in Congress must forget the federal form of government for the moment. Instead, JdV and his pals should tackle the political and financial imbroglio in which the Philippines finds itself first — then, when a certain form of stability is achieved and the population has been reasonably educated, only then should he and his pals begin to legally address the issue.

Anna de Brux

DJB Rizalist said...

Brilliant letter Anna. I learnt a lot.

MLQ3 said...

actually the secession provision is worse than what you point out. aside from it legitimizing secession, it makes it virtually impossible -requiring a congressional ratification. which no congress would ever give. so it gaurantees the right to secede and have the secession vetoed -in other words, a blank check for civil war.

as it is, the attraction of the proposal is for people frustrated over having lost in btheir bid for the senate, and a cheap bid to dangle an extra term for congressmen. and plenty for everyone already in politics, as a new layer will be created.

had the proposals actually contemplated merging existing provinces into larger states, it would be more interesting.

but still, better to discuss this thoroughly rather thanb allow congress to claim this is the magic moment.

Equalizer said...

Where is Yugoslavia now?Chopped into seven states that declared their respective"independences":
-Bosnia and Herzegovina

I guess these old politicians are dreaming of becoming "premiers" in their little states(PM Pimentel in Mindanao,PM Enrile in Northern Luzon).

Their Senate staff must be dreaming of the flag designs for their little states.

Only in the Philippines...


Concur with Mlq3.

Because of the nature of federalism, there is that permanent underlying threat of secession.

As an anecdote: Until recently (a couple of months ago), Belgium was plagued by serious recession threats, Flamand provinces or Flemish-speaking provinces had threatened to secede to form an independent state (what an absurd idea -- Belgians are sometimes ridiculously childish) and as you know there was no government in place for almost a year. Political bickerings almost broke up Beligum. That was how serious it was!

Thankfully, Belgium -- and the Belgians -- operated even without a government in place but I surmise that was more thanks to the prevailing laws in the country that are encoded in the Napoleonic Code!

Equalizer said...

I forgot to include the 7th state that came from Yugoslavia:Macedonia

manuelbuencamino said...

Let's just improve and fine tune the Local Autonomy Law. Federalism is going overboard. Anyway, if we fix the distribution of tax revenues (provinces get their share automatically), provinces and regional development councils will have the wherewithal to act as virtual federal states because Manila's political overlordship stands on its dole out power.

manuelbuencamino said...

I don't think we should frame the federalism debate in terms of big govt versus small govt.

People want GOOD government. Size is secondary.

For example - less regulation means less regulators and smaller government but then you look at the latest financial fiasco in the US and you think maybe more regulations and more enforcers could have prevented it. Same thing with cops and bringing down crime etc.

So for every argument against big government there is a case for it. Likewise for small government.

Better we concentrate on looking for the right and specific tools to fix the problem rather than get caught up in an ideological debate over big government versus small government,.

Dave said...

There are but two forms of governmental structure known to man. Federal and unitary. In the former, the components create the central government, in the latter they are created by said central government.

Secession: If one wishes to have a federal UNION----not just federal---ISM, provisions must be made for secession. To endure, any such union must be on a continuing basis of mutual consent. As mutual consent is not always possible, means of secession and readmission must be clearly stated.
Failure to address this is what doomed the American Federal Union by 1861.

So as much as I like secession, I would forbid it until a functioning federal system is up and running and of proven durability.

As to the general principle of federal vs unitary: I say that H Sapiens is now entering a period of time in which logistics mandate federalism for anything larger than a city state. Federalize or perish, say I.

As to the Philippines: I have long held that the worst thing the American Colonial Administration did was to impose a unitary system in a place where geography alone
mandates federalism. If somebody could persuade me to act as Philippine Dictator for say a decade, you would have federalism, like it or not!

For the latest example of de faco federalism: see General Petraeus.
He has cobbled together a federal Iraq and if these deals can be maintained, we have a victory.

As to the material considerations/objections to federalism: hammer these out in the structure of things, do not let them serve as excuse for inaction.

I agree that the Belgian model is a bit inappropriate. But I think I know one that is the other way. We call it Texas.

And independent Republic with diplomatic recognition from 1836 to 1845, Texas does not have the problem of the central government in Washington owning all the land.
In addition, state government while formally unitary also makes numerous delegations of authority to cities and counties and these delegations are irrevocable in the abscence of a constitutional amendment.

We of the Lone Star will be happy to show you the way, soon as you pay the freight.

(Wow!) Did I say all that?

mesiamd said...

I wish all you guys are correct in prescribing the kind of government we must have. I hope it's not something taken from a whim, a warped parallel of governments, an experiment which needs validation, a political fancy...

Look at what the cognoscentis prescribed for our language, our healthcare, our education. Nothing seems to work for we neglected corruption and we falter on heroism as well.

Anonymous said...

Am excited by the idea of seccession. Am moving to Mindanao if this happens. This will give the land of promise is long overdue growth. Bye-bye Luzon.

ricelander said...

Pimentel shall be remembered for holding the microphone for GMA and for presiding the fragmentation of this country. He can't be President of the Philippines, then why not of Mindanao.

blackshama said...

How can you have a federal system when the would be states have different levels of development? Some would be states are not viable at all.

Let's say Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz, Antique and Guimaras become the State of Panay. These provinces can't even get their act together to develop the whole island. (like where to site the new international airport) Besides Iloilo is most developed and so got the airport.

I can't even imagine a State of Cebu! Cebu is viable but forever be hostage to a lack of water and a degraded island environment. It would buy water from the nearby State of Bohol, which can easily turn on the tap!

With the different levels of development some of the less developed provinces would become Federal Territories. Their laws will be subject to veto by Congress and the Federal President. What would provinces like Romblon think of that? Romblon citizens are complaining that the new International airport planned for Carabao Island will benefit Aklan (Boracay) and not them!

The States will have to agree to accept a new state.

Australia is an example. Then PM John Howard had a referendum to make the Northern Territory a State but the rest of Australia wasn't amused.

As for secession, there should be no legal way for a State to leave the federation once it signs up. New Zealand acted wisely and decided at the onset not to join Australia!

Scenario: If there is a way for secession the State of Cebu will declare itself independent and Bohol could cut off the water!

I can't resist. I have to bring up Canada and Quebec when we talk about the possibility of a Cebuano secession. LOL!

The Nashman said...

Pimental probably has ambitions to become a so-called 'founding father' hence this. It's the only way to immortalise oneself in the history books...

Tongue's Wrath said...

Federations are built by a communion of former sovereign, politically independent, and economically stable states in order to share the resources of the union. What one lacks, the others will provide.

In our case, we are into reverse engineering the long, tedious process that usually started with conflicts and wars. Wars, then collaboration, then unity.

The prescription for Philippine Federalism will take exactly the same route, but in a backward direction: Unity, then, collaboration, then war.

Tongue's Wrath said...

Wasn't it in 1991, right after the dissolution of the Soviet Union that the former Soviet states faced the most difficult times in their history, like when Muscovites had to form long queues for their daily supply of bread whish stocks the other states used to "share"?

In the global picture, wasn't it during that point Pentagon was scared stiff since it no longer had clout with the nuclear regulators the USSR once controlled after Moscow likewise lost control of the bigger arsenal stockpiled in Ukraine?

Have the federalism proponents even thought of the dangers of similar "post-Balakanization" scenarios? I don't think so.

ricelander said...

"Have the federalism proponents even thought of the dangers of similar "post-Balakanization" scenarios? I don't think so."

Tongue, they're excited of becoming state premiers or whatever high-sounding title they would think of.

admu said...

I think majority of the ones against Federalism are those in Manila. And they have good reasons for it. (Of course, I got this from SWS, who undoubtedly use majority of their respondents from Manila residents).

One thing is, we have a HUGE population. Good if we were like Japan where communication and travelling is very convenient but ours is far different. Aside from that, we have over a hundred ethnoliguistic groups. And to think that the head of government (the ones who control the country) are in Manila (and to be there, you have to learn the language). Federalism is a way to actually put MORE representation, and NOT to put more governing areas. I myself am from the South and I find it a nuisance that every politic move that decides this country is located in that 800sqkm piece of land. Come to think of it, in a Unitary system, we place a huge percentage to the national budget, and who gets most of the share? MANILA (it's evident in the numerous infras).

Another is, if you've read from World Bank, that the two keys to development are (1) Globalization and (2) Localization. And in Localization, Federalism. Let's admit it...look at how our cities improved AFTER the Local Government Code of 1991...didn't majority of them improve? (e.g. Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Clark). This was because the local government units were given more power.

Next, having local languages taught is an EXCELLENT idea! Look at Baguio. Some time ago, the dominant language was Ilokano. Yet years of tourists coming and the lack of Ilokano training have converted their lengua franca to Tagalog. Tagalog, imo, IS A FOREIGN language as it is NOT our mother tongue. That's why if you're in Cebu, Tagalog is very not that welcomed because their is injustice in the levels of importance. Anyway, what's the point of teaching Tagalog? Isn't it to have a uniting language? Then just teach the basics! Then have a more comprehensive teaching on vernacular as it is more important (that's kind of good news to Tagalogs).

Lastly, a secession? HA! Even though the Visayan governors threatened establishing a republic just a few years ago, it wouldn't be real as everyone still considers themselves Filipino.