Will the Philippines be better off under a federal government?
By Paolo Taruc, CNN Philippines
Updated 15:19 PM PHT Wed, May 18, 2016
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The national budget offers a perspective on the expected debate on whether the country will progress faster under a federal form of government, which is one of the main political goals of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte.
This year, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocated approximately P428.5 billion to the National Capital Region (NCR), excluding expenses for Congress and the Offices of the President and the Vice President. Metro Manila alone will account for 14.27 percent of the country's P3 trillion-2016 budget.
The amount is significantly greater than what other regions receive: The NCR's P428.5 billion is about eight times larger than Caraga's P53.5 billion. The latter, comprising five provinces in northeastern Mindanao, has the smallest budget allocation among all regions.
Next to the NCR, Region IV-A falls a distant second with approximately P141.5 billion. Metro Manila's budget is a little over three times that amount.
The chicken or the egg?
It's not surprising that federalism has constantly been a hot-button issue in view of the seemingly unequal allocation of resources between what critics call “imperial Manila” and the rest of the country.
It's a debate akin to the chicken and egg dilemma: Does Metro Manila's economic powerhouse status justify its large share of the national budget? Or is it an economic powerhouse precisely because of the amount of funds it receives in the first place?
Those who believe that the region is shouldering the country's economy have some numbers to back them up.
Figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) published on July 2015 show that Metro Manila had the largest contribution to the country's 2014 gross domestic product (GDP), accounting for a 36.3 percent share.
Likewise, NCR's per capita gross regional domestic product (GRDP) during that same year stood at P203,132 — nearly three times the national average (P71,726).
Although the government currently maintains a unitary structure, it still allows the devolution of power through the Local Government Code of 1991.
The code is "considered the most radical and far reaching policy that addressed the decades-old problem of a highly centralized politico-administrative system with most significant political and administrative decisions concentrated in Manila."
U.P. Public Administration and Governance Prof. Alex Brillantes, and Donna Moscare, made that assessment in a paper they presented at the International Conference of the East West Center, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2002.
Brillantes and Moscare said under the code, it is the responsibility of local governments to deliver basic services and exercise authority over local issues. These include, among others, hospital services, tourism promotion, the enforcement of environmental laws, and the inspection of food products.
There have also been movements for greater autonomy, such as the proposed creation of a Bangsamoro region to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Under the original Bangsamoro Basic Law proposed by President Benigno Aquino III, only 25 percent of taxes from the region will go to the national government. The remaining 75 percent will go directly the region.
Proponents of federalism point to a need for a more efficient government.
Among them are Jose Abueva, former president of the University of the Philippines, whosaid: "Decentralized governance is also related to the principle of subsidiarity: Problems should be attended to at the lowest level in which they can be solved, by the people directly concerned, without elevating the problems for decision at higher levels."
"With more power, authority and resources managed by the leaders in the States and their local governments which will be more visible and accessible to the people all over the country, the people will be more aware of the importance of electing good leaders."
Brillantes and Moscare argued that federalism will complement the country's diversity: "The federal structure devises a flexible arrangement for varying forms of self-government to suit different circumstances and contingencies."
"After World War 2, India, Malaysia, and Nigeria used the federal mechanism to settle ethnic diversity. Pakistan also used the federal design to manage ethno-national diversity after it emerged as an independent state," they added.