Confusion hounds federalism in public debates—Carter Center
A US-based election observer on Thursday noted the “great importance” of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s relationship with Congress, especially in pushing for his legislative agenda which includes a shift to a federal form of government.
In a statement on its “limited election observation mission in the Philippines,” the Carter Center said Duterte’s margin of victory in the May polls was “emphatic enough to provide a clear and legitimate outcome.”
“Despite the small representation in congress won by the party with which he is associated, it is already clear that a substantial legislative majority has been assembled as elected members have moved to associate themselves with the incoming administration,” the statement read.
“The President-elect has reiterated his intention to promote constitutional reform, leading to the establishment of a federal form of government, in the course of his six-year term of office, and has presented this as one of his three immediate priorities for the legislature,” it added.
But the center said political discourse on federalism has remained “limited” amid a “degree of confusion” with parliamentalism in public debates. “A discussion on the relative merits of presidentialism and parliamentarism may emerge alongside the federalism discussion, posing a range of issues separate and additional to the potential move from a unitary to a federal state,” it said.
The center noted that a number of questions needed to be addressed in the middle of the national discussion on federalism, including the division of responsibilities between the federal and the state government, the issue of where residual powers will lie, and the division of state budget.
“While federalism is often associated with central authorities undertaking lower proportions of total public spending, this is not always the case. The potential need for a financial equalization mechanism between richer and poorer federal states will need to be explored,” it said.
“A move toward federalism could also have implications for the judicial system – and for the structure and operation of constitutional bodies like COMELEC (Commission on Elections). It will, for example, be necessary to consider whether electoral administration should be a wholly federal function with lower-level offices in the states, or whether state-level electoral commissions with separate status and authority should be established,” the center added.
Carter Center also highlighted the “unclear” relationship between the federalism debate and the impending Bangsamoro Basic Law, which was intended to create a new autonomous entity in Muslim Mindanao.
“[Incoming House Speaker Pantaleon] Alvarez was quoted on May 19 as saying that federalism would render the pending BBL moot, indicating that it would be abandoned. He also expressed a belief that the BBL is unconstitutional, and that no BBL acceptable to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front could pass the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. The designated new presidential adviser on the peace process has insisted that there will be wide consultations on crafting a Bangsamoro peace roadmap,” it said.
Carter Center is a non-profit organization founded by former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Carter in 1992, which specializes in human rights, conflict resolution, election monitoring, and public health, among others. TVJ
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