Unpacking the federalism gambit: What's in it for citizens?

Malou Mangahas, Crystal Joy de la Rosa, Justin Oliver Fiestada, Steffi Mari Sanchez, and the PCIJ Data Team

Posted at Jul 10 2018 04:50 PM | Updated as of Jul 10 2018 05:27 PM

A Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) Primer: The state of the regions by stats 

IF FEDERALISM is the answer, what is the question?

If federalism is the solution, what is the problem?

Indeed, where are the people in the debate and what motives or reasons drive the pitch to shift? And what good, bad, and ugly tidings does federalism signal? 

For the last two years, President Rodrigo R. Duterte and his political allies have mounted a fevered sales pitch to amend the 1987 Constitution and shift to a federal system of government. 

But until last week, they did so absent a single consensus draft on how exactly they want to revise which Charter provisions for what reasons, and for how long and how much. 

The system, they say, has neglected the poor regions and needs fixing. But the irony is they ask people to buy into federalism by dangling more of the same fix-it treats of old-style politics -- more money for the regions and more power or extended tenure for barangay and local politicians.

Absent are specifics on how the project would affect citizens and civil servants, how they would reconfigure the civil service and bureaucracy, how much the transition would cost, and how exactly it could stem greed or corruption or electoral violence among the political clans from whose ranks will come the senators and congressmen who will likely cast the vote, in a Constituent Assembly, to make the shift to federalism.

This is even as Ronald Holmes, political science professor at De La Salle University and president of the creditable pollster Pulse Asia Research, Inc., notes that "there is no clamor, the surveys are not showing any clamor" for federalism. In fact, a series of PulseAsia surveys since 2016 has shown that a big majority of Filipinos do not like Charter change, much less federalism.

Status quo ante

For this primer for citizens on the proposed shift to a federal system of government, PCIJ curated, sorted, and analyzed official data and statistics that define the regions: land area, population, poverty incidence, revenue and internal revenue allotment shares, voter statistics, and the preponderance of political clans in the last five elections. 

It aims to assist, beyond the confused political discourse on the still tentative text of the proposed draft charter, a review by citizens and civil-society organizations of the data that present a status quo ante picture of the state of the regions.

In brief, the data show that in the current system of government, as possibly in the proposed new system, there are winners and losers, and regions with systemic big and small competitive advantages and disadvantages that a mere redraw of the Constitution would not address.

'Clandestine-y project'

The proponents of federalism, notably a few academics and a lot of politicians, say it is a redistribution strategy or a mechanism for sharing public funds and resources among the revenue-rich and revenue-poor regions of the country.

But the academics themselves are also the first to admit that politicians mostly aligned with the administration have hijacked the idea and turned it into "a political project" to stay in power, to compete for regional lordship, or even to secure term extension. 

Escalated political rivalry and electoral violence among political clans could be one of its "unintended consequences," says De La Salle University political science professor Dr. Julio Teehankee, who is also a ConCom member.

"A clandestine-y project" is how the pitch to turn federal strikes academic and PulseAsia head Holmes.

Holmes worries that federalism could just consolidate the hold on political power of more of the same political overlords. As he sees it, it is unlikely for federalism to change "the nature of competition among the clans, and what could happen is you will just create new patrons."

"Right now, the primary patron in Philippine politics is the president,” notes Holmes. “He has control over the budget, when to release. He could withhold releases." But, he argues, "you will be creating semipatrons at the subnational level under federalism, who may have more monies than they have now."

"The new pot is not just the presidency, but the federal states' premier post,” says Holmes. “The clans would compete on even keel, or would they kill each other?" 

The irony is that the proposal is not even one welcomed by the public. The latest PulseAsia survey conducted on March 23-28, 2018 with results released last May showed that a majority or 64 percent of 1,200 adult respondents do not favor changing or amending the 1987 Constitution, and slightly more or 66 percent do not favor the shift to federalism. 

Only 27 percent say they favor Charter change, while the balance of six percent remain ambivalent or undecided. 

Information deficit

Yet even more worrisome, Holmes adds, three of every four Filipinos or 75 percent say that they have "little/almost none/no knowledge" of the 1987 Constitution. Too, a big majority or 71 percent knew "little/almost none/nothing at all" about the proposed federal system of government.

Until last week, the proponents themselves had no consensus on the big issues. How many regional federal states should be created, for instance? According to the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan or PDP-Laban party of President Duterte, "11 + 1.” 

Last week, the 22-member Consultative Committee (ConCom) on Charter Change signed on to “17+1" regional federal states. Yet their draft charter's text reworded this later to "16+2" (to account for 16 Federated Regions and the "asymmetrical" federal regions of Bangsa Moro and the Cordillera Administrative Region).

The 114-page draft charter, in fact, does not list as yet the 16 Federated Regions. That list, ConCom members told PCIJ, should show up in what is called "Ordinance 1" that the draft refers to -- an annex document that presents the 16 regions and their respective constituent provinces and cities. 

Meanwhile, the draft refers also to "Ordinance 2," a document that has yet to be disclosed to the public. According to ConCom members, it spells out the "alternative" for the Bangsa Moro Region, in the event the Congress fails to pass a Bangsa Moro Basic Law that would pass approval of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

But then the shift’s proponents remain unsure as well about how to do it. Only three modes of changing or amending the Charter are allowed in the 1987 Constitution: via the Senate and the House of Representatives sitting as the ConAss (Constituent Assembly); via a Constitutional Convention to be composed of elected representatives; or via "People's Initiative" or direct action of citizens. 

Yet, despite the absence of a public clamor or consensus on the major issues, the proponents led by the President Duterte himself and his PDP-Laban partymates have been insistent in selling and pushing federalism with different frames or cuts. 

P100-M info drive

In his first state of the nation address in July 2016, Duterte had even designated the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to serve as the lead agency in "studying, advocating, and campaigning for the shift to a federal system of government." 

DILG promptly marshaled its regional and field offices, on parallel track with the Kilusang Pagbabago network of pro-Duterte election campaigners and his PDP-Laban Party, in organizing public forums on federalism. 

In February 2018, DILG announced the creation of its Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform (CFCR) to serve as "clearinghouse of all federalism advocacy groups for common messaging and closer coordination." It was allotted PhP100 million in the DILG budget. 

For months, the DILG campaign focused largely on the "11+1" draft of the PDP-Laban party. But that has since been overtaken by the "16+2" formula adopted by the ConCom that Duterte convened only in January 2018.

Duterte signed Executive Order No. 10 creating a 25-member "Consultative Committee (ConCom) to Review the 1987 Constitution" on Dec. 7, 2016. But 13 months would lapse before he finally appointed on Jan. 24, 2018 only 22 ConCom members, including at least seven former local officials and allies from Mindanao, and just one woman. And while he tarried to convene the ConCom, Duterte in his EO imposed a six-month deadline for the ConCom members to submit a draft federalism charter.

The members rushed and all signed on to a 114-page draft charter last July 3. The copy was kept secret from public scrutiny because, two members said, they must first submit it to the President last Monday, July 9.

DU30 had 4 requests

Two ConCom members separately told PCIJ that at the President's meeting with the ConCom last January, Duterte said that he had only four requests. Recounted the first Concom member: "He said do what's right for the country, he wants the President to be directly elected by the people; solve the problem of Mindanao through federalism; and review the economic provisions of the Constitution." The second ConCom member affirmed this story.

While he seems enamored of federalism largely as a concept, the members said that Duterte raised no specific suggestions on the text of whatever provisions he wants to enroll in the draft Charter.

In the ConCom's draft, a "self-executing" anti-dynasty provision has been included, without need of a law from Congress "kasi hindi naman gagawin ng Congress 'yun dahil laban sa interes nila (since Congress won't pass it because it goes against their interest),” said one member. 

The provision is a partial ban on "succession and simultaneous holding of public office" by members of the same family, up to the second degree of affinity or consanguinity (parents, children, siblings).

ConCom member Teehankee, who has done extensive studies on political dynasties, says that the clause and another banning turncoatism seek to promote "more open competition" among the clans.

"The shift would happen but the local elites should also give up part of their advantage,” he says. “It's the same starting line for everyone.” 

The catch, however, is that the draft Charter, once approved in a plebiscite by 2019, calls for the conduct of synchronized elections for all regional and federal positions in May 2022 -- on a zero-sum game basis. 

This means simply that old and new politicians, notably those from the about 200 political clans enduring, emerging, and with unyielding grip on power in the nation's 81 provinces could all run for a four-year term, and even get re-elected for another four. 

11-year transition

In sum, the transition from the present to the federal system of government could last for at least 11 more years or until 2030, under the same managers and leaders of the old, broken political system.

The caveat is that this transition would happen only if Congress would leave untouched the self-executing anti-dynasty clause in the ConCom's draft charter, and if Duterte would exercise his political muscle to get Congress to pass it.

Yet even before the ConCom could sign on to its draft, unnamed politicians have started to pester the members to drop the ban. 

"Ngayon pa lang, grabe nga ang lobbying sa amin (This early, the lobbying has been intense)” said one commissioner. “It’s up to the President, but we cannot second-guess if he will adopt it en toto."

At the same time, to wish that Congress sitting as ConAss would adopt the draft en toto may be like wishing for the moon and the stars. 

2 paths to plebiscite

Another ConCom member said that the draft Charter is off to a tricky migration path, but two scenarios have emerged as likely options to move the draft charter to a plebiscite.

The first is a fast-track scenario: Duterte will submit it as a certified, urgent measure, and the Senate and House of the 17th Congress could convene pronto as the ConAss. 

If the Senate comes around to vote with the House, and not as a separate chamber, the draft could be adopted and sent to a plebiscite before or simultaneous with the conduct of the May 2019 midterm elections. Once a call for a plebiscite is made by Congress, the Commission on Elections must conduct it within 60 to 90 days.

The second might take a while longer: If the measure fails to pass in the 17th Congress, the administration will have to wait for the May 2019 elections, and aspire to win a majority to control the Senate of the 18th Congress, convene a ConAss, and pass and send the draft charter to a plebiscite. 

Either scenario would allow for the conduct of a plebiscite. Should the draft make the vote, the creation of the 10-member Federal Transition Commission chaired by Duterte to manage "the orderly transition to a new system of government” across a three-year period, or from 2019 to 2022, would follow. Duterte will assume this position in concurrent capacity to his work as President in the Constitution of the old order.

That Commission will, according to the ConCom's draft, assume vast powers and duties, including "promulgate the necessary rules, regulations, orders, decrees, proclamations, and other issuances.... and resolve all issues and disputes that may arise." Too, the Commission may "organize, reorganize, and fully establish the Federal Government and the government of the Federated Regions" and "exercise all powers necessary and proper to ensue a smooth, speedy, and successful transition."

More amendments

The Transitory Provisions of the ConCom's draft charter proposes to conduct the first "national, regional, and local elections under the Federal Constitution to elect the President, Vice President, Regional Senators, District Representative, Proportional Party Representative, regional and local official" on the second Monday of May 2022. They shall supposedly assume office on June 30, 2022.

The draft sows confusion when it stated that "the term of the President and Vice President, which shall end on June 30, 2022, shall not be extended." The draft apparently refers to the top two officials elected under the current Constitution but does not explicitly say so. 

To dispel public criticism that the charter change initiative is a plan for Duterte's term extension, the ConCom members will reportedly add this week new provisions as amendments in the Transitory Provisions section of their draft: an explicit ban on Duterte and former presidents seeking election, as well as a prohibition for ConCom members to seek elective posts in May 2022 under the proposed federal system.

But just as important, the ConCom's draft is silent on what would happen to the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials who had been elected just this year to new three-year terms. 

In the pro-federalism forums organized by DILG, barangay officials have been so advised that under federalism, extended tenure could be one of their windfall benefits.

What's in it for people?

And so the proposal to shift to federalism remains locked in political discourse, with politicians and some academics taking center stage as proponents and opponents. Members of the public, meanwhile, have been relegated as mere observers to a project that would have a profound impact on their lives.

The proponents have asked the people to keep faith in federalism just as a concept for now, minus the nuts and bolts of how it would happen, when, how, at what cost, and why.

ConCom member Teehankee concedes that the pitch to shift to federalism is "a political project, with a lot of interests at play." Still, he says that "just to be able to put all these reforms, why not go for it? Kung hindi pumasa, di hindi (If it doesn’t pass, then that’s that)."

He cautions against unfounded expectations, though. "This is not a cure-all, end-all, be-all solution,” he says. “Ito ang simula (This is the beginning). We need structural reforms." Vesting federalism with powers to address poverty and corruption, Teehankee says, is "a false equation."

But what does the pitch to shift to federalism mean for the people and the institutions, according to the data and stats on the state of the regions today? 

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PCIJ's research into the data and statistics that define the proposed federal regions follow:

The Consultative Committee’s proposed charter lists two "asymmetrical regions" (Bangsamoro and Cordillera Administrative Region) and 16 Federated Regions: 

1.    National Capital Region (Metro Manila)
2.    Cordillera Administrative Region 
3.    Ilocos Region
4.    Cagayan Valley
5.    Central Luzon
6.    CALABARZON 
7.    MIMAROPA 
8.    Bicol Region
9.    Western Visayas
10.    Central Visayas
11.    Eastern Visayas
12.    Negros Island Region 
13.    Zamboanga Peninsula
14.    Northern Mindanao
15.    Davao Region
16.    SOCCSKSARGEN
17.    Caraga
18.    Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Bangsamoro)

DEMOGRAPHICS

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the Philippines has a total land area of about 300,000 square kilometers. 

Roughly 43 percent of the country’s land area is the Luzon island group (composed of mainland Luzon and the islands of MIMAROPA), 40 percent is Mindanao, and 17 percent is the Visayas island group (composed of the islands of Western, Central, and Eastern Visayas, and the Negros Island). 

Among the proposed federated regions, ARMM will be the largest in terms of land area at 36,650.95 square kilometers (12.2 percent of the country’s total land area), while NCR the smallest at 619.54 square kilometers (0.21 percent).

Palawan is currently the largest province in terms of land area at 17,030.75 square kilometers, followed by Lanao del Sur at 150,55.51 square kilometers, Isabela at 13,102.05 square kilometers, Bukidnon at 10,498.59 square kilometers, and Agusan del Sur at 9,989.52 square kilometers.

Island provinces are usually smaller in terms of land area, with Batanes being the smallest, at 203.22 square kilometers, followed by the island provinces of Camiguin at 241.44 square kilometers, Siquijor at 337.49 square kilometers, Biliran at 536.01 square kilometers, and Guimaras at 611.87 square kilometers. 

POPULATION

The Philippine population has reached more than 100 million, as of PSA 2015 Census of Population (POPCEN 2015), with roughly 57 percent living in Luzon, 23 percent in Visayas, and 20 percent in Mindanao. 

Under the proposed federal system, CALABARZON will be the largest federated region in terms of population, at 14 million (14.3 percent of the country’s total population), while CAR the smallest at 1.7 million (1.71 percent).

Provinces with or near metropolitan areas usually have large populations. Cebu is currently the largest province in terms of population at 4.6 million, followed by the provinces of Cavite at 3.6 million, Bulacan at 3.2 million, Negros Occidental at 3.31 million, and Laguna at three million.

Batanes meanwhile is the smallest province in terms of population at just 17,246, followed by Camiguin at 88,478, Siquijor at 95,984, Apayao at 119,184, and the Dinagat Islands at 127,152.

The current national population density is at 337 people per square kilometer. Among the proposed federated regions, NCR will be the most densely populated at 20,785 people per square kilometer, and CAR the least densely populated at 87 people per square kilometer.

Provinces with or near metropolitan areas are also some of the most densely populated: Rizal has the highest population density, at 2,439 people per square kilometer, followed by Cavite at 2,410 people per square kilometer, Laguna at 1,574 people per square kilometer, Pampanga at 1,264 people per square kilometer, and Bulacan at 1,183 people per square kilometer.

Apayao, meantime, is the least populated province at 26 people per square kilometer; followed by Abra at 57 people per square kilometer; and Kalinga, Mountain Province, and Palawan all having 65 people per square kilometer. 

POVERTY

PSA defines the poverty threshold, popularly known as the poverty line, as the minimum income required for an individual to meet the basic food and non-food requirements. Filipinos living below the poverty threshold are considered poor.

The national annual per capita poverty threshold as of 2015 Poverty Census is PhP21,753; for a family of five, this figure rises to PhP107,853. A breadwinner for a family of five must earn PhP9,063.75 every month in order to meet their family’s food and nonfood needs, otherwise their family will be considered poor. 

Among the proposed federated regions, NCR will have the highest annual per capita poverty threshold in 2015 at PhP25,007, while MIMAROPA the lowest at PhP20,224.

The province of Batanes has the highest poverty threshold in 2015 at PhP29,118, followed by Zambales at PhP26,473, Cavite at PhP24,482, and Bataan at PhP24,770. Tawi-Tawi meanwhile has the lowest poverty threshold at PhP16,586, followed La Union at PhP19,045, Palawan at PhP19,435, Marinduque at PhP19,722, and Occidental Mindoro at PhP19,994.

Based on 2015 Poverty Census, there are 21.9 million Filipinos living below the poverty threshold, distributed almost equally among the three major island groups: Mindanao has the largest poor population 7.6 million (35 percent of the country’s poor population), followed by Luzon at 7.5 million (34 percent), and Visayas at 6.8 million (31 percent). 

Among the proposed federated regions, Bicol has the largest poor population, at 2.1 million (9.91 percent of the country’s poor population), while CAR has the lowest, at 351 thousand (1.6 percent).

Among the provinces, Cebu has the largest poor population in 2015 at 986,557, followed by Negros Occidental at 867,141, Bukidnon at 732,027, Lanao del Sur at 725,262, and Negros Oriental at 694,293. 

Guimaras has the lowest poor population at 8,435, followed by Bataan at 14,793, Benguet at 28,418, Ilocos Norte at 32,822, and Apayao at 36,004. 

The proportion of individuals with per capita income less than the per capita poverty threshold to the total number of individuals is referred to as the poverty incidence. As of 2015 Poverty Census, the poverty incidence in the Philippines is 21.6 percent. This means that one out of five Filipinos lives below poverty line and is considered poor.

Lower poverty thresholds do not necessarily mean lower poverty incidence, as cost of living in each location is accounted for in each figures. Despite having the highest annual per capita poverty threshold, NCR has the lowest poverty incidence as of 2015 Poverty Census, at 3.9 percent. Meanwhile the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM has the highest poverty incidence at 53.7 percent.

Four of the five poorest provinces in 2015 are in Mindanao: Lanao del Sur stands out with having the highest poverty incidence rate of 71.94 percent, which translates to seven out of 10 individuals living in poverty. 

The province of Maguindanao ranks second, at 57.25 percent, followed by Northern Samar (in Visayas) at 56.17 percent, Sarangani at 55.2 percent, and Sulu at 54.91 percent. In addition, poverty incidences in most of the provinces in Mindanao are higher than the national average, with only three exceptions: Misamis Oriental (19.26 percent), Davao del Sur (15.64 percent), and Tawi-Tawi (12.62 percent). 

Four of the five provinces with the lowest poverty incidence rates in 2015 are in Luzon: Bataan has the lowest poverty rate at 2.03 percent, followed by Benguet at 3.48 percent, Bulacan at 4.46 percent, Pampanga at 4.94 percent, and Ilocos Norte at 5.27 percent. The remaining province, Guimaras, with a poverty-incidence rate at 5.22 percent, is in the Visayas.

Despite having the highest poverty threshold among the provinces, Batanes posted zero population living below poverty threshold and zero poverty incidence as of the 2015 Poverty Census. PSA, however, suggests caution in using this estimate due to Batanes’s very small sample size.

REVENUE COLLECTION AND IRA

The Philippine government obtains its revenue from various sources, among them taxes, tariffs, income from government-owned and controlled corporations, and foreign aid. National taxes, the country’s primary source of revenue, are collected by the government through the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in various forms such as income tax, estate and donor's taxes, value-added tax, other percentage taxes, excise taxes, and documentary stamp taxes. 

Local taxes (in the form of real property tax, municipal tax on business, community tax, etc.) are collected by LGUs and are not reported to the national government.

For the fiscal year 2016, the National Capital Region raised the largest revenue collection at PhP1.27 trillion worth of national taxes (84.24 percent of the country’s total revenue collection), while ARMM raised the smallest at PhP1.64 billion (0.11 percent). 

Among the provinces, Cebu raised the largest revenue at PhP24.6 billion, followed by Laguna at PhP20.4 billion, Cavite at PhP15.8 billion, Davao del Sur at 13.1 billion, and Pampanga at PhP12.8 billion.

The provinces that raised the smallest revenue in 2016 were Tawi-Tawi at PhP224 million, Sulu at PhP231 million, Basilan at PhP238 million, Marinduque at PhP263 million, and Ifugao at PhP264 million.

Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) refers to a local government unit’s (LGU’s) share of revenue from the national government. Pursuant to the Local Government Code; the IRA of every province, city, municipality, and barangay is determined by their respective population, land area, and equal sharing. Thus, LGUs with larger populations and land area tend to receive larger IRA than their smaller counterparts.

According to data from PSA and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the national government allocated PhP429 billion of its revenue among the LGUs in the country in 2016, with roughly 51 percent going to LGUs in Luzon, 21 percent to LGUs in Visayas, and 27 percent to LGUs in Mindanao. 

CALABARZON received the largest Internal Revenue Allotment in 2016 at PhP47.3 billion (11.04 percent of the country’s total IRA), while CAR received the lowest, at PhP13.2 billion (3.08 percent).

Metro Manila received the second largest IRA at PhP27 billion, followed by the provinces of Cebu at PhP15.1 billion, Negros Occidental at PhP14.3 billion, Pangasinan at PhP11.7 billion, Cavite at PhP10.8 billion, and Isabela at PhP10.3 billion in 2016. 

The provinces that received the smallest IRA were Batanes at PhP569 million, Camiguin at PhP743 million, Siquijor at PhP881 million, Guimaras at PhP1.05 billion, and Dinagat Islands at PhP1.08 billion. 

Based on the data provided by PSA and DBM, only nine of the 81 provinces in the country had raised revenue collections that were large enough to cover for their respective IRAs in 2016: Laguna, Cebu, Davao Del Sur, Cavite, Pampanga, Misamis Oriental, Batangas, Benguet, and Zambales. 
 
PCIJ SIDEBAR: Federalism, how much? P44B? P51B?

VOTER STATISTICS

Out of 54 million registered voters for the 2016 National and Local Elections (53.8 percent of the country’s total population), 44 million (81 percent of the total registered voters, 43.6 percent of the country’s total population) actually voted, based on the data provided by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). 

CALABARZON has the largest voting population, with currently 7.6 million registered voters (14.0 percent of the country’s total voting population), while CAR has the smallest at 906,000 (1.67 percent of the country’s total voting population).

Among the provinces, Cebu has the largest voting population at 2.7 million, followed by Cavite at 1.84 million, Pangasinan at 1.71 million, and Laguna at 1.68 million. Batanes has the lowest voting population, at 11,000, followed by Camiguin at 58,000, Apayao at 65,000, and Siquijor and Dinagat Islands both at 69,000. 

(The full text and infographics of the multi-part “PCIJ Primer for Citizens: Unpacking Federalism: Stats on the State of the Regions” will be published in a series this week.) -- Infographics by John Reiner Antiquerra and Ojie Sarmiento, PCIJ, July 2018