Congress warned on dangers of con-ass, federalism
The political science department in the premier state school University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman warned Congress on the “dangers” of changing the 1987 Constitution through a constituent assembly (con-ass) and shifting to a federal form of government.
In a position paper submitted to the constitutional amendments committee at the House of Representatives, the UP Political Science Department posited the risks of having Congress propose amendments to the Constitution to pave the way for a federal form of government.
In the paper signed by 13 political science professors, the department questioned the timing of the call by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte for a con-ass at a time when almost 61 percent of Filipinos are either opposed to or undecided on the shift to federalism according to a Pulse Asia survey.
Although con-ass is less costly than the second mode constitutional convention (con-con), Congress convening to change the Charter posed “dangerous drawbacks” according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the department said.
The department warned that Congress may “seek to advance institutional interests at the disadvantage of other institutional actors.”
It added that ruling political parties that dominate Congress may lack “democratic structures” and may favor electoral systems that “distort the distribution of representations and power.”
Congress, long dominated by administration allies, may also have the tendency of favoring the federal design envisioned by President Duterte, who has expressed preference for the French parliamentarian model with a strong presidency.
The department also warned Congress of a Constitution that would institute a “hyperpresidentialism,” a complete opposite of the existing 1987 Constitution, which cut back the discretionary powers of the executive branch.
While acknowledging that con-con is not necessarily more inclusive than con-ass, the department urged Congress to conduct a more careful study with empirical evidence, instead of “impressions and short-term objectives.”
The department cautioned Congress on the “unintended consequences” or “pitfalls” of federalism, such as “regional discrepancies, dependency and resentment.”
It said under a federal set-up, federal states may differ on “resource endowment and levels of development.”
“Without an effective mechanisms for revenue sharing across states whereby richer states or units subsidize poorer ones, federalism could increase inequality among sub-national units,” the department said.
The department also said poorer regions or states may become dependent on fiscal transfers, “causing resentment on the part of the more economically productive states.”
The department also warned of disparities in the provision of quality social services due to the devolution of public services across the board.
There is also the pitfall of a lack of coordination and cooperation if state governments fail to coordinate emergency intervention from the central authority in times of disasters.
Lastly, the creation of new territorial and political subdivisions may entail additional costs, and that federalism may result in increased “judicialization of politics” with the courts having increased political roles in cases of disputes between national and federal institutions.
“It will take more than a shift to federalism to build a strong united country with a cohesive national identity, especially in multicultural settings marked by politicized national identities, historical antagonisms and even class divides,” the department said.
“We must not overcredit federalism with outcomes that it may not be able to deliver,” it added.
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