Launch of the Publication entitled:
“Drawing Lessons for the Creation of Regional Governments under a Federal Setup:
Case Study on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao”
23 January 2018, Speaker Montilla Hall, Southwing Annex, House of Representatives
The Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD), in partnership with the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), officially launched the federalism case study which drew lessons from the experiences of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The research team from the CPBRD is composed of Romulo Emmanuel M. Miral Jr., Ph.D., Pamela Diaz-Manalo, and Julius I. Dumangas.
In his Opening Remarks, Atty. Benedicto R. Bacani (IAG Executive Director) emphasized the relevance of the ARMM in the current federalism discourse given that it is the only region in the country with its own Regional Government (RG). The issues surrounding the existing setup and legal framework in the ARMM can provide important considerations when creating autonomous RGs under the proposed federal system.
The study presented the socio-economic and development conditions of the ARMM, which has been lagging behind other regions in the country. This is indicative of the prevailing problems in regional governance and the policies governing the autonomy in the ARMM. The study focused on three areas, namely: (1) assignment of government powers, (2) fiscal arrangements, and (3) intergovernmental relations. Ms. Manalo discussed the issues to provide the context for the “lessons” presented later by Dr. Miral. The following are the key issues and lessons:
(1) Assignment of government powers
· RG powers should be enshrined in the Constitution to avoid legal challenges or amendments by national laws. It can address the contending and unstable legal framework governing an autonomous RG. Presently, two overlapping laws (i.e. RA 9054 or the ARMM Organic Act, and RA 7160 or the Local Government Code) define the assignment of powers, functions, and responsibilities of RG and its constituent local government units (LGUs). Clarity in the assignment of powers and responsibilities between national government (NG) and RG, as well as between RG and LGUs, can establish clear accountability and address overlaps.
· Greater autonomy in designing regional and local governance systems is needed to ensure that government structures, distribution of powers, and intra-regional relations take into account varying regional contexts. This will also give autonomous regions the flexibility to define regional structures and RG-LGU relations.
(2) Fiscal arrangements
· Ensure independent regional budgeting contrary to the ARMM setup, which remains heavily dependent on NG transfers through the annual appropriations. Heavy reliance on NG transfers makes ARMM financially accountable to the NG and weakens the RG’s exercise of appropriations power.
· Ensuring greater fiscal autonomy entails the expansion of revenue or taxing powers of regional governments. The taxing powers of the ARMM-RG are limited and are usually add-ons to levies already imposed either by NG or its constituent LGUs.
· Development of universal guidelines to strengthen accountability and transparency mechanisms across levels of government is needed. This aims to harmonize standards/guidelines that shall be adopted by RGs, especially as RGs become more fiscally autonomous.
(3) On intergovernmental relations (IGR)
· IGR mechanisms for NG-RG coordination and collaboration should be established and strengthened in recognition of the importance of “shared rule.” Formal IGR mechanisms will promote cohesiveness and will address imbalanced and fragmented NG-RG relations, and fragmented RG-LGU relations.
· Effective regional representation in national lawmaking can promote and protect the vested rights of autonomous regions to “self-rule”. Moreover, it can minimize unilateral NG imposition of its policy preferences on RGs.
Various issues were raised during the open forum. Prof. Socorro Reyes (policy adviser of Rep. Rodolfo T. Albano III, 1st District of Isabela) raised the following points and questions: (1) that most ARMM issues stem from the weak implementation of the ARMM law; (2) on whether a change in behavior is needed to make structural transformation effective or vice versa; (3) on whether or not federalism can strengthen the RG, given that LGU power is deeply entrenched; (4) on whether there is a need to change the Constitution or just amend it; and (5) on how accountability can be ensured under a federal setup.
The panel commented emphasizing the need to improve the legal framework to resolve autonomy issues. The present unitary setup fosters a “centralist” idea among bureaucrats, revealing an unintended bias for central government efficiency that results in an unfavorable climate for regional autonomy.
Rep. Pedro B. Acharon, Jr. of the 1st District of South Cotabato and General Santos City, who chairs the House Committee on Local Government, raised the need for a study to determine the cost of the shift to a federal setup, including the creation of autonomous RGs. He also sought clarification on the motivation of the federalism proposal—i.e., whether it is for greater autonomy or efficiency. Furthermore, he stressed the need to strengthen the autonomy of LGUs under the present Local Government Code (LGC), and that there should be mechanisms to avoid abuse in the exercise of such autonomy.
Dr. Miral discussed the problem of control and allocation of resources in the present setup where LGUs try to get as much as they can from the “common pool” of resources, unlike in a federal setup where each state will have greater taxing powers and should therefore be accountable to local taxpayers.
Another point raised was that the setting-up of another layer/tier of government can be costly. Rep. Acharon suggested to focus instead on efficiency of governance and effective delivery of services to the people since these are the primary concerns at the LGU level. For these to be effective, Atty. Bacani expressed the need for decentralization of power to ensure efficient and effective governance contrary to administrative decentralization under the existing unitary system. However, he emphasized the need to distinguish the needs and varying capacities of the regions. Thus, greater regional autonomy may be needed to give the regions the flexibility to design their respective local governance systems to address problems of fragmentation in public service delivery.
Atty. Michael Henry Yusingco (policy consultant and lecturer at the School of Law and Governance of the University of Asia and the Pacific) asked if the lessons cited in the study can be applied under the present Constitution, particularly Article X (Local Government and Autonomous Regions), without changing the present government structure. Dr. Miral replied that lessons can be applied in strengthening ARMM, while addressing the constraints in implementation particularly in the sharing of taxes and utilization of national wealth. It is important that RGs have their own resources and not only depend on NG appropriations. Dr. Miral cited the block grant as one revenue source through which it can exercise greater fiscal autonomy. Moreover, Atty. Bacani agreed that the lessons can be applied in a unitary setup, but with specific amendments to the Constitution, particularly on the delineation of powers. Further, he emphasized that in a unitary setup, the regional development councils (RDCs) have to be strengthened.
Atty. Noel T. Tiampong read the closing remarks on behalf of Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sinsuat A. Sema. The Deputy Speaker recognized the importance of the publication in view of the ongoing discussions on federalism and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The Deputy Speaker concluded by stressing that with clearer and deeper understanding of the ARMM experience, it is time to start “fixing” the existing problems of the autonomous region to prevent the same from happening in case of a shift to a federal system.