Issue of March 11, 2018

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Informed and participatory choice advised before cha–cha
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

CHARTER CHANGE FORUM -- Ibaloy lawyer Lyssa Grace Pagano, a 1995 Bar topnotcher, poses with former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide and other luminaries during a Charter Change Forum sponsored by the De La Salle University College of Law last week. -- Contributed photo

An Ibaloy law expert has called for a well informed, well thought out, and participatory decision-making before any shift in the current form of the Philippine government or amendment in the current constitution are made.

In a recent forum on Charter Change sponsored by the College of Law of De La Salle University, Atty. Lyssa Grace Pagano, a top 10 in the 1995 Bar exams, shared the view that if the only reason for charter change is to empower local governments, she sees no need to amend the 1987 Constitution or transition into a federal form of government, but an amendment to the Local Government Code would suffice.

Supporters of federalism suggest that federalism will bring more resources and economic growth to LGUs, a way for them as federal states to control their plans and programs and to chart their destiny, without having to rely on the national government and that they shall have a bigger share in revenues.

“Quoting a study of a University of the Philippines professor, ‘in spite of the advantages of federalism, it is important to note that such a shift should not be done in a mad dash to the finish line. Being a complex and immensely customizable form of government, federalism does take time to be designed and realized,’” said Pagano, who was a member of the corps of professors at the University of the East College of Law.

She said in the end, federalism is not the only step after devolution, but it is the logical next step, if the Philippines choses to further decentralize. “But in spite of the seemingly very convincing merits of federalism, decisions that would have to be made should be well-informed, well-thought out, and participatory. It is a covenant that is made by citizens and ultimately the decision to federalize should reflect the will of Filipino citizens who choose to unite amidst their diversity,” she said.

Instead, she suggested empowering local government units, banning political dynasties, and strengthening political parties.

“The Local Government Code has been pending amendment even before 2016. At present, the structure, culture and processes of our government are not conducive to transition to a federal form. If decentralization is any indication, local governments are not ready to become federal states. 

“Political dynasties and political patronage will not be reduced in a federal state. On the contrary, these will be further aggravated by federalism, where the few families who control power now in local governments will have their own kingdoms. Political maturity and discernment, widespread information and a participatory populace is needed even before we can take that step towards federalism.”

It is also the law professor’s view that the Congress, especially the House of Representatives, lacks the integrity and credibility to propose amendments or revisions. “The close ties of members of the House to President Duterte cast a doubt on the intention for the amendments or revisions. Similar to previous attempts to introduce charter change, the present move might just fail where there is a perception that the intention is to extend the term of the sitting President.

Among the speakers during the Charter Change forum were former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. and columnist John Nery.

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Mayor Romeo K. Salda
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