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Drowned by Drafts, Reports on Federalism Barely Scratch the Surface of the Subject | CMFR

Drowned by Drafts, Reports on Federalism Barely Scratch the Surface of the Subject

House of Representatives. | CMFR File Photo


CHARTER CHANGE which pushes for a radical shift to a different system of government for the country is a huge and daunting undertaking. Deliberating on the issue of federalism cannot be left to one man, or to legislators or even a council of elders. The discussion needs to be taken to the people, the different sectors of the citizens who will have to live with the change.

The current discourse on federalism as reflected in media, however, is limited to two sides: advocates, including members of Congress allied with President Duterte; and critics, including opposition lawmakers and framers of the 1987 Constitution. Those advocating for federalism argue that it will solve the longstanding issues of poverty and underdevelopment in the provinces that is caused by the concentration of power in the capital region. Those against it express concerns that federalism itself cannot bring about economic development. They point to the power that political dynasties will hold unchecked, leading to the kinds of abuses already associated with longstanding political clans.

But because the administration has not been clear on the form of federalism proposed, the media has resorted to reporting piecemeal the views of experts or civil society groups. This has not helped those wanting more clarity on the options so far presented for their scrutiny.

Currently, proposed revisions to the Constitution are reflected in three separate documents: the proposed Constitution by the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute, the proposed Constitution in the Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) Number 8 and the summary of the reports of four subcommittees of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments. None of these proposals have been examined in the media in a way that clarifies the differences and the effects should these be adopted.

A separate consultative committee created by Duterte, which is chaired by retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, has begun work to review the 1987 Constitution and is scheduled to submit their recommendations to Congress in six months.

The above documents could be parsed in reports, annotated by experts. But media has been completely reactive in terms of covering the subject, waiting for personalities to speak for or against federalism, framing the debate along partisan lines. But because of the role of Congress, media has taken up provisions affecting legislative powers and term extensions. Some reports have reflected criticism of the self-interest playing out as legislators work on drafting transitory provisions.

The gaps in coverage include the costs of the shift, the provisions for transition and the impact on government workers, the areas of local and national authority.

Directly affected by the decentralization of power, local government units are ironically absent from the news. How federalism complements or conflicts with the existing Local Government Code of 1991 has not been explained.

From the start, President Duterte was never clear about the kind of federalist system he had favored. Perhaps, he himself has not thought it all out, except as a way to remove the perceived dominant role of “imperial Manila.” (See: “Federalism: Pointing Out an Inaccuracy”)

For such a fundamental change, there has been scant effort in the press to provide time and space for a robust debate about the proposals. Journalists cannot help the public to understand the implications of the proposed changes without first working to understand these issues.

Federalism calls for sustained and detailed reporting, complete with analysis and interpretation. The media must help examine the validity of simplistic claims of what federalism will solve. They will have to account for their failure to rise to the challenge of its full and comprehensive coverage, before it is too late.


CMFR cheers Rappler’s Michael Bueza for his “tracker of proposed changes” to the Constitution which detailed in tabular form the respective amendments or insertions as reflected in RBH 8, PDP-Laban and House subcommittee drafts. The online article included a drop-down option box which allows the user to choose which specific Article of the Constitution to view.

Bueza said, “Only the entirety of Article IV (constitutional provisions on citizenship) is left untouched in all proposals.” (“Changing the Constitution: What are being proposed so far“)