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Senator Gatchalian to federalism advocates: “What’s in it for the common Juan?”

Senator Win Gatchalian gestures during a previous radio interview. Gatchalian said the shift to federalism would need in-depth talk on the proposed constitutional amendment noting different types of federalism would result in different outcomes in different parts of the country. (Photo by Mark Cayabyab)

As the national debate on Con-Con and Con-Ass continues to rage, a long-time local government advocate is looking ahead to one of the critical constitutional debates soon to come – the shift to federalism.

During a speech before the Kapihan sa Club, Inc. at Club Filipino last week, Senator Win Gatchalian challenged federalism advocates to provide more concrete details about how the shift to a federal form of government would provide tangible benefits for the Filipino people, especially the poor.

“What is in it for the average Filipino – the common Juan? For the average Filipino, the question that must be considered is whether federalism will bring about truly inclusive economic growth felt by even the most marginalized peoples within our society,” said Gatchalian, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs.

Over the course of his speech, Gatchalian stressed that the gravity of the potential shift to federalism would require in-depth discussions on the finer points of the proposed constitutional amendment, pointing out that different types of federalism would result in different fiscal and economic outcomes for various localities throughout the country.

“Key players pushing for federalism have yet to delve into the deeper layers of their proposals. Few details exist on what form of federalism they intend to promote. Their justifications for federalism are similarly lacking specifics,” said Gatchalian, a former three-term mayor and two-term congressman of Valenzuela City.

Gatchalian went on to discuss the merits of two diametrically-opposed types of federalism: competitive and cooperative.

According to Gatchalian, competitive federalism compels states to compete against each other on the basis of taxation and the distribution of goods and services, underpinned by individual mobility and limited intervention from the national government.

While competitive federalism has the potential to benefit the public by increasing efficiency in governance and empowering local governments to set policy direction with vastly expanded autonomy, Gatchalian noted that such a high level of independence from the national government could also result in inequitable growth for poorer states.

“Different states have different levels of economic competitiveness depending on the factors such as level of development or extent of natural resources. Under competitive federalism, the more competitive states could grow significantly more than the poorer states,” Gatchalian explained.

On the other hand, Gatchalian described cooperative federalism as a more moderate type of federalism with the potential to address regional inequalities through its emphasis on the redistribution of wealth and resources instead of competition.

Under the cooperative system, lower levels of state autonomy allow the national government to play a stronger role, centered on the redistribution of federal revenues to the states, thus helping underdeveloped states close the gap between them and richer states.

However, Gatchalian noted that a cooperative federal system would inherit many of the weaknesses of the unitary system, including weak local accountability and an unresponsive top-to-bottom approach to governance.

Gatchalian reiterated that the complex and technical points of the federalism debate must be discussed in detail, both in the halls of government and on the streets, adding that, “It is our national duty in an informed democracy to spark that critical but constructive discourse necessary to ask the questions unanswered, debate the merits of ideas, educate the public, and push beyond the usual motherhood rhetoric.