Federalism and local autonomy

jayOne of the strong arguments against federalism is the constitutional provision granting local autonomy.

The 1987 Constitution adopted as a core principle the grant of what is called local autonomy.

As a matter of fact a whole Article was crafted just to emphasize the direction of governance which is to give more autonomy to the local governments.

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Article X of the 1987 Constitution states that The territorial and political subdivisions shall enjoy local autonomy.

What is local autonomy?

The Constitution describes it.

The goal of local autonomy is to provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure. Strengthen it. Empower it.

How?

An empowered local government is instituted through a system of decentralization.

Under a regime of local autonomy, the State allocates among the different local government units their powers, responsibilities, and resources.

The system provides for the qualifications, election, appointment and removal, term, salaries, powers and functions and duties of local officials, and all other matters relating to the organization and operation of the local units.

Instituted are effective mechanisms of recall, initiative, and referendum.

In a regime of local autonomy, each local government unit even has the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges subject to such guidelines and limitations as the Congress may provide.

Congress has passed the Local Government Code of 1991, writing the institutionalizing the structure of local governance in the country.

With these principles of local autonomy written expressly in the constitution, why the need to federalize?

One answer, we think, is that a federal system would be more responsive to granting genuine local autonomy to local or state governments.

Under the present constitution, while local autonomy is guaranteed, it is still Congress that decides how local autonomy is to be enforced.

Remember, Congress enacted the local government code.

It can repeal it, change it, modify it.

In short, local authorities exercise delegated powers.

Under the federal system, powers granted to the local governments will be derived directly from the constitution.

It cannot be taken back by legislation.

True, local autonomy has gained headway through the years, such that greater powers are being exercised by the different local government units today.

But the truth remains that it is still the national government that dictates the manner that most basic services are to be delivered.

The Department of Social Welfare has been devolved.

The Department of Health has been devolved.

But significant powers are still wielded by the Department heads.

That is because the national officials of these departments control the government funds allocated in the national budget.

This will not be the case under the federal system.

Under a federal system, budget will be allocated direct to the different state governments.

A proposal will be to divide the national taxes collected by 80-20 in favor of  the local governments.

We are not looking for a perfect system of delivering basic services to our people.

There won’t be.

But a federal system is the best chance we have of unleashing the economic potentials of each state or local government unit so that  the people who are in the countryside will benefit the most.

This is worth exploring. Worth adopting. (By Atty. Jay I. Dejaresco)

 



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