Federalism chances pegged at slim to none

MANILA – Even President Rodrigo Duterte’s closest allies are not convinced that the Filipino people will vote for a federal form of government.

Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, for one, said this week that chances of federalism were a “long shot” at best, while Defense Secretary DelfinLorenzana last week said the people “are not ready” for the shift.

This, as the majority of senators had also given the thumbs down to any change in the current form of  government, which was also rejected by some of the country’s biggest business organizations.

At the start of the week, seven of the most influential business organizations issued a statement asked the country’s lawmakers to “weigh carefully” the costs, risks and uncertainty that comes with the proposed shift to a federal system of government.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Philippine Exporters Confederation, and the Cebu Business Club said in a statement that their biggest concern was the alarming cost involved.

With the government already facing a worsening fiscal deficit, the additional cost of the shift could cripple the economy, the groups pointed out.

The Philippine Institute of Development Studies estimated that the additional cost to the government would be in the vicinity of P72 billion a year, while the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) pegged the cost at P130 billion.

For this reason, the economic cluster of the Cabinet has also been unenthusiastic about federalism. Besides the president’s special assistant and the Defense secretary, other officials who have aired their concerns about the shift include the heads of the Finance department, the Budget department, the BangkoSentral ng Pilipinas and NEDA.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III had stated that the Philippines’ investment grade credit rating was at risk, going so far as to say that the positive ratings would “go to hell” with federalism.

For his part, NEDA chief Ernesto Pernia warned that the shift that President Duterte had as a campaign promise would have a deadly effect on the economy, already reeling from higher-than-expected inflation.

At the very least, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said that a more rigorous study was necessary before gambling on a new form of government.

The seven business organizations said in their statement that they were most concerned about “the ambiguous provisions on the division of revenue and expenditure responsibilities” within the proposed federal form of government.

Despite the negative flak garnered by federalism thus far, the Duterte administration will continue its nationwide information campaign to inform the public about the benefits of the proposed new system, according to Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.

The campaign will still include assistant communications secretary Mocha Uson, who was universally lambasted by friends and foes of the Duterte administration last week for releasing a video on social media that had been deemed in poor taste, at the very least, and obscene, at worst.