Forum holds workshops on federalism in the Philippines in August 2005

The Forum held three workshops on the Canadian Federal and Parliamentary Systems from August 13 to 15, 2005 in Manila, Cebu and Davao, Philippines.

The Congress of the Philippines hopes to move to a parliamentary form of government by the middle of 2006 and then transform the country into a federation over a five year period. On August 16, 2005, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved a resolution calling for a joint session of the House and the Senate to initiate amendments in the 1987 Constitution.

The Forum’s program in the Philippines was thus very timely. With the support of the Canadian Embassy in Manila, the workshops on federalism were well received and well attended.

In Manila people are interested about equally in both the parliamentary and federal systems. There may therefore be scope for working in partnership with the Parliamentary Centre. The further one gets from Manila, the greater interest there is in federalism. In Davao (Mindanao) we were bluntly told that as far as people there were concerned, the real choice was between federalism and secession. Provinces as they exist in the Philippines today are administrative bodies, with virtually no autonomy. In both Cebu and Davao (both Cebuano speaking regions) speakers enunciated their resentment over the ‘imposition’ of Tagalog as the national language. We were told that much of this is fuelled by the fact that the national government now uses the words Tagalog and ‘Filipino’ interchangeably.

The sessions were also engaging and participants asked pointed questions. Some questions included:

  • Isn’t federalism expensive? What of the dangers of double taxation.
  • Can you create a federation out of an island nation?
  • Can internal borders be redrawn in a federation and how? (in the context of amalgamating 79 provinces into 11 regions in the Philippines)
  • Does federalism prevent secession? What of Quebec?
  • How does one run a multi-lingual federation?
  • How does equalization work? Can it promote development?
  • Who controls natural resources?

Both experts Forum experts brought specific expertise to the events. Professor Peter Meekison, former deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs of the Canadian province of Alberta dealt with constitutional and theoretical aspects of the Canadian system and talked about fiscal arrangements. He also offered a constutituent unit perspective on inter-governmental relations. Rey Pagtakhan, former Canadian minister of veterans affairs and secretary of state for science, research and development, provided a politiciane’s perspective on policy making, representation and cabinet responsibility within the Canadian system. Rey Pagtakhan was born in the Philippines and graduated from medical school there before coming to Canada in 1968. He was a professor of pediatrics before becoming a Member of Parliament.

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