Even the Finance Chief is 'confused' with shift to federalism

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 8) — Finance Secretary Carlos "Sonny" Dominguez on Wednesday admitted he is also confused about the proposed shift to a federal form of government, as senators pressed for an answer to how much the transition would cost.

"Quite frankly I was more confused than when I started so it's good that it's being discussed," Dominguez told a Senate hearing on the proposed budget for federalism.

When asked if he would vote against the shift if the draft federal constitution is presented for ratification now, he said, "absolutely."

During the deliberation, Senate finance committee chair Loren Legarda hit economic managers for failing to determine how much budget is needed for the proposed shift to federalism.

"But because you cannot give us a cost how can I be asked the cost and defend something which is unclear, okay?" Legarda said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said, "Our rough estimate is P120 billion but this is just the direct cost, there will be indirect cost like disruptions and other things."

The shift to a federal form of government was among President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign promises, saying it would pave the way for more equitable distribution of wealth and political power and bring peace in Mindanao.

Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero questioned the conduct of a P90-million information campaign for federalism, when even the country's economic managers are confused about the proposed shift.

"Wala pa ngang plano, wala pa ngang approved federalism anong ikakampanya natin [What are we campaigning when the proposed federalism has not even been approved]? We don't even know in what shape, size, color or form that is. What will we disseminate?" Escudero said.

Legarda stressed the importance of a well-planned information campaign, especially since it uses government funds.

"When we utilize taxpayers' money for information dissemination, it must be based on careful, comprehensive study and research and it should be done in a manner that derives respect from our constituents," Legarda said.

An initial budget of P90 million has been set for the federalism information campaign, which came under fire after an August 2 video posted by Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson – described by many lawmakers, government officials and netizens as vulgar.

The government already started its information drive through federalism roadshows organized by the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked by the President to review and propose changes to the 1987 Constitution.

Senate Constitutional Amendments Committee Chair Kiko Pangilinan earlier told CNN Philippines a participant in Baguio City said four seminars on federalism had already been held there - but each with a different proposal.

Aside from the ConCom's version, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments and the ruling party PDP-Laban have different versions of the proposed federal charter.

CNN Philippines' Cecille Lardizabal and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.