Can we afford federalism? ConCom, DILG believe shift only costs ₱13-B

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Interior Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) — The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and members of the consultative committee (ConCom) tasked to review the Constitution agree that federalism is not as expensive as the economic managers make it to be.

DILG Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya said Friday he is using the unutilized national budget returned to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) as basis.

“I think we can afford it. Why? I’ve been in government for so long. In the last budget hearing that I’ve attended, the entire returned unused money by the national government, which all of the government agencies has returned to DBM because it was not utilized? ₱600 billion,” he said.

Malaya was responding to qualms of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Finance (DOF), citing the costly effects of a transition to a federal government. NEDA had pegged the cost of the shift to over ₱243.5 billion, while the DOF estimates ₱320 billion.

But according to ConCom member Prof. Edmund Tayao, the additional budget in the shift from a unitary to federalism will only amount to ₱13.2 million.

“If you look at the presentation of (DOF) and NEDA, we need to reconcile it,” Tayao said. “The difference really is with the assumption. Ano bang kasama doon sa computation ng mga ahensyang ‘yun, at ano bang kasama doon sa computation namin?”

Tayao added that the figures the economic managers cited would fit within the annual budget increase of the country, and he allayed fears of mass layoffs in government posts should the shift.

The ConCom member added only a third of the national government’s shared revenues will head to the federated regions under the draft charter, on top of the region’s own revenue. The remaining two-thirds will be used by the federal government.

DOF chief Sonny Dominguez and NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia have expressed doubts on the transition.

The DILG executive then said the country’s economic managers should consult the ConCom for technical discussions to agree on the cost of federalism.

READ: Economic managers' doubts prompt Duterte to consider public feedback on proposed federal charter

“The assumption that the economic managers made was we’re going to do this immediately. There’s going to be a transition plan, a clear road map, across several years could be 10 years, and we can spread out the cost,” Malaya said.

Meanwhile, he said Congress is on its way to pushing for federalism too, despite the Senate not concurring with the House of Representatives on supporting charter change.

“We’re positive that we can convince the senators. The President has invited the senators and members on Congress to a dialogue on federalism,” he said.

A campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte, federalism was said to be “as good as dead” in the Senate amid doubts on House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s leadership. Arroyo, an ally of Duterte, is believed by critics to be gunning after the Prime Minister post under the federal government.