The Federalism Discourse - Blueboard by Anne Lan Kagahastian Candelaria, PhD

August 28, 2018

In a survey conducted by Pulse Asia last June, two out of three Filipinos do not agree that the 1987 Constitution should be revised at this time, although seven out of ten admit having little to no knowledge at all about the 1987 Constitution.
 
In the same survey, six out of ten Filipinos do not want federalism for now, and yet only three out of ten admitted to having sufficient to a great deal of knowledge about the proposed federal system of government.
 
The Pulse Asia survey highlights even more the role of political education to ensure that public policy does not only reflect the discourse of policy elites but also the values and norms of citizens and actor policy actors. But what do we mean by discourse in the context of politics and public policy?
 
Public policy as Discourse
 
One of the most influential frameworks in policymaking that emerged in the 1990s is Advocacy Coalition Framework or ACF. Developed by Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith, ACF is useful in making sense of complex policymaking systems characterized by the presence of multiple levels of government, intensely politicized disputes, different mix of actors, limited information, and high levels of uncertainty. Under such condition of policymaking, it is assumed that it would take a considerable time for decisions to produce and measure outcomes.
 
Hence, instead of looking at institutions as the unit of analysis, ACF focuses on the role of ideas as an organizing logic in policymaking. In a complex policy arena, actors are grouped according to advocacy coalitions. A coalition is based on an alliance formed based on shared common belief system or values about the problem and its causal assumptions.There are three types of beliefs:  deep core, policy core, and secondary.  The least susceptible to change is deep core,which is the actor’s fundamental philosophy.
 
To concretely differentiatethe three types of beliefs, I will briefly interrogate the current federalism discourse in the Philippines.
 
The belief that the independence of all government units should be a constitutional choice, and hence federalism is necessary, is an example of deep core.The opposite of this is the belief that independence of government units should be a policy choice and a revised decentralization law is the required policy alternative. A deep core debate therefore centers on the principle of independence to the political units – whether that independence is inherent or bestowed– the former will necessitate a constitutional change while the later will require a change of law.
 
The debate that centers on the proper distribution of power across units of government is not considered as deep core, but policy core.  Article XII of the draft enumerates the distribution of powers of the government under a federal system. This article defines the relationship between the Federated Government and the Federal Regional Governments.These are policy positions that are more susceptive to changes, but still generally stable. 
 
Finally, discussions that relate to the dividing of the Philippines into a number of federated regions refer to secondary beliefs, the last type of belief, usually the most malleable and easiest to change. In the last three years, we have seen how the number of proposed regions expanded and contracted, depending on whose version of the proposal one is reading.
 
 
Coalitions in the Philippine Federalism Discourse
 
What is interesting about the ACF is its view that people engage in policymaking to be able to translate their beliefs into action, and not simply personal material interests. Advocacy coalitions, therefore, remain stable over a long period of time because the alliance is one of ideas and values, and not for personal short-term policy fling gains.
 
It would be interesting to map out the various formal and informal actors in the federalism discourse in the Philippines in terms of their types of beliefs, and determine how deep and stable their alliances are.  Are there more short-term policy fling coalitions than long-term policy partners, or perhaps a robust subsystem of mid-term cohabiters?
 
Finally, I sense that most of the debates centered on the secondary and some on the policy core aspects.  Debates that question the deep core beliefs of the various advocacy coalitions were scant, if at all, any.
 
Which brings me back to the Pulse Asia survey, where it revealed that majority of Filipinos have very little knowledge about federalism and the 1987 Constitution.  This is very telling of the state of political education we have in the country.  Democracy thrives when citizens can openly discuss, and approve or disapprove, the beliefs and subsequent actions to construct, through government, what they deem as a good society.  When citizens do not know basic precepts and principles that underlie their current (the 1987 Constitution) and future (the Consultative Committee’s Federal Constitution draft) rights individually and collectively, then it would be dangerous for all of us to undertake such major systemic alteration.  
 
The Consultative Committee formally turned over to President Duterte its draft of the proposed constitution last July 9. It is not too late to engage in a debate where the deep core beliefs of the advocacy coalitions are interrogated. It is only when we understand what is truly meaningful for us as Filipinos that the federalism debate can truly become a federalism discourse.
 
 
Short Bio

Anne Lan Kagahastian Candelaria, PhD is currently the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs of the Ateneo de Manila University. She is also a faculty member of the Department of Political Science in the same university and a United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia Fellow for 2018-2019. Anne’s teaching, research, policy engagements and consultancy work focused on education governance, public policy, decentralization, and citizenship education.  Her advocacy is to make education a more meaningful experience for the Filipino learners through democratic governance of schools and a bottom-up construction of curricula.