Advocates: Federalism will help solve poverty

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Federalism advocates say poverty has been high under the present unitary form of government.

According to figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), more than half (62.84 percent) of the country's gross domestic product has been concentrated in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon.

But the ten poorest provinces are also farthest from what some call "Imperial Manila":

  1. Lanao del Sur
  2. Sulu
  3. Sarangani
  4. Northern Samar
  5. Maguindanao
  6. Bukidnon
  7. Sultan Kudarat
  8. Zamboanga del Norte
  9. Siquijor
  10. Agusan del Sur

With federalism, advocates say foreign businesses can directly invest and create jobs in these areas.

"Sila na mismo mag-decide — o maganda rito, punta ka dito, hindi na kailangan pang hihingi ng pahinulot (sa Maynila)," PDP-Laban Chairperson Emeritus and federalism advocate Nene Pimentel said.

[Translation: They themselves will be the ones to decide — and even better, they would not need to get permission from Manila.]

But some leaders say investors might get confused in dealing with different rules of several states. This might turn them away from doing business in the Philippines.

"The businesses will have more processes to undergo; this is some kind of a problem for us," Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairperson Donald Dee said.

But Pimentel said they had nothing to fear about. He said President Rodrigo Duterte's economic team were committed to preserve existing contracts.

"We'll follow the sanctity of contractual relations in this country," Pimentel pointed out.

But how could poor states survive without national government subsidies? With low tax revenues, some local government units rely on dole-out funds sometimes.

Public Administration expert Prospero De Vera suggested that there must be a so-called "equalization fund" to help federal states get by. A newly created loan commission will provide the funds to poor states for infrastructure projects. He pointed out that such was the case in Australia, where the criteria depended on poverty level.

Pimentel shared De Vera's view. Pimentel said the government could afford the fund, but he was unsure how much it would cost.

Advocates admit it's still an uphill battle to convince the public on the befits of federalism. That's why the President's allies are working double time on information campaigns.