IN CONVERSATION: VP Tapia shares his insight and experience during the 2023 International Munich Federalism Days

Hundreds of brilliant personalities from thirty different countries gathered at the International Munich Federalism Days from May 22 to 26 in Germany. Among them is the University of Makati Vice President for Academic Affairs, Professor Ederson DT. Tapia.

Professor Ederson shares details of the conference in this interview.

Invitation to the 2023 International Munich Federalism Days

University of Makati Vice President for Academic Affairs Ederson DT Tapia on International Munich Federalism Days – Germany on May 23, 2023. (Photo: E. Tapia)

With multitudinous exposure, work, and consultancies associated with local governance and federalism in the country, it is no surprise that Professor Tapia found himself in the event as one of the three representatives from the Philippines along with foreign policymakers and media personalities.

“Many of the delegates came from the field of public administration so it was some sort of reunion because we were talking about federalism for a long time and it was an opportune time to revisit some of the things that we discussed maybe five, ten, or even twenty years ago.”

The meeting between federal and aspiring federal countries

“Remember that for a time during the Duterte administration, we experimented on an attempt to shift to a federal system of government, albeit unsuccessfully, but even then, even if we are still not a federal country, we’ve gained a lot of inroads in our attempt to push the envelope by becoming more locally oriented in our governance model. So, even if the Philippines is not technically a federal country, we are one of the more advanced local governance models that the region can aspire for.”

University of Makati Vice President for Academic Affairs Ederson DT Tapia talks about the Philippine Government Response to COVID-19: Perspectives on Public Policy, Intergovernmental Cooperation and Securitization. (Photo: E. Tapia)

The Vice President for Academic Affairs highlighted that the main message of the conference was that power is best exercised if it is diffused. This, for him, means that the services for the people would have greater reach if the lowest tier of governance is involved and explained further that this principle is subsumed under the concept of subsidiarity.

Responding to a crisis in a federal setup

As part of the conference, Professor Tapia presented his paper about the Philippines’ response to COVID-19 as an indicative of the state of national-local relations.

“At the beginning, there was some confusion as to [the] boundaries of responsibilities between and among national government agencies and local government units. I think because of what we learned, there has to be clearer lines of delineation of functions and responsibility between the two levels of government.”

In his paper, he demonstrated how there were tensions between the national government and local government in terms of policy execution.

“Would the pandemic be better handled by the national government or by the local government? My answer is that it should still be handled by both. At the policy level, it is still the national government that can best set the agenda, but with proper consultation with the local government units.

University of Makati Vice President for Academic Affairs Ederson DT Tapia during his interview with CIC (Photos: UMak-CIC)

Now, in terms of implementation, there is no other choice but for the local government to be at the forefront of the implementation. But the policy, the direction, has to be set by the national government.

Would a federal setup be more appropriate in responding to crises in general? Well, the answer is that regardless of the structure of government, whether it is a federal state or a unitary state, institutions must be strengthened to fortify any kind of government response.

But of course, the people who attended the conference, given that they come from mostly federal countries, believed that there were a lot of lessons to be learned from federal countries precisely because local governments, or at least the equivalent of local governments, are in a better position to respond to crises of that nature.”

For Professor Tapia, since there are a lot of functions that have been given to the local government units, part of their responsibility should be to develop better systems for responding to crises, whether pandemics or other natural forms of disaster.

The possibility of harmonizing research outputs

Drawing from the comparative experiences of other countries, the UMak Vice President for Academic Affairs mentioned that there are questions that need to be explored which will be answered by doing more research.

“There’s been a lot of interesting papers in different facets of crisis response in the conference and in terms of unexplored areas there’s still a lot. For example, in the case of the Philippines, should we endeavor to proceed with our federalism project, the same old questions would be asked. Where do we delineate differences in the function between the national government and the local government? Do we talk about the super body that would be in charge of crisis management? Is it something similar to the FEMA model of the United States? Do we activate NDRRMC and make it more active in the pandemic response?”

However, an attempt to harmonize studies or research must be done in order to come up with a more policy-inclusive research project.

Dealing with the global education crisis

Professor Tapia admitted that online distance learning may not be the best modality for all courses.

“As an educational institution, we should also look at how the pandemic has taught us lessons in examining and reexamining pedagogy. For example, should we still insist on the face-to-face modality that we’ve grown accustomed to or should we embrace this hybrid concept of education?”

During the interview, he also mentioned that laboratory and skills-based courses are better taught onsite rather than online. In contrast, courses in philosophy, political science, and most graduate courses are possible through remote learning.

Overall, the conference was a fun and intellectually fulfilling experience for Professor Tapia. We are grateful to have also learned so much from his perspective.

The 2023 International Munich Federalism Days delegation from 30 different countries in Germany (Photos: E. Tapia)

The 2023 International Munich Federalism Days was organized by the Hanns Seidel Foundation, one of seven non-profit political organizations in the Federal Republic of Germany and a member of the Centre for European Studies, the official foundation and think tank of the European People’s Party.


Article and Transcription: Mark Mabalay, JR Grate
Interview: Adrian Miranda and Lee Ugaddan
Camera and Lights: Arjun Andrade, Carl Jacob Mariano, Daven Bantang