Does federalism stand a chance?

Does federalism stand a chance?

- in Opinion, Philippines
@Jon Joaquin
By Hellerick [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Before he became a Presidential candidate, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was a federalism advocate. He started a nationwide “listening tour” on federalism in January 2015, visiting many key cities and talking to people about the benefits of shifting to a new form of government.

When he finally joined the Presidential race, one of the advocacies on which Duterte anchored his campaign was federalism — the promise to break the hold of “Imperial Manila” and distribute power and wealth to all the regions. This was met with widespread approval throughout the country.

First things first
What is federalism, and why do its supporters believe it is the answer to the problems of the country?

First a definition: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is “a political system that binds a group of states into a larger, non-centralized, superior state while allowing them to maintain their own political identities.” There are many forms of federalism, with the US model perhaps being the most familiar to Filipinos.

It is useful to remember that in 2008 then-Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. proposed a resolution that sought to adopt a Federal Presidential Bicameral form of government.

Joint Resolution No. 10, which had the support of 13 senators, would have created 11 autonomous regions and 11 centers of finance and development in the Philippines. Under the proposal, there would be 11 states plus one federal administrative region – Metro Manila – as the seat of the federal government.

The other states would be Northern Luzon (with Tuguegarao as capital), Central Luzon (Tarlac City), Southern Tagalog (Tagaytay), Mimaropa (Mamburao), Bicol (Legazpi), Eastern Visayas (Catbalogan), Central Visayas (Toledo), Western Visayas (Iloilo City), Northern Mindanao (Cagayan de Oro), Southern Mindanao (Davao City), and Bangsamoro (Cotabato City).

Proposed designations, capitals, and geographic extents
Proposed designations, capitals, and geographic extents (from Wikipedia)

At the House of Representatives, Rep. Monico O. Puentevella filed House Concurrent Resolution No. 15 on May 7, 2008, which supported Senate Resolution No. 10.

Advantages of federalism
One of the staunchest advocates of federalism, former University of the Philippines President Jose Abueva, formed the Citizens’ Movement for a Federal Philippines (CMFP) to campaign for a shift to a federal of government. In a paper titled Some Advantages of Federalism and Parliamentary Government for the Philippines (Revised for June 29, 2005), he listed eight advantages of the federal system:

  1. The Federal Republic will build a just and enduring framework for peace through unity in our ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, especially in relation to Bangsa Moro or Muslim Filipinos and our lumad/indigenous peoples.
  2. Decentralization and devolution cannot move further under the old unitary system despite avowed goals expressed in the 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code.
  3. The Federal Republic will empower our citizens by enabling them to raise their standard of living and enhance their political awareness through their participation and efficacy in elections and the making and carrying out of government decisions at the regional and local levels.
  4. The Federal Republic will improve governance by challenging and energizing state and local leaders, entrepreneurs, and citizens around the country to take hold of their destiny. Federalism will release them from the costly, time-consuming, stifling, and demoralizing effects of excessive central government controls and regulation in our traditional unitary system.
  5. The Federal Republic will thus stimulate and hasten the country’s political, economic, social, and cultural development.
  6. Federalism, together with parliamentary government, will improve governance by promoting the development of strong, united, disciplined, and program-oriented political parties that are responsible and accountable to the people for their conduct and performance in and out of power.
  7. Metro Manila State will have a unified political structure that will integrate its various cities and municipalities under the state assembly that combines legislative and executive powers and authority. Unlike the state assemblies of the other states, the mayors in Metro Manila will constitute the Metro Manila State Assembly. The Metro Manila Governor and State Cabinet will direct and coordinate the various metropolitan functions and services.
  8. Gradually, the Federal Republic and its parliamentary government will broaden and deepen democracy.

The CMFP had proposed the holding of a plebiscite early in 2007 to ratify the proposed revision of the 1987 Constitution, so that the election in May 2007 would be for the officers in the 1987 Constitution as revised.

Unfortunately, it was the need for amendments to the Constitution that doomed the proposal. There was massive opposition to Charter Change (Cha-Cha) because most people believed it would open the Constitution to other amendments – specifically the removal of term limits for elected officials, which would benefit then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She was then already becoming unpopular because of charges of corruption and of cheating in the 2004 Presidential election, and she was widely believed to be positioning herself to be the country’s leader even after her term’s end in 2010.

This time around, with an extremely popular President at the helm, there is hope that the country will finally see the need to shift to a federal form of government. Perhaps now, federalism has a fighting chance.

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