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POV Philippines by Jon JoaquinFederalism in the Philippines?

By Jon Joaquin

All of a sudden the buzzword in Mindanao is federalism. To a large extent, this is due to the proposed enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which principally outlines the sharing of wealth and political power between the central and regional governments. Many political leaders in Mindanao – especially Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte – are taking their cue from this and are saying that if the Moro people can be given autonomy, why not the rest of the country through a federal form of government?

But 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.”

“Certain characteristics and principles are common to all successful federal systems: a written constitution or basic law stipulating the distribution of powers; diffusion of power among the constituent elements, which are substantially self-sustaining; and territorial divisions to ensure neutrality and equality in the representation of various groups and interests,” the dictionary adds.

There are many forms of federalism, with the US model perhaps being the most familiar to Filipinos. It is unclear what the recent Mindanao Leaders’ Summit on Federalism, organized by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, is advocating, but it is useful to remember that in 2008 then-Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. had 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 centres 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 (Marawi).

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.

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 is precisely 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.

Jon Joaquin is the Associate Editor of EDGE Davao, the newest daily newspaper in Mindanao. E-mail Jon at

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