Is Federalism the answer to our current problems?

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    Federalism has put into the scene again. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been active lately in advocating this type of government. His “listening tour” that started last year continues to generate discussions in the public. And because of this, many have asked about federalism. How can this help the country? What are the advantages and disadvantages if it is formally practiced in the Philippines? Is this really the solution to the daunting problems of the country?

The Definition 

   As defined, “Federalism is a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government. Generally, an overarching national government governs issues that affect the entire country, and smaller subdivisions govern issues of local concern. Both the national government and the smaller political subdivisions have the power to make laws and both have a certain level of autonomy from each other (1).” For example, the United States has a federal system of governance that consists of the national or federal government, and the government of the individual states. 

   The argument for federalism has not changed. In the Philippines, the advocates of Federalism want to change the government from the presidential-unitary system to a parliamentary-federal system of government. They believe that it “would respond to the geographical obstacle and differences caused by cultural diversity on governance because it allows fragmentation while at the same time promoting the national interest. It is also claimed that the federal structure will accelerate the country’s development and end the internal conflicts brought by separatist movements in Mindanao.”(2) 

   Federalism is not new in the Philippines. This concept is already practiced before the Spanish came. Some research already traces its origin and tries to develop a theory out of it. For example, the study of Jose Abueva and his draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of the Philippines with a Parliamentary Government really pushes for this idea to the Filipinos. 

photo by Pal Raine 

The Advantages 

   Federalism is not an exception to pros and cons. Let’s examine them to find out what this concept would bring to us. 

   An annotated CMFP draft constitution, edited by the CMFP’s advisory committee chairman, Abueva, lists six advantages of federalism: 

First, a 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. Responsive Federalism will accommodate their legitimate interests, end the war in Mindanao, and discourage secessionism. 

Second, Federalism will empower our citizens by enabling them to raise their standard of living and enhance their political awareness, participation and efficacy in elections and the making of important government decisions. Governance will be improved and corruption will be reduced…. 

Third, Federalism will improve governance by empowering and challenging State and local leaders and entrepreneurs around the country….the people will be more willing to pay taxes that will finance government programs and services for their direct benefit. 

Fourth, Federalism will hasten the county’s development….There will be inter-State and regional competition in attracting domestic and foreign investments and industries, professionals and skilled workers, good teachers and scholars, artists, and tourists. A renaissance of regional languages and cultures will enrich the national language and culture. The Federal Government will help support the less endowed and developed regions, and the poor and the needy across the land…. 

Fifth, Federalism, together with parliamentary government, will improve governance promoting the development of program-oriented political parties that are responsible and accountable the people for their conduct and performance in and out of power. 

Sixth, Federalism will broaden and deepen democracy and make its institutions deliver on the constitutional promise of human rights, a better life for all, a just and humane society, and responsible and accountable political leadership and governance (CMFP Draft Constitution February 2005:4-5). 

   The advocates recognized that federalism is not a panacea for solving all governance problems. However, it will improve Philippine governance. The structure of a federal government will empower the people and accelerate the country’s development. 

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Issues and Concerns 

   While the advocates are busy campaigning federalism to the public, some are questioning the feasibility of it. In this regard, it is important that we should be critical if this type of government would be beneficial to us. Some issues and concerns have been raised to question the viability of federalism in the Philippines. 

   In the paper of Alex B. Brillantes, Jr. and Donna Moscare entitled “Decentralization and Federalism in the Philippines: Lessons from Global Community”, they have presented issues and concerns about federalism. They said that “issues and concerns regarding the conversion to the federal system from the present unitary structure have to be confronted.” Since federalism is touted to solve the problems of provincial disparities and Moro uprising in Mindanao, it is important to consider “whether the Moros will find a federal state of their own an acceptable alternative to their separatist goal. The compromise between the government and the Moros, therefore, is needed.” 

   They have also addressed “the capacities and capabilities of the state and local governments.” As they have argued: 

“While preparing for federalism, the government should be more decentralized. It is necessary to promote and develop self- reliance in the local governments that will be converted to states. They should have the capability and resources to function effectively as states under a federal government. They should be enabled to respond to the needs and demands of the community and fulfill their roles under a federal set-up. Parallel movement, therefore, of devolution and federalism is vital.” 

“The move toward federalism should be purposive and deliberative. The process should also be participatory and broad-based. Various sectors of society must be involved to effect change that will be beneficial to the nation. Time to study, discuss, debate and consider other alternatives for change is important. As Abueva put it,’we should not repeat the haste under pressure in making our present (1987) Constitution.’” 

   Judge Eliza B. Yu, LLM, DCL argues that federalism is not the answer to our problems. Because of the economic inequalities experienced in some of the cities, municipalities and provinces in the Philippines, federalism is not viable to be an alternative. She said that “the pressing problem that should be addressed by national leaders is improving the economy not changing the system of government.” She proposed an amendment of some of the provisions in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, as she proposed: 

1. The 24 Senators should be increased to 54 Senators. The Senate must be proportionally represented by 18 Regions thus two senators must come each from NCR, CAR, Region I, Region II, Region III, Region IV – A, Region IV – B, Region V, Region VI, Region VII, Region VIII, Region IX, Region X, Region XI, Region XII, Region XIII, ARMM and BANGSANGMORO. The Senators should be elected by popular vote. 
2. The 292 congressmen and 54 senators must elect the President and Vice – President among themselves. 
3. Elective public officers must be college graduates. Voters must be college graduates. 
4. Candidates with pending and / or decided criminal cases whatever be the imposable penalties are disqualified to run for public offices. 
5. Convicted public officers in graft and corruption cases including plunder cannot be granted an absolute pardon by a President. 
6. Appointment of Supreme Court, Sandiganbayan and Appellate Court Justices are made by the votes of the majority of the members of bicameral congress. Application is open to all qualified lawyers addressed to JBC subject to background investigation and processing of application by JBC that will transmit the qualified nominees to the Office of the President, which in turn, it will submit the shortlist of nominees, of not more than ten, to bicameral congress for voting. Public interview and opposition will be conducted by the Committee on Justice prior to the actual voting. JBC nominates the trial court judges only for appointment by the Office of the President. 
7. Supreme Court decides only judicial cases not administrative cases; 
8. Creation of constitutional office that will discipline all public attorneys, public prosecutors and judges; 
9. Abolition of first level courts and second level courts. All trial courts are uniformly called District Trial Courts nationwide. Its sole purpose is for reception of evidence and rendition of decision. The Judges are classified according to rank e.g. by seniority, high case disposal, low case reversal on appeal, that determined their salaries and allowances. 
10. Supreme Court hears constitutional cases only. It entertains appealed cases with charge of grave abuse of discretion of trial court or appellate court that it will render administrative liability of gravely abusive Judge. 
11. Supreme Court cannot issue any Temporary Restraining Order or Permanent Injunction in the exercise of its Power of Judicial Review. 
12. Creation of Administrative Investigation Committee of complaints against impeachable officers whose offenses are not culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust that will conduct investigation, report and recommendation for imposition of appropriate penalties by bicameral congress within two months. Summary procedure is adopted. 
13. Simple majority of those who participated in the impeachment proceedings is required to convict an impeachable officer. 
14. Impeachment proceedings should be summary procedure. Judicial affidavits and position papers are taken in lieu of trial – type hearings. Impeachment should be finished within 3 months in closed – door or public – type proceedings. Judgment is immediately issued. 
15. Bicameral congress can introduce changes to the Economic provisions of the Constitution upon the vote of its simple majority members only without the ratification of the people in an election called for such purpose. 
16. Reduction of the basic rights of the accused and addition of the rights of the State as the offended party and the victims in crimes. 

Furthermore, Herman Tiu Laurel says that: 

“The Philippines needs a revolution at the top and center to transform the country, from an economic, labor exporting, consumer exploited backwater and political basket case to a nation led by leaders implementing a long term national and unified plan, rising above partisan and electoral considerations, to dismantle the foreign-local oligarchy public utilities monopoly, restore national credit to agro-industrial productivity, establish political meritocracy through qualification standards for electoral and public service office. This will require a strong, national, unified nation and government.”(4) 


   You cannot deny the good things that federalism can offer. As mentioned above, it can foster economic development, can solve regional dissidence and can bring the lasting peace in Mindanao. But it is also important to consider its disadvantages. If you notice, it becomes a trend to flaunt the idea of federalism when the election is near approaching. 

   The concept of federalism should be properly discussed in public. The advocates seem to forget that the masses should be first enlightened about this type of government. If there is a forum about it, they are only inviting known personalities to push this agenda. In short, there is no real sectorial participation. It should have participation and discussion in all sectors in the society. It is important to weigh all the options because our country is at stake. It’s better to delve into this subject and study its content than easily jump on the bandwagon. 


{2} Brillantes Jr., Alex B. & Moscare Donna. Decentralization and Federalism in the Philippines: Lessons from Global Community 
{3} Eliza B. Yu, LLM, DCL. Is Federalism Feasible in the Philippines? 
{4} Herman Tiu Laurel Federalism: magical solution? 09 March 2015 - 
{5} Autonomy: Debate and Practice in the Philippines by IAG ARCHIVES, 08 October 2013 -
{6} Citizens’ Movement for a Federal Philippines (CMFP) -

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