Federalism: Is this the biggest change to happen under Duterte’s watch?

“Change is coming.” This is the slogan of President-elect Rodrigo Roa Duterte. In the recently concluded 2016 Philippine Presidential Elections, Filipinos, along with the rest of the world, witnessed the victory of the veteran Davao Mayor. With more than 15 million votes, Duterte has been given the mandate to run the country as the next Philippine president.

Duterte is scheduled to take the top helm by noon of June 30 in which his first 100 days will start counting. He promised to impose his fight against drugs, corruption, and criminality. But it was not necessary for him to wait for his inauguration. Being the “action man” that he is, he immediately laid out his platform in detail during midnight press conferences in Davao. He openly discussed his plans to the media and the public countless times, and this includes the possibility of moving from a unitary form of government into a federal system.

Past initiatives

But Federalism in the Philippines is not an entirely new idea. In fact, this has been considered since the declaration of the first Philippine Republic. In a research done by Curig and Matunding for the University of the Philippines, during the 1899 Malolos Constitution, Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini have proposed a federal system that would divide the country into three states: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

This idea did not push through though, with the report citing: “At that period of war, it was agreed that the new Republic would not last nor would it present a unified front against the American colonizers if at the very start, the country is seen to be subdivided politically and administratively. The idea was to present a solid country with power firmly held at the center.”

The decision to adopt a unitary system of government is an effect of the statement above. The belief is that if governmental powers were centralized to Manila, the capital, then we have strong Republic. But the nation was still clearly divided after losing the Filipino-American War. We all know this story through Heneral Antonio Luna. His death was a sign of a Philippines that was not unified at all.

The proposal to push for federalism was revived once again in 1935, at the time when the Philippines used the United States Constitution as a basis for developing its own. The federal system part of the US however, was left out in favor of continuing a unitary system. Another call to federalism was made in 1973 during the Marcos Era by Salvador Araneta but it also failed. By the time Corazon Aquino ascended to the Presidency, another call to federalism was made, but this time with very little rapport as the country was just moving on from the Marcos dictatorship.

Pushing for federalism

Today, federalism is advocated by the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-LABAN) political party spearheaded by veteran politician Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III. In 2008, he proposed Joint Resolution No. 10, which would have required the revision of the 1987 Constitution and implement a federal, presidential, and bicameral form of government. In the said Resolution, the Philippines will be divided into 11 states and one administrative region:

  1. Federal Administrative Region of Metro Manila – Manila
  2. Northern Luzon – Tuguegarao City
  3. Central Luzon – Tarlac City
  4. Southern Tagalog – Tagaytay City
  5. Minparom – Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro
  6. Bicol – Legazpi City
  7. Eastern Visayas – Tacloban City
  8. Central Visayas – Cebu City
  9. Western Visayas – Iloilo City
  10. Northern Mindanao – Cagayan de Oro City
  11. Southern Mindanao – Davao City
  12. Bangsamoro – Cotabato City

The 11 States shall operate within their own state governments while power is shared with the federal government, which acts on a national scale. Local issues are handled by the state governments and is responsible for the legislation and economic development within their area. The federal government will mainly be involved in handling national issues and concerns like the safety and security of the country.

Former UP President and Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) recipient, Jose Abueva, also prepared a white paper on federalism. In this 19-page document entitled Some Advantages of Federalism and Parliamentary Government for the Philippines, he laid out all the characteristics of a federal parliamentary system in the Philippines. Roles were clearly stated and went on as far as detailing the system as having a prime minister and president.

Abueva pointed out some clear advantages when the country moves into a federal system. He stated five reasons:

  1. Federalism will encourage peace and unity within the diverse cultures of the Philippines, most especially for the Lumads and the Muslim Filipinos.
  2. Federalism will fully decentralize the entire government system.
  3. Federalism will increase citizen participation in the development of their own states.
  4. Federalism will empower local or state governments.
  5. Federalism will spark growth and development within states and not just in Metro Manila.

One of the biggest supporters of federalism is none other than the incoming president himself, Rodrigo Duterte. Even before his announcement to run for president, he has been going to different provinces in the Philippines to share his stand as to why federalism should be enacted this time around. Even when he was campaigning for president, he was unabashed in telling people not to vote for him if they did not believe in federalism.

Duterte has argued in several for a that there is an unequal distribution of wealth and development across the country. This is largely the effect of having a unitary form of government. Metro Manila has become the center of all activities and developments that other cities in the provinces have been neglected. Duterte said that most of the revenues generated by provinces just stay in Manila and is never given back to the region or province. When it comes to government documents and services, people from the province have to travel to Manila just to get them. Even the best facilities are located in Manila.

Federalism, he says, changes it all, as only 20% of state revenues will go to the federal capital, while 80% will remain with the provinces so it can develop. In the federal system, states have more power and resources in rapidly developing their cities. Essentially, the revenues made by a state will more or less go back to the state.

So when Duterte says, “change is coming,” shifting to a federal government must be one of them. However, it will still take several steps and years before this will be in full swing. Duterte needs to open a referendum first (like Brexit) in order to get the nation’s pulse on the issue. It is only then when a Constitutional Convention has to be enacted with the approval of both upper and lower houses will federalism take shape for our nation.