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Transformation: Why the Philippines
must Shift to Federalism
Romena R. Luciano, 2013-0380
21 May 2015

I. Background
Several groups and individuals believe that it is high-time to revise the
current 1987 constitution and adopt a Federal of government for the
Philippines. This shift to Federalism would decentralize powers and promote
efficiency unlike in a unitary form of government that we have now. It is
argued that establishment of independent states in a Federal form of
government is a much better approach to improve and make the services of
the government to the people more efficient. A highly-centralized form of
governing an archipelagic country, which is composed of several islands and
a home to multifarious societies, just seems to be a mismatched. Moreover,
Federal system is perceived to propel economic growth, break the Manila
Imperialism and bring lasting peace in Mindanao.
Professor Jose Abueva, former Chancellor of the University of the
Philippines, former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo
Duterte, a supporter of the Federalist Party of Central Visayas, are some of
the prominent personalities that have been supporting Federalism.


said that the current set up of the government slows down the development
of the country. As observed, in a unitary system of government, getting
development funds for the far-flung areas of the country is tedious and
difficult. Furthermore, excessive centralization and controls by the national
government in the unitary system causes costly, time-consuming, stifling,
and demoralizing effects on the local leaders and businessmen. Conversely,

the highly decentralized structures and process of the federation will

challenge, empower and energize the people and their state and local
governments (Abueva). Lastly, they strongly argue that adopting Federal
system is the best way to finally end the dispute in Mindanao, where Muslims
people would get their own State.
In 2008, then Senators, headed by Sen. Pimentel proposed a Joint
Resolution No. 10 that would revise the current 1987 constitution and adopt
a federal presidential bicameral form of government. Also in 2005, then
President Gloria Arroyo, instituted a Consultative Commission on Charter
Change (ConCom) to study a proposal on a shift to parliamentary-federal
state. Evidently, both were not pushed through. Hence, the assertion that a
Federal System must finally replace the antiquated government system as
termed by Mayor Duterte is still an on-going movement. At present, civil
groups such as the Citizens Movement for a Federal Philippines, Federalist
Party of Central Visayas, Kusog Mindanaw, Lihuk Pideral, to name some, are
lobbying proposals to amend the current constitution and adopt federal
system of Government.

II. Position Statement

This paper argues that, in pursuit of a better and efficient governance
system and in genuinely promoting the interest of the people, the
Government of the Philippines must shift to Federalism.

III. Presentation of Arguments

In support to this position, three main arguments will be discussed.
These are:


A. In Federal System, decentralization of fiscal system offers boost in

Economic Growth;

In Federal System, establishment of independence of states

empowers local government and finally break the Manila Imperialism

formed in a unitary government; and
C. Following argument B, it will bring end to the dispute in Mindanao
and will institute just and lasting peace in the country.

A. Decentralization
Economic Growth







In a unitary government, the allocation of budget is decided in the national Level.

Though the Local Government Units(LGUs) have the authority to generate their own
income, much of their fund sources (almost 60%) come from the National Government.
The fund sources that they are getting, although done with consultation with them, have
undergone tedious preparations and bureaucracy. After preparation, the Department of
Budget and Management (DBM) will conduct budget hearings to help the president
prepare his proposal to the Legislative. Legislative then after studying the proposal will
vote for its enactment. It becomes the General Appropriations Act (GAA). This GAA
contains the entire budget of the entire islands of the Philippines. Not included in the
process mentioned, are the monitoring and disbursement of funds. Without being too
expert on the process, one can have an idea on how inefficient the management of
resources is with the National Government having much influence in appropriating the
funds without really capturing the peculiar needs of the multifarious societies of the
In a Federal System, there will be decentralized fiscal systems. It will offer more
potential for improved macroeconomic governance than do centralized fiscal systems
as it will provide greater clarity about the roles of various players and decision-makers
and-to ensure fair play-greater transparency in rules governing interactions (Pimentel).


The federal states could have independence in managing allocation of their own
resources, as they deemed appropriate. It would fast track the development of the
country, because planning and budgeting need not pass through the process for
approval by a national government, contrary to the present situation. With a unitary
system of government, getting development funds for the far-flung areas of the country
is tedious (ibid).

B. Empowerment of Local government

B.1. Independence of States
An argument that there is a demand for a centralized government to provide a
dominant and assertive leadership necessary for the consolidation and survival of a
weak state may be valid, but not too strong to overturn the positive argument that in a
Federal System, Local Government will be given opportunity to release the creative and
competitive spirit of people. Government of weaker state would certainly find means to
elevate its status in the spirit of competitiveness and as its environment requires. And
even if weaker states cannot compete, the fact remains that centralized government
cannot also do so much. With the present kind of government, weaker municipalities
are more so left behind. A central government lacks aptitude to address the problems
because those places are far from the capital and their culture there is not even known
or understood by the government. Federal System allows the government remains
close to the people because the state government argue that they are more in tune with
the daily needs and aspirations of people especially relevant to small and isolated

B.2. Breaking of Manila Imperialism: Decentralization

of Political Power
The unbearable traffic in Manila, the MRT/LRT problems are not problems of the
Philippines; it is simply problems of Manila. Albeit the Senate, the President has to give
it much attention to the point that subsidizing the operations of MRT, using the National
Budget, is nothing, but a given fact to most of them.

Federal System seeks to dismantle Manila Imperialism as it will empower

regional governments bringing governance and public service closer to the people.
With that, the government will achieve more effective and efficient governance. The
truth is that Manila Imperialism contradicts genuine recognition of cultural diversity in the
Philippines, thus it must be changed. It is the genuine recognition of the different
cultures and societies that will allow states to pursue local empowerment. Under the
federal set-up, the needs of a country with multifarious societies will be better

C. Attainment of Just and Lasting Peace

Related to ending the concept of Imperial Manila and genuine recognition of
the diversity of cultures and societies in the Philippines, institution of a federal
system where Muslims would get their own Bangsamoro state could end the
centuries old armed uprising of the Moros in Mindanao (Pimentel).
Indeed the federal system is worth looking into as a more ideal set-up
for Mindanao and the Philippines. More importantly, it is one system that
may be able to effectively address the current and peculiar situation of
Mindanao not only as a victim of neglect but also as a unique island-region.
More specifically, it is a political option that may help prevent a stalemate
that can lead to another war in Mindanao (ibid).

IV. Counter Arguments

Despite the strong arguments offered by the proponents of Federalism in the
country, many oppose it. Cited in this paper are two counter arguments that often
surfaced in papers counter arguing that constitution must not be amended and that
Federalism must not be pushed through: first, it is not the system that has to be
changed but the political leaders who are greedy and corrupt; and second, the Local
Government Code (RA 7160) already decentralizes the power as it provides for the
autonomy of the Local Government and that there is only a need to implement it
strictly. Both arguments have weak basis.


A. It is not the system that has to be changed but the

political leaders who are greedy and corrupt
That what we need is a breed of honest, good-conscience and trained
local leaders before a shift to Federal system government system becomes
acceptable might be too grandiose a plan. If we will follow this, then it is
almost the same as saying that nothing, besides those within the power of
elected officials, can be done to change the current situation of the
Government. That is not convincing. For one, there is no place or institution
that guarantees to produce an honest and good-conscience leader, but a
change in the system, which ultimately guides actions of the people moving
within it,

can bring

projected changes.

What does an organization or a

company do when they see that the current system is no longer applicable or
responsive to the needs of the organization or the company? Do they kick
out their managers and hire new ones? No. Most often, it changes its system
and adopts a better and a well-studied one. Thus, it is argued here that
determination of which system is appropriate and responsive to our country
must be the point of contention.

B. the Local Government Code (RA 7160) already

decentralizes the power as it provides for the autonomy of the
Local Government
Further, the contention that RA 7160, An Act providing for the A Local
Government Code of 1991, already addresses the question of a highlycentralized government and that a stricter implementation of the code is
what is needed, is also not persuading. The said act provides in the
Declaration of Policy in Title I Sec 2 that:
Section 2: XXX
[T]he territorial and political subdivisions of the State shall enjoy
genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their

fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more

effective partners in the attainment of national goals. Toward this end, the

shall provide

for a more

responsive and



government structure instituted through a system of decentralization

whereby the local government units shall be given the powers, authority,
responsibilities and resources. The process of decentralization shall
proceed from the National Government to the local governmental units.

While this is the basis of the current autonomy enjoyed by the local
government, Section 25 National Supervision over Local Governmen Units
(LGUs)of the same Title provides that:
Sec 25. (a) Consistent with the basic policy on local autonomy, the
President shall exercise general supervision over local government units to
ensure that their acts are within the scope of the prescribed powers and
(b) The President shall exercise supervisory authority directly over
provinces, highly urbanized cities, and independent component cities;










municipalities; and through the ity and municipality with respect to


While the enactment of this Code is indeed a form of decentralization

of powers, the local government units (LGUs the barangays, municipalities
and provinces) remained under the supervision of the Office of the President
thru the DILG and undeniably, governance remained strongly centralized.

Certainly, a shift to Federal State of Goverment will do much, if not all,
in the attainment of the genuine transformation that we all wanted. If it is
pushed through, it will give hope to many of us who wish to finally break free
from the limits and overwhelming power of a highly-centralized government.

Arguing that the shift to Federalism would be useless since the local
governments are also corrupt and dishonest may be valid, but far from
outweighing the reason why we need to adopt Federalism. The current
system, a unitary form of government, has harboured inefficiency and is not
matched with the kind of society that we have, hence it is our call to move
for its replacement with a system that we believe could best address our
present issues and realities economically and politically. In addition, it seems
that it is the only possible peaceful means to resolve the age-old disparities
in the country, especially the war and development problems in Mindanao
as many critics argued.
This is not to say that a shift to federal form of government rules out all
other means to attain genuine transformation. In fact, a shift to federalism is
but a part of a transformation. But unless, we start from the very basic law
that guides our government, we can never move closer to our goal to attain
genuine transformation.



1. Abueva, Jose B. Towards a Federal Republic of the Philippines:

Liberating the country from the stifling, centralized, Colonial control
of Imperial Manila.
2. Brillantes, Alex B. Jr. and Moscare Donna. Decentralization and
Federalism in the Philippines: Lessons from Global Community.
3. Coronel, Shiela. The federalist dream in the Philippines. Federalism
in the
4. Cureg, Elyzabeth F. and Matunding, Jennifer F. Federalism and
Multiculturalism. Federalism Initiatives in the Philippines.
5. Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG). Federalism Versus
Debate and Practice in the Philippines. Published on
Tuesday, 08 October
URL: autonomydebate-and-practice-in-the-philippines
6. Republic Act No. 7160. An Act Providing for the Local Government
Code of

Senator Aquilino Pimentel. Manuscript of an Interview.