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What You Need to Know About Federalism

By Aaron Ronquillo 2 weeks ago News

Why Does It Matter?

When Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ran for President, one of his platforms or advocacies is
to create a federalist system of government for the Philippines. This is also an advocacy of
several other groups which is also the reason why they have thrown their support behind Duterte
because they see him as the one who could make it happen when past administrations were
hesitant to do it.
What is Federalism?
Federalism refers to the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a central
government unit (in this case, the National Capital Region in Metro Manila) with regional
governments in a single political system.
Under this arrangement, there is a sharing or distribution of power between the national
government and regional governments though the former is supreme over the latter, most
especially in matters of national defense and foreign policy. These are matters of nationwide
bearing or affecting the entire country hence such powers are reserved to them.
The regions, divided further into local government units provinces and municipalities, will
mainly have responsibility over developing their (local) industries, public safety, education,
healthcare, transportation, recreation, and culture. They will have more power over their
finances, development plans, and laws exclusive and only applicable to their respective
There are several countries that follow this system, most notably the United States of America.
There is also Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Malaysia and India to name a few
Why Federalism for the Philippines?

The problem lies in the current form which is unitary or centralist. All administrative powers of
authority and resources emanates from the National Capital Region. The Executive Branch,
notably the Office of the President through the Department of Local Government and the Interior
(DILG), decides on the amount of resources to provide to local government units (LGUs).

From here, the drawback of this system is that it is prone to abuse. Governors and mayors
sometimes have to beg Malacaang for resources their communities need. This was the case in
the aftermath of Typhoon Yolandas destruction of Eastern Visayas. The then Mayor of Tacloban,
Leyte Alfred Romualdez deplored the slow or absence of assistance from Malacaang in
providing assistance to the stricken region on the account his family is associated with the
Marcoses who are the enemies of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan (if this is to be believed). In
another scenario, given the regionalistic tendencies of who sits in Malacaang, they tend to
prioritize the development of their home region or province over the others.
The other glaring example for the need of federalism is the situation in Mindanao. Mindanao is
perhaps the least developed region in the country. Its residents feel marginalized by the leaders in
Manila whom they feel are micromanaging them with no idea of the real situation which is
exacerbated by the ongoing conflict between the government and the secessionist movements
plus the communist insurgency and terrorist groups.
The bottom line is the outlying provinces are poorly developed. The NCR is pretty much the
center of everything in the Philippines. It is the reason why all major trade and commerce takes
place here and people from the provinces go to the NCR for higher education and/or work
because none of those are available back home. It also created the stereotyping of the promdi
or probinsyano as economically and socially backward as the result of having no development.
How Can Federalism Address These Problems (Pros and Cons)?
First the cons. Federalism is not without its detractors. One of the obvious reasons why
federalism is opposed is the fear it would cause further fragmentation or disunity in the
Philippines. There is the fear the regions might secede and become independent states. Once
again, this will be attributed to the regionalistic tendency of the Filipino and may develop
rivalries that could possibly result in a civil war if this would spiral out of control.
The other negative scenario is it would encourage warlordism or political dynasties to flourish.
There might be a tendency for these governors and mayors to turn their constituencies into local
fiefdoms and the central government may not be able to rein them in if they become too
powerful and could also possibly lead to civil war.
The other is the issue of jurisdiction when it comes to laws. The question is where does the
responsibility of state governments end and where does the responsibility of the national
government begin? How far can the national government intervene in local affairs; and how far
can local governments exercise their autonomy without overstepping the authority of the national
government? It is likely some if not many of the heads of the regional governments do not want
the national government to interfere with their affairs. Unless these are very clearly stated in the
amended Constitution, confusion may arise, leading to a possible crisis.
READ MORE Why the Duterte Campaign was Succesful

There might be an uneven development among regions and provinces. Some provinces may not
be as ready for autonomy as others. Some may be lacking in natural resources or skilled labor as
others. LGUs with good leaders will progress faster while those with ineffective ones will
degrade more than ever because national government will intervene to balance them out.
The pros of the argument addresses the above concerns and the cons. As mentioned before the
supremacy of the national government shall prevail over regional governments. The
responsibilities of the national government are the state of the nation through national defense
and foreign affairs which covers issues of security and economy. They shall ensure the integrity
of the country and as such, intervene should any problem arise that LGUs cannot handle on their
own. It is very likely regional governments cannot be given too much power to ensure they will
not abuse or usurp the national government.
Regarding the political dynasties, the key is to remove the economic protectionist laws in the
constitution that would invite foreign investment. It is now up to the leaders of regional
governments to entice foreign investors to set up shop in their jurisdictions. This in turn would
create more job opportunities for local residents without the need to travel to the NCR or go
abroad. In time, they would become wealthier than the oligarchs and empowered because the
latter relies mainly on land for their wealth. The other key is to eliminate the pork barrel. Without
pork barrel to give them too much power, they will now have to implement their own taxation
The issue of political dynasties is not entirely political but more on the economic side. Taking
away their means to perpetuate themselves will pave the way for development. Without pork
barrel, these oligarchs may no longer be interested in politics (and could focus more on business)
and can pave the way for more deserving individuals to run for office. This follows that local
leaders from the governors to the mayors will be more accountable to their constituents and can
no longer make the NCR a scapegoat for any bureaucratic issues, this making them a lot closer to
their constituents.
In relation, this promotes specialization. Regional governments can specialize in different areas
that will determine policy since they are endowed with administrative powers allowing them to
focus on economic development using their core competencies and industries. For example,
Central Luzon can focus on becoming an agricultural hub. Palawan can choose to use ecotourism as its primary launch pad. There will be no micromanaging from the NCR as heads of
LGUs have a better grasp of the situation in their jurisdictions.
Furthermore, LGUs can retain more of their income and are mandated to turn over only a
portion to the regional government they fall under. Thus, they can channel their own funds
toward their own development instead of the bulk of the money going to the national
government. They can spend the money on programs and policies they see fit without waiting for
the NCRs approval.
Regional governments will now more self-reliant and in control of their development. They
could assess themselves relative to how their neighboring regions are progressing. The healthy
competitive spirit hopes to motivate local leaders and citizens to level up in terms of quality of

life, economic development, progressive policies, and governance, and possibly cooperate with
one another instead of clashing which can put a check on the negative aspect of regionalism.
Through federalism, every place in the Philippines is sure to prosper and put an end once and for
all the backward image of the probinsyano or promdi.

Preparing for federalism

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina Jr.
May 16, 2016 (updated)
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Effective leadership and good management system are essential elements to free a people from
poverty and its dire consequences. Ultimately, however, it is the people themselves who will
provide these elements.
In the Philippines, we decide through periodic elections on who should be our leaders, from the
president to the lowest barangay officials. In turn, these leaders appoint the government workers
who will assist them perform their functions.
When leaders know by heart the peoples problems and have the competence and political will to
carry out the solutions, then the people can expect a better life. Jobs and livelihood, peace and
order, health, education, housing, transportation, communication and other requirements of
modern living become available to the people.
Unfortunately, pervasive poverty continues to stalk the land. This is a clear reflection of the kind
of leadership we have been choosing for a long time now. Improvement in the lives of our people
can only come about if the leaders are unselfish, honest, competent, and God-fearing because,
indeed, leadership makes the biggest difference in government organization. But leadership
needs a good management system to deliver the needed services to the people and alleviate their
suffering soonest.
The incoming Duterte administrations plan to shift to a federal system is a welcome idea to start
the ball rolling in the quest for a better government management system which hopefully will
achieve positive changes and significant progress. National income from all sources will also be
equitably divided between the national government on the one hand, and the regional or state
governments, provincial, city, municipal and governments on the other hand to fund their
respective development programs.
The benefits of federalism or placing regions under regional governments whereby executive,
legislative and judicial powers are decentralized to state or regional governments and further
decentralized to provincial, city and municipal and barangay governmentscould jibe well with

the reform and development agenda of agricultural modernization, rapid industrialization and
employment creation to bring economic progress to various regions of the country.
And, surely, progress spread out to all the regions will lead to new growth centers rising outside
of the National Capital Region and other heavily congested metropolitan areas which would then
cease to be perennial magnets for rapid rural to urban migration.
Shifting to federalism or a variant to achieve balanced growth and a more appropriate
distribution of wealth across regionsproposed by former Sen. Nene Pimentel to be divided into
11 federal stateswill enable the local government units (LGUs) in such states to assume more
responsibilities and contribute more significant results, in a faster and decisive manner, in the
development of their localities.
The federal system will be a great improvement from the current setup whereby major regional
and other local development programs and projects are conceived and decided in the so-called
Imperial Manila by national government officials who often times are not in touch with current
realities, unlike the local officials who are at the forefront and constantly aware of the situation
on the ground and what socio-economic programs and projects are exactly needed in specific
While there are development councils in various levels from regional down to barangay, as well
as the so-called bottom up budgeting that taps citizen participation in formulation of local
programs and projects, the reality is that the executive branch of governmentparticularly the
National Economic and Development Authority and Department of Budget and Management
can impose its will on how to develop localities.
The path towards federalism, however, isnt easy. Aside from having to revise and not merely
amend the Philippine Constitution, every region to be transformed into a federal state or regional
government have to be prepared to play out its role efficiently to attain success in the pursuit of
its local development agenda.
But the public perception that mediocrity is prevalent in many LGUs persists. Past neglect in
assessing impacts of various projects and programs has led to high fiscal leakages and failure to
achieve development goals, former Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan has
admitted. Unnecessary projects like waiting sheds and many more have sucked up public funds
that could have been used for poverty alleviation. Prominent leaders of the business community
have also stressed that competence building in local government units has to done in order for
federalism to work.
So how can LGUs, i.e. state or regional government and other local governments, prepare to
meet the challenges in a federated system and provide efficient and effective governance? The
answer may be found in Section 16 of the 1991 Local Government Code (LGC) that authorizes
local officials which will now include state or regional officials to use their vast powers in
undertaking activities essential to the promotion of the general welfare.

This general welfare clause state mandates that local officials to, among others, enhance
economic prosperity and social justice, promote full employment among their residents, maintain
peace and order, and preserve the comfort and convenience of their inhabitants.
Having participated in the drafting of the LGC during my stint as senator, and having served as
Metro Manila governor, Laguna governor and DILG secretary, I can honestly say that utilizing
such provision to its fullest extent can open up limitless possibilities for state and other local
officials that endeavor to be self-reliant.
LGUs are clearly tasked by the law to reduce joblessness and promote livelihood activities that
will enhance economic prosperity in communities. In line with this, LGUs can plan and pursue
their own local development programs on job creation, tourism enhancement, and various agroindustrial and infrastructure projects.
For the state and local officials constantly striving for excellence, the possibilities are indeed
limitless. They can pursue innovative ways to be efficient economic managers who utilize funds
prudently, reduce joblessness and promote livelihood activities to enhance economic prosperity
in their respective areas. Adequately performing vital tasks now could ensure continued success
when federalism finally becomes a reality.
In the next few days, discussion on federalism or regionalization of government will be in full
swing as President Rody Duterte and his team present their entire idea on federalism or its
variant to the public. Let us participate actively in the discussion as its outcome concerns us all
and the future of our nation.