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MANILA, Philippines — Incoming president Rodrigo Duterte is an ardent advocate of federalism.

Long before he decided to run, Duterte made rounds in the country to promote it. It was during these listening tours that he
would float “if I were president” scenarios, which kept people guessing whether he would run or not.

When he finally decided to run, one of the reasons Duterte said prompted him to do so was that he was asked by his party,
Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), to carry the torch of federalism.

His pitch for it mainly involves two things: economic development not just for Metro Manila but for all the regions and peace,
particularly in the south.

In a nutshell, what is federalism?

Currently, the Philippines employs a unitary form of government with much of the power — decisions, policies, and programs
— emerging from the central government.

Under federalism, however, power is divided or shared between the central government and local state governments.

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Countries that employ a federal system of government includes the United States, Australia, Austria, Germany, Ethiopia,
Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, India, and Mexico, among others.

In the US, the national government has sole power or authority to print money, declare war, maintain the armed forces,
enter into treaties with foreign governments, regulate interstates and international trade, and establish a postal system.

A power that states have, meanwhile, is to establish their own local governments. The power to tax, regulate business, set
up courts, and build and maintain roads, among others, are shared by the national government and the local state

What is the argument of those pushing for federalism in the

Budget and fiscal autonomy have been a long-standing issue among local government units (LGUs) in the country,
according to political analyst Jan Robert Go, assistant professor of political science at the University of the Philippines

And most of the time, programs of the national government are "downloaded" to lower-income municipalities without the
benefit of evaluating whether they are applicable and sustainable, he added.

One contention of federalism advocates is that major tax revenues are turned over to the national government.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) collects national internal revenue taxes which include income tax, estate and donor's
taxes, value-added tax, other percentage taxes, excise taxes, documentary stamp taxes, and such other taxes that may be
imposed and collected by the BIR.

The pooled collection of national internal revenue taxes is split 60-40, with 60 percent going to the national government and
40 percent to the LGUs through the internal revenue allotment or IRA. This distribution of the IRA is also contested by
federalism advocates.

In one interview, Duterte said it was unfair that what Davao City gets from the IRA wasn't even at par compared to the
amount it remits to the national government.

LGUs are seen as the primary service providers but if funds are lacking, these services may be difficult to run and be
provided to the public, Go said.

There have been attempts in the past to raise the IRA share given to local governments. One of which was by Duterte's
party mate, PDP-Laban founder and former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who wanted it raised to 50 percent.

Attempts were also made to include in the IRA the tariff and duties collected by the Bureau of Customs to increase the
share that LGUs would be getting.

Is it the road to economic growth in poorer regions?

Duterte as the first Mindanaoan president and having served as Davao City mayor for nearly two decades is seen as
someone who understands the issue well.

He has described Metro Manila as "imperial" and has even refused to stay at Malacañang, saying that it is a symbol of

Federalists lament the big share Metro Manila gets compared to other regions.

A look at the 2016 national budget showed that Metro Manila got a 14.27 percent share with P428.5 billion, excluding the
budget for the Office of the President, Office of the Vice President and Congress which are based in the capital region.

Meanwhile, Luzon got 20.94 percent with P628.3 billion, Visayas got 9.94 percent with P298.3 billion, and Mindanao got
13.23 percent with P396.9 billion.

Out of the more than 100.98 million population in the country, 12.75 percent of the people are found in the densely-populated
Metro Manila. Luzon, excluding Metro Manila, accounts for 44.16 percent of the population followed by Mindanao at 23.9
percent and Visayas at 19.18 percent.

Duterte hasn't laid out how his proposed shift to federalism would go about, but in one campaign rally he said that LGUs
can keep most of their income. For every P100, the LGU would get P70 and the P30 would go to the national government,
he said.

He also has yet to detail how states will be divided. But under Joint Resolution No. 10 proposed in 2008 by then Sen.
Pimentel, he suggested the creation of 11 federal states out of the existing political subdivisions of the country with Metro
Manila as the federal administrative region akin to Washington D.C. of the United States.

Will it bring peace to Mindanao?

Duterte argues that federalism is primarily about peace.

Poverty is seen as one of the roots of armed rebellion, considered as a national security threat by the Office of the
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Likewise, historical neglect and injustice are seen as factors behind the
emergence of secessionist groups in Mindanao.

Philippine Statistics Authority data showed that for the first semester of 2015, 11 of the 20 poorest provinces in the country
are in Mindanao. These are Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Sarangani, Bukidnon, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del
Norte, Agusan del Sur, North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and Camiguin.

Go said that it is possible for federalism to bring peace in Mindanao but warned against making it appear like the ultimate

"Insofar as autonomy and self-government are concerned, perhaps federalism may provide the framework," he said.

"But I also want to point out the agential aspect of it. Simply changing the structures, but retaining the same actors will not
bring federalism far."

Criticism and efforts to push for federalism

A change in the system of government requires a constitutional change and past attempts to push for federalism in the
country have failed.

In support of Joint Resolution No. 10 which got the backing of 16 senators, Bacolod Rep. Monico filed the House Concurrent
Resolution No. 15 in 2008.

Differing from the Senate resolution which called for the convening of Congress as a constituent assembly to amend the
Constitution, the House version included constitutional convention as an option.

As mandated by the 1987 Constitution, constitutional amendments could be made through a constitutional assembly,
constitutional convention, or people's initiative.

Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo supported the constituent assembly proposal of Pimentel. Under this method, the
Constitution states that any amendments to it may be proposed by Congress "upon a vote of three-fourths of all its

Many, however, saw Arroyo's push for charter change as a ploy to extend her term.

"Charter change is and has been a sensitive topic for us," Go explained. "Any attempts to introduce change is welcomed
by protests and criticisms."

Critics are also wary that federalism will lead to fragmentation given the ethno-linguitic divide in the country.

Many are also divided on whether it could strengthen regional communities or deepen the hold of political dynasties.

"On the one hand, federalism may indeed empower local political elites and keep their hold of power. On the other hand,
the creation of state governments may pose as a challenge to political families in different localities," Go explained.

Understanding federalism
BREAKTHROUGH By Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 22, 2016 - 12:00am

Although the topic of federalism has been discussed since the 1971 Constitutional Convention, there are still many areas that are
not clear even to political analysts. In the interest of full disclosure, I will state now that I have always been in favor of a federal
system of government and I have written several columns in the past about this topic. However, today I want to focus on clarifying
certain issues.

There is a wrong impression that the choice is between a unitary form of government – which we have now – and a federal form
of government. There are actually three choices for forms of government – unitary, federal, confederate. Federalism is actually
the middle choice between centralization and confederation.

In a unitary form of government, there is one level of government – the national government. All other forms of government are
subordinate to the central government.

In both federalism and confederalism, there are two levels of government. In a confederation, however, the central government is
subordinate to the regional governing bodies. In a federal form of government, there is a clear division of authority between national
government and the state or regional government. The central government will remain more powerful than the state because of
its authority over national concerns.

For example, in a federal government, the national government retains sole power in the areas of foreign affairs, national defense,
monetary and fiscal policies and constitutional issues. The central government will, therefore, continue to have sole power to make
treaties, control the armed forces, and a common currency. The Constitutional bodies will remain – Supreme Court, Central Bank,
and Comelec.

A brief look at American history might shed some light on this issue. The original United States was actually a confederation of 13
states. When the US Constitution was being drafted, a Federalist Party was organized to support a stronger central government
while maintaining the 13 states. A group called the Anti-Federalists wanted a weaker central government. The final US Constitution
invoked federalism which was considered as being in the middle of the political spectrum between a confederacy and a unitary

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The American Civil War (1861-1865) was between the South who wanted a confederacy and the North who wanted to retain the
federal union. That is the reason why the Southern states that seceded from the United States of America called themselves the
Confederate States of America.

The other issue that must be clarified is that the choice of having a presidential and parliamentary form of government is a different
debate than choosing a unitary or federal government. Just for emphasis, a parliamentary or presidential form of government can
be instituted in a federal, unitary or confederate form of government.

There are also three choices that are available – parliamentary, presidential and a combination of the two. United States is an
example of a presidential form; Japan and the United Kingdom have a parliamentary form; and, France has a combination of both
presidential and parliamentary.

Division of powers
In a federal form of government, the constitution must prevail. Therefore, the division of powers between the federal and regional
form of governments must be clearly stated in the constitution. The constitution must also provide for powers that are not explicitly
stated in the constitution. In Germany and the United States, the powers that are not specifically granted to the federal government
are retained by the states. Other countries, like Canada and India, are different in that powers not explicitly given to the states are
retained by the federal government.

In the granting of powers to the state, there are also two ways. If all the states have the same powers, this is called “symmetric
federalism.” In a federal form of government where some states are given different powers or some possess greater autonomy,
this is called “asymmetric federalism.” This is often done when it is clear that a state or region possess a distinct culture. In the
case of the United Kingdom, Scotland has been given greater autonomy than England, Wales or Northern Ireland. In Spain the
regions dominated by the Basques and the Catalans have more powers than the other Spanish regions.

In the division of powers, India has four lists of powers – Union List, Concurrent List, State List, and Residuary List. I am not
advocating that we copy the India model. But I am presenting it here as a possible basis for discussion.

In the Union List, there are approximately 100 areas which is reserved for the federal government. Some of the areas are defense,
armed forces, atomic energy, foreign affairs, citizenship, airways, currency, foreign trade, inter- state trade and commerce,
banking, customs, elections and the Supreme Court.

In the State List, there are more than 60 items on the list. Some examples are police, local governments, public health and
sanitation, land tenures, fisheries, trade and commerce within the state, public markets and gambling.

The Concurrent List has more than 50 items where uniformity is desired but not considered essential. If there is any conflict
between the laws made by the federal and state government, the legislation by the federal government shall prevail. Some items
on this list are criminal law, marriage and divorce, adoption, forestry, labor unions, education, administration of justice except
Supreme Court and High Courts.

In the United States, the federal government sets the minimum wage but the individual states have the right to enact its own
minimum wage which, however, must be higher than the federal minimum wage.

The shift to federalism, even with Charter change, will be an evolving process and not an overnight change as some people
wrongly envision. Even in the United States, the delineation of powers between the national and the state governments is
continuously changing.

There are advantages and disadvantages to instituting federalism in the Philippines. There will be losers and winners in any shift
to a different form of government. So we need to have a vigorous national debate. But the first step is to understand what federalism
really means and while Charter change will formalize the structure, the process of federalizing can actually begin without Charter

The debate

Why federalism?

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 t 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

‘A Primer on Constitutional Reform/FAQ [frequently asked questions]’ by the Institute of Popular

Democracy, headed by academic activist Joel Rocamora, asks, ‘Why a federal system of government in the
Philippines?’ and ‘What are the advantages of Federal System of Government?’. It answers:

The present unitary and centralized form of government of the Philippines is a remnant of its colonial
past. It continues to be used as a tool for domination and control….

…the federal system will foster closer dialogue and interaction between the people and regional
leaders because the locus of power is physically closer to the people and it provides a list of
advantages similar that of the CMFP.

The specific expectation that federalism would help solve the Mindanao conflict has been a recurring theme
in the discussion. It is an argument that has been made by Pimentel and by Teves, and also by prominent
Muslim lawyer and former Congressman Datu Michael Mastura, who described federalism as ‘the antidote
to secession’[10]; more importantly it is a view that was endorsed as early as 1997 by MNLF leader Misuari
and also by the late MILFleader Salamat[11], and more recently by the Ulama League of the
Philippines[12], the chair of the Islamic Directorate of the Philippines (Macapanton Abbas), the Mindanao
Bishops-Ulama Conference, the attorney general of the ARMM (Jose Lorena), and the newly formed Muslim
Movement for Federal Philippines chaired by Farouk Sampao. Lorena, for example, argues that under the
present autonomy arrangements the ARMM is treated as a local government under the supervision of the
national government, whereas in a federal system it would have sovereignty within its own sphere of
responsibilities. The argument has been questioned, however, by Mindanao-based lawyer and academic
Benedicto Bacani (see Bacani 2003, 2004). Bacani compares the powers of the ARMM under the present
organic law and those under the proposed [CMFP] draft constitution, and concludes that ‘there are features
in the Organic law that provide for a higher level of self-determination than in the proposed federal system’;
perhaps, he suggests, the failure of the present autonomy lies not in autonomy as a framework but in its
operationalization (2004:133).

What form might federalism take?

As revised to 14 February 2005, the ‘CMFP Draft Constitution for a Federal Republic of the Philippines with
a Parliamentary Government’ envisages a Federal Republic of the Philippines (Ang Republica Federal ng
Pilipinas) with a federal or national government (Gobyerno Federal) and ten states (Estados). The
proposed ten states are: Bangsamoro (ARMM); Central and Southern Mindanao (Regions XI, XII); Northern
and Western Mindanao (Regions IX and X and Caraga); Eastern Visayas (Region VII); Western Visayas-
Palawan (Region IV and part of Region VI); Bicol (Region V and part of Region IV); Southern Luzon (most
of Region IV); Metro Manila; Central Luzon (Region III), and Northern Luzon and Cordillera (Region I and
CAR). (A later [June 2005] paper by Abueva refers to eleven states, with Northern Luzon and CAR
becoming separate states.) It is proposed to establish a federal capital, New Manila, within the Clark Special
Economic Zone, north of Manila (fortuitously, in the home province – Pampanga – of President Macapagal-

The draft constitution proposes a distribution of powers and functions, with thirty-three subjects listed for
exclusive federal jurisdiction, twenty-eight subjects listed for primary state jurisdiction, and another
twenty-three areas for concurrent jurisdiction.

The CMFP draft constitution proposes a bicameral federal parliament, with a House of the People (Balay
Sambayanan), elected mostly from parliamentary districts but in part (60 out of up to 350 members) also
on proportional representation from a party list vote, and a Balay Estados or Senate, to represent the states

and protect their rights and interests. The senators, it is proposed, will be elected by the unicameral state
assemblies (batasang estados) – two to three per state – ‘mostly from among their members’.

The draft constitution makes provision for the shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system at both
levels of government. The chief executives of the states will have the title of ‘governor’.

In a paper prepared by Abueva it was suggested that ‘A transition period is needed to enable the Federal
Government and the various states to prepare for, and adjust to, the redistribution of powers, functions
and tax bases between the Federal Government (National Government) and the several States (Regional
Governments) and their local governments’ and that ‘The actual formation of the individual States shall
depend upon their relative political, economic, fiscal, and administrative capabilities to govern themselves
as autonomous regional governments and territories’. It is proposed that the ‘more developed and ready’
become fully operative in the first five years following ratification of the revised constitution, and the ‘less
developed’ in the next five years. However, the Bangsamoro and Cordillera states (which are amongst the
least developed) should be enabled to become operative in the first five years.

The CMFP proposed the holding of a plebiscite in 2007 (when national elections are scheduled) to ratify
the proposed revision of the 1987 constitution.)

The report of the Consultative Commission

The Consultative Commission commenced work in September 2005, setting up three committees – on
national patrimony and economic reforms, form of government, and structure of the republic – and a sub-
committee on transitory provisions, and holding several regional consultations. It reported on schedule in
mid December.

The Commission has recommended a unicameral national parliament, with the majority of members voted
from district constituencies but 30 per cent of members elected on a party list basis. A prime minister is to
be elected by all MPs, and will appoint a cabinet, at least 75 per cent of whom are to be MPs. A presidential
head of state is to be elected by MPs.

On the proposed shift to a federal system, however, divisions emerged within the Commission. It was
apparent from the outset that several members of the Commission had doubts about the federal idea,
though in November Abueva reported that a ‘clear majority’ of people consulted strongly or very strongly
favoured a shift to a federal system after a ten year transition (Zamboanga providing a notable
exception[13]). These differences became more apparent in the days preceding the submission of the
report. On 9 December it was reported that one commissioner, Camaguin Provincial Governor Pedro
Romualdo, had said that ‘The federal structure is a beautiful mechanism for fragmenting the country’.

Romualdo argued that resources were lacking and without adequate resources states could not be effective
as independent entities; he cited the ARMM as ‘a classic case of failure’ and called instead for a
strengthening of LGUs. Other commissioners suggested that if each state could draft its own legislation it
would be difficult to harmonize laws nationally – even that autonomous states could ‘seek from outside
countries implicated in terrorism activities funding assistance for development’. In the event, it was
reported that the commissioners had unanimously agreed ‘to junk the mandatory switch to federalism’ as
proposed by Abueva and instead approved ‘a gradual constituent-initiated transition to federalism[14]’.

In fact, the Commission’s report makes scant reference to federalism, though provision is made for its
eventual realization. In a section on ‘Autonomous Territories’ (Article XII B), the proposed revision of the
1987 constitution says:

SEC. 12. An autonomous territory may be created in any part of the country upon a petition addressed to
Parliament by a majority of contiguous, compact and adjacent provinces, highly urbanized and
component cities, and cities and municipalities in metropolitan areas through a resolution of their
respective legislative bodies.

In exceptional cases, a province may be established as an autonomous territory based on area, population,
necessity, geographical distance, environmental, economic and fiscal viability and other special

SEC. 13. Within one year from the filing of the bill based upon the petitions and initiatives, Parliament
shall pass an organic act which shall define the basic structure of government for the autonomous
territory, consisting of a unicameral territorial assembly whose members shall be elective and
representative of the constituent political units. The organic acts shall provide for courts consistent with
the provisions of their constitution and national laws.

The creation of the autonomous territories shall be effective when ratified by a majority of the votes cast
by their proposed constituent units in a plebiscite called for the purpose.

The autonomous territory assemblies will have legislative power in the following areas (SEC. 16):

1. Administrative organization, planning, budget and management;

2. Creation of sources of revenues and finance;

3. Agriculture and fisheries;

4. Natural resources, energy, environment, indigenous appropriate technologies and inventions;

5. Trade, industry and tourism;

6. Labour and employment;

7. Public works, transportation, except railways, shipping and aviation;

8. Health and social welfare;

9. Education and the development of language, culture and the arts as part of the cultural heritage;

10. Ancestral domain and natural resources;

11. Housing, land use and development;

12. Urban and rural planning and development; and

13. Such other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the
people of the autonomous territory.

In the event of inconsistency between national and autonomous territory/local government laws, the
former will prevail. No mention is made of concurrent powers.

Under ‘Transitory Provisions’ (Article XX, SEC. 15, 16), the proposed revision of the constitution stipulates
that within one year and after at least 60 per cent of provinces, highly urbanized cities and component
cities have petitioned through their regional assemblies for the creation of autonomous territories,
parliament will enact the basic law for the establishment of a Federal Republic of the Philippines, in which
the autonomous territories will become federal states. To this end, a constitutional preparatory
commission will be appointed by the prime minister to study and determine all constitutional, legal,
financial, organizational, administrative, and other requirements necessary or appropriate for a smooth
and orderly transition to the Federal Republic. Special provision is made (SEC. 14) for the ARMM to
‘exercise the powers and…be entitled to benefits given to autonomous territories’.

There is nothing in the proposed revision of the constitution to suggest how many autonomous territories
there should be, or how they should be constituted, and critical issues such as intergovernmental financial
arrangements are left for future discussion.

Controversially, the national election scheduled for 2007 is now to be held in 2010. In the meantime,
members of House and the Senate will become members of an interim parliament, which will elect an
interim prime minister, and the president will appoint a cabinet from among the MPs. Amendment or
revision of the 1987 constitution may be proposed by a 75 per cent vote of all members of Congress or a
constitutional convention; ratification requires a majority of votes cast in a plebiscite.

Will federalism work?

Considering the apparent groundswell of support for a federal system in the Philippines (at least prior to
December 2005), it may seem churlish to question the idea. Nevertheless, for anyone familiar with the
history of federal experiments in the latter half of the twentieth century, it is difficult to avoid the
impression that the advantages claimed for federal over unitary systems read more like statements of faith
than reasoned arguments. This is the more so given the long history of unsuccessful autonomy
arrangements in the Philippines, and the already high degree of decentralization (at least on paper)
prescribed by the amended Local Government Code.

If autonomy arrangements specifically directed to the demands of Philippine Muslims, and arising from
negotiations intended to secure a peaceful settlement to the armed conflict, have fallen short of
expectations and failed to produce a lasting settlement, what chance is there that the establishment of ten
or so states in a federal republic will, incidentally, solve the ‘Moro problem’?[15] Most of the prospective
benefits claimed – the ability to use shari’ah law (with safeguards for non-Muslim minorities), the boosting
of local cultures, greater popular participation in politics, the possibility of pursuing appropriate
development paths, and the promise of fiscal redistribution – are all available under existing political
arrangements. If the CAR has twice rejected autonomy, why should federalism be any more attractive? If
decentralization to provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays has failed to deliver sufficient
participation, transparency, accountability, fiscal redistribution, competition, and checks on corruption,
why should the creation of another layer of government do so? Although Abueva and Rocamora have made
some attempt to rationalize their list of advantages for federalism, the case has not been strongly
argued. Social engineering, through a shift from unitary to federal government, will not necessarily change
entrenched patterns of political behaviour; indeed (as with the decentralization of 1990) the transfer of
powers and functions to states may well strengthen the position of local elite families. Some cynics argue
that this has been one source of the demand for federalism.

Moreover, some of the bigger, and more intractable, questions have yet to be addressed. The question of
how many states and how they are constituted is unlikely to resolved easily (though the CMFP proposals
for ten or eleven states provide a good starting point). And, as in federal and federal-type systems
everywhere, the question of intergovernmental fiscal relations will be vexed (as it already is under the
Local Government Code). The CMFP claims that, ‘The Federal Government will help support the less
endowed and developed regions, and the poor and the needy across the land’, but to date there is little
historical basis for such optimism.

At the same time, some of the opposition to federalism which emerged in the final stages of the Consultative
Commission’s work in December 2005 seemed to derive more from ignorance (or more venal motives)
than from a reasoned assessment of arguments.

The push for federalism, largely as a response to ethnic or regional tensions, is enjoying something of a
renaissance, from Solomon Islands to Iraq – though there is little evidence that those espousing it have
referred to the literature on failed federalism in the second half on the twentieth century (see, for example
Franck 1968; Hazlewood 1967; May 1970; etc). Whether or not the Philippines will be a federal republic
in 2010 remains to be seen. Certainly the CMFP’s proposals that there be a transitional period to develop
support for the idea, and that the achievement of statehood be geared to individual states’ capabilities
(though likely to prove contentious) are to be commended. In the meantime, if the issues do not get lost in
the personalistic politics that has characterized the Philippines for some decades, there should be some
interesting debates.