Bernardo M. Villegas
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It`s in the Regions Stupid!
published: Aug 13, 2019






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Why Federalization Is Not Advisable

          While I respect the opinion of those who agree with President Duterte that there are benefits to some select Philippine regions if we are to adopt the federal form of Government, there are enough outspoken critics of federalization who see that the costs far outweigh the benefits.  The battle cry of the “federalists” is “decapitate Imperial Manila”.   We may all agree with this objective that can greatly contribute to inclusive growth.  But there are other ways of skinning the imperialist cat.  Just recently President Duterte himself suggested an effective way of decapitating the National Capital Region.  Just wait until this traffic-infested Metropolis choke itself to death.  Other regions will automatically blossom after the “death” of Metro Manila.  Among the most likely candidates that will benefit from the travails of Manila will be the Metro Clark region, the Metro Batangas area and such other second-tier cities as Davao, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and General Santos City.  With the right political leaders, these very promising satellite urbanized regions will naturally evolve into federal states on their own.

    Another very prominent political leader who was one of those who drafted the Philippine Constitution of 1987 has recently spoken about the inadvisability of shifting to a federal form of government.  In a speech delivered to the Makati Business Club and other business associations last November 21, 2017, Chief Justice (ret.) Hilario G. Davide Jr. did not pull any punches when he unequivocally stated that a shift to federalism would be “a lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death, a leap to hell.”  Let me elaborate on a few of the eighteen arguments he listed against the federal form of government in the Philippines, at least given the present circumstances of Philippine society.  As I mentioned in a column I wrote entitled “Nurturing Leaders for Federal States”, sometime in 2016, I may be open to a shift to federalism over the very long run if these adverse circumstances should change.  I don’t see these changes happening at least for the next generation or so.

         I agree with his first point that the greatest imperative today in the political life of the nation is for the 105 million inhabitants of the Philippine Archipelago to think and act as one nation and not as Batanguenos, Ilocanos, Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Bicolanos, etc.  There is still too much regional parochialism which militates against national unity.  As Justice Davide warns, federalism would divide our people and cultivate in them forced double loyalties.  It would be more difficult to get rid of regional factionalism when each state or regional government would have its own basic law or constitution, and ultimately its own flag and anthem.  Even while already residing abroad, many Overseas Filipinos still organize themselves into associations for Ilocanos, Bicolanos, Cebuanos, etc.  Despite having been a Republic for more than a century, there is still need to foster among Filipinos a stronger patriotic fervor.  Federalism would delay even more this important process of nationhood.

         Already the Philippines ranks very low in the ease of doing business as judged by global institutions like the World Economic Forum or the World Bank.  There is too much red tape and bureaucracy.  It takes forever to register business, obtain licenses and comply with all sorts of government regulations.  As Justice Davide points out, this problem will be compounded because federalism would create a horrible enlarged and bloated bureaucracy.  Under a federal form of government, there will be new layers or strata of government authority or seats of power—“the Federal or central government, the various component States or Regions and the existing political subdivisions, and the reorganizations of the Judiciary as well as the Constitutional Commissions.”  It would be a nightmare for private enterprises—whether large or small—to establish and operate their respective businesses.

         Much still has to be done to remove the vestiges of feudalism in Philippine society.  The feudal society prevalent in pre-Spanish Philippines, reinforced by the latifundia system under Spanish colonial rule and generally kept intact under the rule by the elite during the American regime, is still too deeply entrenched in our culture.  Justice Davide rightly predicts that the proliferation of political dynasties would increase the number of feudal States or Regions.  He cites a statement made by our fellow Constitutional Commissioner, Christian Monsod, who said in a speech at the Ateneo de Davao that Philippine society is “still feudalistic dominated by a ruling class that rotates among themselves the levers of power through changes in administration.  The fact is that 1% of the families make the laws, dispense justice, implement programs and control media.”

         In the present form of Philippine politics, federalism would easily breed political dynasties and reinforce feudal societies, making a mockery of democracy.  In a recent article that appeared in a publication of the University of Asia and the Pacific, sociologist Dr. Nanette Dungo exposed how entrenched political dynasties are in Philippine politics.  According to her, “such kind of prolonged dynastic presence speaks of a penetrating thrust in the different institutional sites of society, not to mention its effects reaching the depths of consciousness of an electorate which chooses the same kind of leadership repeatedly that barely initiates enriching reforms to better their lives.  Recorded periods of political dynasty in the Philippines range from 30 years reaching up to 66 years of rule of certain families.  The length of stay the dynast remains in position invariably conditions the rise of a structure and process that nurture a consciousness which invokes a dynamics of control and power being articulated in dynastic behavior and governance.  There is seemingly present in this phenomenon an undefined element that fuses the contradiction between its resilience and its aversive outcomes, which kind of combination may account for a constant demand for its presence.  Its resilience creates political inequality where rivals even when qualified are disadvantaged from a chance to participate in governance.”  Until and unless we can render such a system of dynastic rule the exception rather than the rule in Philippine politics, federalism will actually contribute to perpetuate it.

         The toxic combination of feudalism and political dynasties leads to the many other dangers enumerated by Justice Davide. The Federal bureaucracy with feudalism and political dynasties provide the greatest temptation to keep and maintain private armies to ensure the perpetuation of power.  Warlordism would be an inevitable necessary evil.  The conduct of free, honest, orderly, peaceful, and credible elections would be a nightmare and would be very costly.  With the feudal and war lords in command, the rule of law will suffer.  Contrary to the opinion of those proposing the move towards a federal form of government, considering the present political and sociological realities in the Philippines today, federalization will not promote inclusive and sustainable human development.  We must first address the intractable challenges of  regionalism, feudalism and political dynasties before moving towards a federal form of government, if ever.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.