PH not yet ready for federalism – UP professors

Are we ready or not?

The University of the Philippines’ Kapisanan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Sosyolohiya organized a talk entitled “PHEDERALISM: A Sociological Look into the Proposed Federal Philippines” on February 21 to clarify the implications of a federalism in the Philippines. Professor Ma. Ela Atienza, PhD of the Political Science Department and Professor Herbert Docena, PhD of the Sociology Department used their respective disciplines to examine the readiness of the country for federalism. This is one of the much-needed awareness campaigns to inform the public what system of government the present administration is pushing for.

Better understanding and awareness on federalism needed

Atienza first defined federalism, which is “a system of government in which sovereignty is shared between central and peripheral levels.” Based on that definition, neither level of government can encroach on the powers of the other.

According to Atienza, 1/3 of the world’s population is governed by a federal form of government - Ethiopia, Nigeria, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, The United States of America, India, Pakistan, Australia and Micronesia, Germany, and Switzerland are just among the few examples that she mentioned. She emphasized that each federal system is unique because the relationship between the two sovereign levels of government is determined not just by the constitutional rules, but also by complex political, historical, geographical, cultural, and social circumstances.

One of the advantages of federalism identified by Atienza is a “constitutionally-guaranteed” voice on regional and local interests. A federal setup also creates a system of checks and balances that helps protect individual liberty. Finally, it provides an institutional mechanism through which fractured or distorted societies have maintained unity.

She reiterated the fact that the call for federalism is not a new proposal, as it has been proposed by former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. in 2001 to address the imbalance in the distribution of resources. Pimentel thinks that “Imperial Manila” and nearby areas such as CALABARZON and Central Luzon benefits from the country’s resources the most while areas far from the seat of power are being deprived.

Atienza said that if federalism is realized, it will not be difficult to adjust per region since the Philippine regions already have diverse cultures. Moreover, it can solve the underdevelopment and unrest in areas far from the capital, especially Mindanao. President Duterte has always said that nothing short of federalism can bring peace in Mindanao. It (Federalism) can also inspire the other regions to innovate and develop.

Criticisms on the call for Federalism were also discussed. Some critics question the shift to federalism since government of the Philippine government is already one of the most decentralized structures in Southeast Asia, even if it is a unitary structure. Other critics used the case of Catalonia in Spain to prove that federalism or quasi-forms of federalism will not stop attempts to secession. Many suggest pushing for incremental reforms instead, such as party and electoral system reforms and the push for an anti-dynasty law.

Surveys from Pulse Asia and PUBLiCUS Asia were discussed and used to prove that approximately half of the respondents on both surveys are not completely aware of federalism, although half support charter change. These surveys reveal that the country is not yet ready for charter change.

Lastly, Dr. Atienza emphasized that all institutions, especially educational institutions, should play a vital role in spreading information on federalism so that the public may understand fully what federalism is about and its benefits to the country.

No direct relation between form of government and development

Professor Herbert Docena, PhD, discussed the understanding of Federalism from a social scientist’s perspective. He thinks that the claim that federalism will lift us out of poverty is a cliché that must be taken seriously.

He said that Filipinos yearn for development, which is the reason why President Duterte is pushing for this system of government.

Beliefs, even false ones, have “materialistic effects.” If everybody believes that something is true, it can eventually change the reality. For Docena, this is the reason the administration is tapping the public’s aspiration for development to sell the idea of a federal Philippines. Docena encourages a deeper understanding of this agenda in the context of the current Philippine society.

According to Docena, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez thinks that there is a direct connection between development and form of government, with the former as the “dependent variable” and the latter as the “independent variable”. Alvarez thinks that development will follow in a federal form of government, while a country under a unitary form of government will remain underdeveloped.

Docena used full-scale regression analysis to explain why House Speaker Alvarez’s claim is fallacious. Japan, France, and United Kingdom are developed countries with unitary systems of government. The Philippines is an underdeveloped country with a unitary sytem. Developed countries like Germany and the United States have a federal form of government but there are also underdeveloped countries with the same form of government - Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Therefore, there is no direct causal relationship between the system of government and the development of a country.

In this case, Docena suggests that we look for other variables that might cause the development of a certain country or probably there are mediators. Probable causes are culture, presence or absence of solidarity among people, or the very nature of the state. In the case of the Philippines, he thinks that the highest probability would be the nature of the society because many of the provinces in the Philippines still function like a feudal system, with the government officials acting as feudal lords.

Docena says that there are no bad systems of government because the country’s development still depends on the nature of society. In order to achieve a developed society, he suggests that the country should change the nature of the society first.

Educational Institutions: a useful instrument to spread info about federalism

The conclusions of both professors and the results of polls point to the lack of readiness in the Filipino society to pursue federalism. Educational institutions and information campaigns could help in increasing awareness and understanding in the new system of government the current administration is working on. Awareness and understanding will also prepare the public in the recent and future developments towards the shift to federalism. We should not just aim to change the form of government, we should also address other faulty aspects of our society for a better Philippines.