File photo. Filipino students starting a new school year. Image Credit: The Philippine Star

Did Dr Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, really dream of a federal government set-up in the "pearl of the orient" he so loved and died for? Read on...

A shift to a federal form of government in Philippines would inevitably touch a potentially explosive issue: the ownership and management of mineral resources.

The Philippines is a highly mineralised country. It is the world's top producer of nickel and the 4th-largest producer of cobalt — considered the "oil" of the battery electric vehicle era.

It has oil and gas, too, not to mention mountains laden with gold, silver and copper, among others. Quality pearls too.

$1 a day  

Yet one in four Filipinos live on less than $1 a day.

As of 2016, there were a total of 101.57 million Filipinos, of which 25.2 per cent live below the nationally-accepted poverty line. About 10 million Filipinos have escaped, by migrating/working overseas.

Meanwhile, Manila has become an over-populated, smog-filled megalopolis of 24 million, a quarter of the country's inhabitants, and continues to be a magnet for internal migrants from the provinces. 

Then there are numerous islands endowed with such natural beauty and precious metals, yet most of the people there are even poorer than Manila's poorest.

One reason: In the Philippines today, all decisions — economic, political, social — are made in Metro Manila. It's a hang-over from the 1987 Constitution, and the two Charters before it, which all prescribed a "unitary" government set-up. 

Fast forward to 2018: A federal Philippines is the biggest, perhaps toughest, project yet being pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Many, even those who belong to the opposition, believe the time has come to adopt a federal set-up to end the marginalisation of regions. 

Will renewed calls to replace the unitary system, in place for over 100 years now, suffer a similar fate as earlier attempts? Is a federal government the key to a more "inclusive" development?

We asked a number of overseas Filipinos in Dubai, to know where they stand. 

Here’s our primer on the proposed federal form of Philippine government: 

1. What is a federal system?

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government (central or 'federal' government) with regional governments (provincial, state or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. 

Simply put, there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.

2. What is the difference between confederalism, federalism and devolution (autonomy)?

Under confederalism, the general/federal government is subordinate to the regional level. Under devolution — or autonomy —  within a unitary state, the regional level of government is subordinate to the federal (or general) level.

Federalism, therefore, is middle ground between regional integration (confederalism) and separation/secession.

Leading examples of federal states include US, Canada, UAE, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, Argentina, India and Australia. Some political scientists cite the European Union as the pioneering example of federalism in a multi-state setting, in a concept termed the "federal union of states".

3. When did the idea of federalism start in the Philippines?

Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines' national hero, outlined his vision of governance in an essay published by the Barcelona-based propaganda paper La Solidaridad in 1889-1890: “[Once liberated] the islands will probably declare themselves a federal republic.”

The essay, “Las Filipinas Dentro de Cien Anos (The Philippines a Century Hence)", embodied one of his deepest desires.

As the tendency of countries that have been tyrannised over, when they once shake off the yoke, is to adopt the freest government…like the beat of the pendulum, by a law of reaction the Islands will probably declare themselves a federal republic.”

 - Dr. Jose Rizal
Philippine National Hero, wrote in Barcelona-based 
propaganda paper La Solidaridad (1889-1890) 

During the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1898, Filipino revolutionaries Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini already suggested dividing the islands into three federal states.

But the revolution was overtaken by 50 years of American occupation, a bloody "pacification" which led to horrors like the Balangiga massacre.

The frontpage of La Solidaridad, published by Filipino propagandists based in Spain. The paper became the principal organ of the Filipino anti-colonial propaganda movement. It was founded on February 15, 1889 and existed for more than five years up to November 15, 1895.  Creative Commons

In the 21st century, scholars such as Prof. Jose Abueva, former president of the University of the Philippines, argued that a federal form of government is necessary to more efficiently cater to the needs of the country.

Constitutionalist and former chief justice Reynato Puno also argued: Philippine heroes clearly sought federalism, but their vision was overtaken by events and  then ingored in all the constitutions (1935, 1973 and 1987) the country had had. 

Another key proponent of federalism, former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr., believes that 31 years after the 1987 Constitution was promulgated, amendments are overdue to empower the regions.

4. What is President Duterte's stand on federalism?

One of the campaign promises of President Duterte is to give voice to the provinces by shifting to a federal system, by having a new — or amended — Constitution during his watch. Duterte and the pro-federalism camp believe overconcentration of power in Manila is inefficient and disadvantageous for the country in the long term.

5. Federal-presidential or federal-parliamentary?

Any shift, would  involve a serious clash of arguments. The devil is in the detail. The mainstream proposals can be roughly divided into two camps:

a) A simple/single shift. Following the Pimentel doctrine, this calls for a simple shift from a unitary to federal government system — by retaining the presidency and the bicameral (Lower House and Senate) legislative setup. The composition of House will be the same, while the Senate will be expanded from the present 24 to more than 80. The senators, instead of being elected nationwide, will be elected from every state. This would be more in line with the American model.

b) A "double shift". It would entail a shift from a unitary-presidential to federal-parliamentary. Alongside the federal shift, both the presidency and Senate/House will also be scrapped in favour of a parliament, similar to the setup in Canada, and headed by a Prime Minister. Critics point out this double shift may be too disruptive, as there are no precedents in the world for such a radical change.

6. What is the present system of governance?

The Philippines is divided into 17 administrative regions (as shown below). The national budget is debated and approved by Congress, which crafts the laws of the land. The Executive, led by the president and his Cabinet secretaries, implement them. The judiciary interprets the law.

Secretaries have regional counterparts, called regional directors. The directors implement programmes through the provincial heads, who then implement the town-level programmes.

Regions are unable to make their own independent decisions, though previous administrations tried to put in place "bottom-up budgeting", which allowed the smallest units to participate in the decision-making process.

7. What are the arguments against federalism?

It's bad for the Philippines. Some political scientists, including Prof. Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University, has stated that it is a "recipe for disaster". "On paper," he wrote for Forbes, "federalism seems well suited for the Philippines. But the country is already divided by language, religion and economic inequality."

Poor regions will remain poor. Not enough taxes are collected in poorer regions to sustain themselves. Studies also show that only a few regions in the Philippines are capable of raising enough taxes on their own. 

Filipinos are politically immature. Filipinos are prone to tribaslism and regionalism. It would reinforce socio-economic and ethno-political fault lines. The country, an archipelago of 7,641 islands, is already divided by geography and about about 60 regional languages. Federalism will divide it further.

Federalism would lead to disintegration: Regional governments will lead to calls for the country's eventual breakup. The Philippines' ex-president Fidel Ramos believes the archipelago may be chunked up into secessionist-seeking states following a federal set up.

Richer states will have undue advantage: Under a federal system, the richer states of the north will have even more resources to enhance their competitiveness, thus deepening the rich-poor divide with other southern regions.

Federalism has miserably failed in developing countries. Prof. Heydarian cites India, Iraq and Nigeria as examples of "failed" federal experiments. It has either failed to close developmental gaps and bridge ethno-communal tensions among various states.

It will fan ethnic divisions. In some cases, a federal set-up reinforced them over the decades. In places such as Yugoslavia, a federal setup eventually collapsed into a genocidal war.

■  Reign of dynasties and warlords: A federal system could further strengthen the power of political dynasties and warlords, which control the Philippines’ peripheries. There are around 180 "political dynasties" – politicians related by kinship and blood – that control 73 out of 81 provinces across the country. Local dynasties also control up to 70% of the legislature. Under a federal system, these local dynasties are best positioned to dominate the newly-created local legislature and state/regional institutions, further consolidating their grip on power in the country's poorer regions.

■  Most Filipinos are against it: Most surveys show the vast majority of Filipinos are either against constitutional change or completely unaware of its implications.

No precedent for shift to federal-parliamentary system at the same time. Assistant Prof. Gene Pilapil of the University of the Philippines, says the advantages cited by the pro-federalism camp over the current unitary form of government "read like statements of faith than reasoned arguments." He says the shift would be complex, require an overhaul of the Constitution, and institutions like the courts, local governments and the bureaucracy.

Just amend the Local Government Code: Professor Pilapil further said that amending the Local Government Code, not the Constitution, would address the same problems federalism seeks to address.

"No democratic country," Pilapil explained, "has ever attempted to shift from unitary to federal, and from presidential to parliamentary at the same time. We don't have the scholarly literature to guide us. That means that intellectually, we're on our own."

8. What is the stand of Senators on federalism?

The 1987 Constitution requires that any Charter change must get a three-fourths vote of the Senate. A Senate vote on federalism, however, will make it self-destruct: The Senate will cease to exist as we know it. 

The record shows that of the country's 24 current senators, only four favour federalism: Manny Pacquiao, Miguel, Zubiri, Tito Sotto and Aquilino 'Koko' Pimentel III.

Most senators see federalism as a ploy to cancel the 2022 elections and extend President Duterte's term. Therefore, federalism stands no chance in the present Senate, according to Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri .

Of the country's 24 senators, only four favour federalism: Manny Pacquiao, Miguel, Zubiri, Tito Sotto and Aquilino 'Koko' Pimentel III. The 1987 Constitution requires that any Charter change must have three-fourths vote of the Senate.  Courtesy: SunStar Manila

This has not always been the case. In 2008, 18 out of the 24 senators signed up for moves to amend the Constitut to shift to a federal setup. Now, the House has taken a lead on federalism, but the Senate opposes it.

On July 25, Zubiri said the Senators vowed to scrutinise the draft federal charter prepared by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) created by Duterte. The senators strongly oppose moves to convene Congress into a Constituent Assembly, to pave the way for constitutional amendments.

9. What are the arguments favouring federalism? 

Unitary system was forced upon Filipinos by unelected 'ConCom' delegates: In 1986, the Philippines' unitary presidential system won by just one vote during the drafting of the post-Marcos Constitution among 50 un-elected members of Constitutional Commission (ConCom) handpicked by then-President Cory Aquino. It's time to correct that onerous burden. 

■ Economic independence: The push for Philippine federalism can be reduced into two thorny issues: (a) independent economic planning for the regions and (2) redefining the ownership and management of mineral resources. Many see these two conditions as the key to revving up economic activity in the regions.

Potentially address insurgency, separatism: Moros for centuries had been demanding for their own homeland. Autonomy, though it pacified some groups, did not deliver the hoped-for effect.

President Duterte had cited Rizal's preference of a federal system. He also said that, at the minimum, the "Bangsamoro" people deserve to have their own state under the Philipine flag, free to craft their economic policies and where their distinct culture is recognised. Poverty and marginalisation are the two root causes of insurgency.

File Photo: The unveiling of a 6.9-metre statue of the country's most celebrated national hero, Dr Jose Rizal, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth, in Laguna, south of Manila. Malacanan Photo Bureau

Economic decision making to the states: Empowering the regions would create the right economic conditions, and address the root causes of communist insurgency raging in the countrysides for half a century.

The Constitution is not a perfect document. It has been in place, virtually untouched for 31 years, since 1987. The US Constitution had been amended at least 27 times.

José Rizal (June 19, 1861 – December 30, 1896), a Filipino nationalist during the Spanish colonial occupation of the Philippines, had called for federalism in one of his writings. An ophthalmologist by profession, Rizal became a writer and a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which sought reforms for the colony under Spain. He was executed by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion after the Philippine Revolution, inspired in part by his writings, broke out.  Creative commons

Change of mindset, follow the vision of heroes: Federalism was sought by Philippine heroes Rizal, Aguinaldo and Mabini. More than cutting up the regions into states, or a change of form of government, it is a change of national mindset — i.e. that regions or states should be empowered to chart their own economic destiny.

De facto federal state: The Bangsamoro and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), "sub-states" within the bigger Philippine state, make the country already a de-facto but incomplete federal state. It's just a matter of expanding it.

Anti-federalism camp only cites bad examples of federalism. Progress will always be uneven due to many factors. Anti-federalism camp only cites the bad examples of countries with federal set-up. A more truthful exchange of views would demolish a key anti-federalism argument: They fail to give the biggest and best examples — the US, Canada, Germany, Malaysia and the UAE. 

Address widespread poverty. Under the present Constitution, as the previous charters, many mineral-rich regions of the Philippines are among the poorest. 

Australia’s Lafayette Mining’s open-pit mine on the island of Rapu Rapu, in Albay, Bicol, eastern Philippines. According to Index Mundi, the Asian country produced 382,083 kg of gold from 2002 to 2012 and 369,094 metric tonnes of copper over the same period.  Bloomberg

Centralisation of economic activity is inefficient: Most jobs, economic activity and "export processing zones" in the Philippines are located in Manila and the neighbouring Calabarzon region — except for the ones in Cebu and Baguio. Manila, known as the National Capital Region (NCR), takes the lion's share, accounting for 36.4 per cent of country's gross domestic product.

A section of Manila's Tondo district. The Philippine capital has become a magnet for internal migrants from people escaping poverty and lack of opportunity in the provinces. The result is a megalopolis of 24 million, a quarter of the country's inhabitants.  Courtesy: Joana Domingo

10. Who controls the mineral resources of the Philippines? 

In theory, it's the Filipino people; in practice it's just a few: Due to the legal structure and management of the country's mineral resources, people in mineral-rich regions live with the desolate and toxic environment left by miners headquartered and registered in Manila. 

Rich land, poor people: For example, Bicol has at least 4 gold mine sites (Rapu-Rapu island, Masbate, Paracale in Camarines Norte and Catanduanes). The owners/operators of these mines are all based in Manila, usually with foreign partners. 

No say, no ownership: Except for the Cordillera Administrative Region and the Bangsamoro region, locals have no say in how the minerals mined from their area or ancestral domain are managed and appropriated. 

No Sovereign Wealth Fund: The Philippines is one of the few countries that has no trust fund or sovereign wealth fund (SWF) where proceeds from the mineral or land resources are pooled and invested — and make the people benefit from the proceeds. There is no "equalisation fund" that exists to help regions that are lagging behind.

Pollution from mining: A Manila-centric unitary government leaves residents of mineral-rich provinces with toxic pollution, while reaping no economic benefits. Mineral resources are exploited mostly for the benefit of Manila-based corporations, who hire the best tax lawyers. The government, in turn, spends whatever taxes are collected, usually even before the budget year is over — hence the need to constantly float Treasury Bills to fill the yearly budget gap. The result: zero savings from minerals for the people and more toxins and pollution to endure.

Strong pushback from those who have most to lose: Any reform in the Philippine government that changes the structure of ownership and management of mineral resources will face a massive push-back from the entities and interests that benefit from the status quo.

Nickel and cobalt: Nickel and cobalt, along with lithium, are considered the oil of the 21st century. The Philippines produces about 9 to 10 per cent of the world's nickel supply. This wonder mineral is a major component of today's electric vehicle batteries. First-generation EVs used lithium-ion phosphate (LFP) and lithium manganese oxide (LMO). The latest, second-generation lithium-ion batteries with much higher energy densities (greater EV ranges) have a different chemistry, using a combination of nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC). The Philippines is the world's No. 1 nickel producer and No. 4-biggest cobalt producer.

11. What's the real score on the Philippines' mineral resources?

Ask any geologist, or mining engineer and they would tell you this: The Philippines is the fifth-most mineralised country in the world, with the third-largest deposits of gold, fourth for copper and sixth for chromite. The country is the world's largest nickel ore supplier for the last seven years.

It has 44 mining companies of which 37 are operating mines: six gold mines, three copper mines and 28 nickel mines, as well as 65 non-metallic mining companies. The people should ask: who are these miners, who are the names behind them, how much do they actually pay in taxes, and how much of is used for their benefit. 

Revenues/taxes from these mines are pooled in a national pot — all of which are spent every year, which always ends in a budget deficit. The result: the Bureau of Treasuty must constantly borrow money, by issuing Treasury bills, to fill budget gaps, and no savings. 

12. What's the deal with government borrowings?

When a government borrows from banks or investors, it sets the bank lending rates and keeps the financial system going.

But all these mineral wealth being extracted today won't last. And it does not belong to this generation alone. When the gold, copper, silver, oil, gas, etc, are exhausted, the 44 or so mining corporations in the Philippines will simply hop to the next country, leaving the Philippines with a deluded land and heaps of mine tailings.

Part of that wealth must be preserved for future generations, much like Norway and other countries with SWF do with their wealth. 

13. Can regions assert their rights over these resources?

Yes. That's a key point behind the push for federalism. For example, in Maguindanao, where separatist Moro forces are active, the Liguasan Marsh is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of gas (methane). President Duterte promised the people of Maguindanao that they will have control/ownership over that resource under the Bangsamoro Organic Law (under a unitary government), or a federalised set-up.

Locals must assert their rights: A constitutional change must clearly define the ownership and management of mineral source. Tthe only way for locals to directly benefit from these God-given resources is to assert their rights. This won't be easy, as the experience of Moros and Cordilleras show. 

14. How can states build their assets from mineral resources?

Build wealth by saving, investing: In welfare states, state-backed social security system is built by revenues from mineral wealth (like oil, diamonds, minues or land). They are organised as sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) that invest in assets all over the world (real estate, stocks, bonds).

■ Norwegian, Gulf experience. Norway's Oil Fund, created by legislation in 1990, has grown to top $1 trillion today. The state of California and various other US states have their own SWFs. All Gulf countries have theirs, too. It's the basic building block of today's capitalist order. The principle: save, build and preseve your earnings, and use the income for social services.

Awash with cash: The Philippines, though rich in resources and its central bank (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) is awash with dollars (monthly average Gross International Reserves: >$70 billion) has no SWF. Overseas Filipinos send home at least $30 billion a year.

Resentments: Lack of control over mineral wealth, paltry local revenues, sari-sari (small items) economic activity and widespread poverty in regions outside Manila perpetuate the misery of Filipinios, and forms a vicious cycle that fans age-old resentments, insurgency and separatism.

More of the same: Sticking to a unitary system government in the Philippines, in place for over 120 years (since 1898) —  or 400-plus years, in you include the Spanish colonial government — tends to breed more of the same. So if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. 

Due to industrial waste, Manila suffers from the double whammy of air and water pollution. Smog affects 98% of the capital's population. More than 500,000 people live in Manila as "squatters", or informal settlers, most of them came from the provinces looking for job opportunities in the city. Reuters

15. What would it take to make the Philippines a federation of states?

It would take some amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution. There are at least three ways to do it: Through a Constitutional Convention (Concon), a Constitutional Assembly (CA), and a people's initiative. 

The new — or amended — Consitution will define the principles, functions and powers of the federal and state governments.

16. How do Filipinos feel about the proposed shift to federalism?

A poll of 1,800 Filipino conducted in June shows 62 per cent oppose federalism.

A further slicing of the result shows this: only 28 per cent are opposed to changing it now but may be open to it sometime in the future. 

Morever, one out of three, 34 per cent of those polled are against changing the system of government regardless of the timing of such change.

Only 28 per cent of Filipinos are supportive of a shift to a federal form of government; 10 percent were undecided.

What's great, however, is that Filipinos, including millennials, are starting to join the conversation on the issue.

A recent survey by Pulse Asia found that 67% of Filipinos oppose the change, while only 18 percent were in favour and the other 14 percent were undecided. 

17. Will federalism perpetuate Duterte in power?

Rodrigo Duterte. AP

Critics fear that the move is part of a plot to extend President Duterte's term in office beyond six years.

In response, Duterte has sought to reassure the public that he will not extend his term beyond his Constitutionally-mandated six years, due to end in mid-2022.

18. Where does the move for federalism stand at the moment?

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte received the proposed federal constitution drafted by the Consultative Committee. www.pcoo.gov.ph

In July, a special consultative committee (SCC) made up of leading jurists and political scientists handpicked by President Duterte finalised the draft of a new Constitution.

Duterte has already endorsed the draft. The Philippine Congress is not under any obligation to adopt it in its current form. It is dead in the Senate.

19. What does the draft mean?

The draft serves more as a reference point rather than the final substance of a new Constitution, or amendments to it. Even if the Senate and House form a CA, the final draft will have to be approved by a majority of the Filipino electorate in a future referendum.

The draft, however, gives insights into the thinking of pro-federalism camp, which includes Duterte and his ruling party, PDP-Laban, and even some members/leaders of the opposition.

20. How many states or regions will the Philippines have under the Pimentel proposal?

A proposal by former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr, a prime mover behind federalism, calls for the creation of at least 12 states.

Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Under the new Constitution, being proposed by the Special Consultative Commission (SCC), the Philippines will be divided into 18 federated regions. 

Congress, being formed into a Constitutional Assembly (CA) will debate and decide on the final number.

The "lower house" of the Philippine Congress, the House of Representatives. File

21. What would it take to make the Philippines a federation of states?

■ It would take some amendments  to the 1987 Philippine Constitution. One big change would be the conversion of the present administrative regions in the country into states.

■ The other change may entail allowing those states to craft their own economic policies, independent of Manila.

22. Isn’t federalism only appropriate for large countries — not the Philippines because it’s too small?

The Philippines is not a "small" country, though most Filipinos take this as gospel truth. How true is this claim? Let’s look at some facts:

Federalism suits counties both big and small. While a country’s size and seasons are set, prosperity depends on the willingness of its inhabitants to do the hard work it takes to develop. The key question is: what will you do with your limited  size and resources? 

The Philippines is not really a “small” country. For example, while it’s true that the US state of California (423, 970 km2) is bigger than the Philippines (300,000 km2), the east Asian nation is 3.5 times bigger than the UAE (83,600 km2), a Gulf country that also has a federal government — comprised of seven states: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. 

Exclusive economic zone. Because of its archipelagic nature, the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone covers a much bigger area: 2,263,816 km2 — six times bigger than Germany's land area. 

The Philippines (population: 104 million) has about the same land area as Germany (population: 82.52 million based on 2017 census). Germany is a federation of 16 states, with a land area of 357,022 km2 — just a bit bigger than the Philippines‘ 300,000 km2. 

Long coastline: The Philippine coastline (36,289 km) is more than 15 times longer than Germany's (2,389 km).

The relatively “small” island of Masbate (land area: 4,161 km2; population: 892,393 in 2015) in the Philippines’ Bicol Region is nearly 6 times bigger than the island of Singapore (land area: 721.5 km2; population: 5.612 million in 2017). 

Rich in resources, widespread poverty: While the region of Bicol has a high incidence of poverty and long-running insurgency, for example, it’s endowed with rich natural resources: at least two geothermal sites that power the Luzon grid, and 4 confirmed gold mining sites, owned and run by Manila-based corporations.

23. Who are pushing back against federalism?

Many. First, there are those who fear that the country will be dismembered and end up with separatist movements everywhere. The prime anti-federalist mover is former president Fidel Ramos, citing the above reason.

Fidel Ramos. Reuters

Those with mining interests will push back and hard against it, as they believe their rights over the mineral resources — gold, copper, nickel, cobalt, oil, gas and the like — in the provinces will be threatened by the shift. 

24. How many federal states are being proposed?

One proposal, calls for the creation of 12 federal states in the Philippines: five in Luzon, four the Visayas, and three in Mindanao.

1. Northern Luzon - from the existing Regions 1 (Ilocos Norte, Sur, Pangasinan, La Union) & 2 (Bantanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Quirico, Nueva Viscaya)

2. Central Luzon (7 provinces, 14 cities, 116 municipalities, 3,102 Barangays)

3. Southern Tagalog (5 provinces, 19 cities, 123 municipalities, 4,048 Batangays)

4. Bicol (5 Provinces, 6 cities, 87 municipalities, 2,921 barangays)

5. Cordillera (6 provinces, 2 cities, 75 municipalities, 1176 Barangays)

6. Eastern Visayas (6 provinces, 7 cities) 

7. Central Visayas (5 Provinces, 17 cities, 136 municipalities, 3553 Barangays) 

8. Western Visayas (6 provinces, 16 cities, 117 municipalities, 3990 Barangays)

9. Minparom (Mindoro, Palawan, Romblon, Marinduque (5 provinces,  2 cities) 

10. Northern Mindanao (11 provinces, 16 cities, 188 municipalities, 4528 Barangays)

11. Southern Mindanao (11 provinces, 13 Cities, 118 municipalities, 2943 Barangays)

12. Bangsamoro (5 Provinces, 4 cities, 116 Municipalities, 2572 Barangays) 

25. Isn’t that arbitrary?

I does seem so. The Philippines under the present unitary system, however, is already divided along those administrative regions. So the newly federated states will be created out of the administrative regions already existing and to which Filipinos are familiar. By doing so, the identities of every proposed federal state are already known by and large by the people.

26. What about the House of Representatives?

The Philippine has a bicameral legislative system, i.e. two houses. In 2008, the Upper House, or Senate, already approved a bill filed by then senator Pimentel in an 18-6 vote creating a federal system of government. 

But there was no counterpart legislation in the lower House of Representatives, effectively killing the Senate's initiative

Today, the House of Representatives, under the spreakership of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is leading the move for federalism.

27. Who are the biggest losers in a Philippine federal system?

The Philippine Senate: It may be no longer exist the way it does today. Most of the 24 Philippine Senators are elected by popular votes nationwide. But most of those who end up getting elected are from Manila or central Luzon. 

Of the current 24 Senators, only a few  — Manny Pacquiao, Koko Pimentel, Miguel Zuhiri, Franklin Drilon and Francis Escudero — are “Probinsyanos”, i.e. from the provinces. 

Under a federal system, the Philippine Senate composition will change completely — each state will be adequately represented, possibly along the lines of the US model. 

28. What exclusive powers and functions can a federal government retain?

A federal government can retain exclusive powers and functions over the following areas, among others:

■ National security and external defense
■ Foreign relations
■ Currency/Monetary system
■ External trade/commerce
■ Citizenship
■ Civil rights/political rights/human rights
■  Immigration, emigration, extradition
■ National elections
■ Supreme Court decisions
■ Protection of intellectual property, property rights, and copyrights

29. What may be the exclusive jurisdiction of a state government in a federal system?

State governments can have jurisdiction over the following areas, among the others:

■ State/local elections
■ Regional trial courts/Metropolitan trial courts
■ Licensing of public utilities
■ Administration and enforcement of State laws and programs
■ State socio-economic planning and implementation
■ State finance – taxation, customs, budget and audit 
■ Grants-in-Aid to local governments
■ Police, public safety, law and order
■ State and local infrastructure

30. What functions and powers may be the shared jurisdiction of the federal and the state governments?

Functions and powers in the following areas, among others, may be the concurrent jurisdiction of the federal and state governments:

■ Health
■ Education
■ Social welfare
■ Cultural development
■ Sports development
■ Environmental protection
■ Energy
■ Tourism
■  Roads and Highways

31. How can conflicts and doubts over jurisdiction in a federal system be resolved?

A Constitutional Court or Tribunal may be established with the power to decide on how to resolve the conflicts between the federal and state/local governments.

32. Will federalism only encourage “warlordism” and perpetuate family dynasties?

If the voters tolerate or live with family dynasties, it’s their call. Ultimately, it’s the voters’ maturity that will determine the outcome of any political exercise. 

33. Is federalism compatible with either a presidential and parliamentary form of government?

Yes, federalism is compatible with both presidential and parliamentary forms of government.

Examples of countries that have a presidential form of government and a federal system are the US, Venezuela and Mexico.

Examples of countries that have a parliamentary form of government and a federal system are Australia, Germany, India and Malaysia.

35. Will a federal system cost more to run than a unitary system?

Initial estimates for the Federal Philippines comprising of seven states will incur a cost for the Federal and state bureaucracies to the same level of the 2002 budget of the Philippine Government at approximately Php700 billion. However, future cost of governance in this case is very relative.

36. Will federalism solve all of the country’s problems?


37. Then why push for it at all?

Federalism is a vehicle. It's not a magic wand that can replace hard work. Improvements tend to only come in small steps. But by empowering the states or regions to chart their economic destiny, it will allow them a degree if flexibility to craft their own course.

The unitary system of government has been in place in the Philippines for nearly five centuries, and the outcome is there for everyone to see.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

 - Henry Ford
Founder of Ford Motor Co, intellectual father of the assembly line technique of mass production

38. How can the shift to a federal system be effected?

The shift can be effected through amendments of the Constitution, or crafting a new Constitution. Then it must be approved by the people in a plebiscite.

39. What can be done with the losers in federal setup?

Countries are like a family. Mutual help, through "Bayanihan", is ingrained in the Filipino psyche and may come in handy in helping out lagging states, or in case of calamities.

After all, the Philippines is one nation "imploring the aid of Almighty God in order to build a just a humane society, and establish a government". Similar words are kept in the preamble of proposed changes to Constitution. These words embody the people's' article of faith.

40. How to help weaker states?

There are a number of ways.

One, proponents of federalism advocate the creation of an "Equalisation Fund", a sort of domestic IMF within the Philippines, that would lend to states at favourable interest rates to build needed infrastructure.

Two, by sharing of resources, especially in calamities, where human and material resources from states that are not affected can be shared with the hardest-hit ones.

Three, through a system already in place and being practised by local government units. Some cities or towns are allowed under the Local Government Code to be set up as corporate entities that can borrow money from commercial lenders — or other states — say, to improve their water system, roads or ports with low-interest loan payable over a 25-year period.

41. How long would it take to shift to a federal government?

Realistically, if Congress convenes into a Constitutional Assembly and finalises a draft new Constitution — or approves amendments to the present one — the new federal set may by in place by 2022 at the earliest. 

42. Should we be excited about a federal Philippines?

Yes and no. 

Yes, because a federal set-up will further strengthen democracy, push the regions to innovate, chart their own economic path and help spread out development.

No, because there are strong forces pushing hard against it, and are therefore expected to tough it out -- so the Philippines can have more of the same. Those who benefit from the present unitary set-up won't give up their benefits without a fight. 

(With inputs from Christian Borbon, Web Producer)