Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while addressing the crowd after leading the flag-raising rites at the 120th Philippine Independence Day celebration at the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine at Kawit, Cavite province south of Manila, Philippines. Image Credit: AP

Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has reiterated his plan to step down from the presidency once his term ends and a federal form of administration is in place.

“The time for federalism has come to our country. We have to move away from the style of unitary government,” Duterte said on Saturday evening in Davao City before Muslim leaders.

“We’re just trying to perfect everything and if you want a new leader during the transition you can provide for that in the law itself … and I would be happy to step down,” the president said.

Prebiscite

Duterte’s six-year term in office ends in 2022 and it is projected that, by that time, all the requisites needed for the smooth transition towards a federal form of administration, including holding a plebiscite, will be in place.

The proposed shift to a federal form of government — which would come in the form of a Charter change or Constitutional amendment — would mean devolving (or sharing) power monopolised by the national/central government to federal states (or regions).

Some lawmakers also want an extra measure to curb the age-old proliferation of political dynasties in provinces and regions.

Transition

The president had said he wants to leave a legacy and be remembered as the leader who led the transition of the country from the present presidential-unicameral to a parliamentary-federal form of governance.

Duterte likewise dismissed speculation that the reason he was favouring federalism and the transition towards that form of administration was so he could prolong his hold on power.

“Accusations that I want to extend my hold on power are garbage,” he said.

“The sole reason why I am holding out is because I do not want trouble,” he added, while pointing out that he was elected in May 2016 to serve for six years as president.

Duterte had earlier formed a panel of experts, the Consultative Committee (Concom) to review the 1987 Constitution.

The president said he wants the form of administration in the country changed to federalism to better spread out development which he said had been largely concentrated in Metro Manila and other urbanised areas such as Metro Cebu and Davao City.

Federalism Roadshow

Meanwhile, Interior Assistant Secretary and Spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the “Federalism Roadshow” is slated to kick off and tour the country starting June 17 in Dumaguete City in Central Philippines.

“We want to ensure that the message we want to convey concerning federalism is clear to Filipinos,” he said.

Senator Koko Pimentel, a chief advocate of federalism along with his father, former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, said the Concom framers envision to divide the three main islands of the country — Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao — into 18 federal regions with a nationally-elected President and Vice President.

EXPLAINER:

Can a federal form of government help solve the country's woes?

• Federalism is a political organisation in which the activities of government are shared or divided between regional governments and a central government — in such a way that each has some activities (such as economic, extraction of mineral resources) on which it makes final decisions.

A federated, instead of a unitary, Philippines is hoped to free up the economic and human potential of remote provinces, allow regions to compete with each other — and eventually help decongest Manila.

• The unitary form of government won by one vote over federal/parliamentary form of government during the deliberations of the unelected delegates — a mix of civil society leaders and Filipino intellectuals  — who crafted the 1987 Constitution after dictator Ferdinand Marcos fled the country following his 20-year iron-fisted rule. The 1987 Constitution has set a single-term of six years to a sitting president to avoid a repeat of the Marcos dictatorship.

• Calls for federalism go into the heart of many cultures and traditions that together make up the Philippines, now a nation of about 103 million people.

• The Philippine archipelago — with more than 7,641 islands — is an ethnically diverse country. It has some 170 languages spoken by numerous ethnic groups that comprise the country.

Numerous tribal groups had existed in the Philippines for millennia, with their own colourful and distinct cultures. Some are sea-based, others are highland dwellers. These include the people of the Cordilleras (Igorot, shown here), who live in the Luzon highlands; the Mangyan of Mindoro; the Negritos including the Aeta in Luzon and the Ati of Panay; the tribes of Palawan; the Lumad of Mindanao (including the Manobo, Tasaday, Mamanwa, Mandaya, and Kalagan); The Moros of Mindanao, including the Bajau of the Sulu Archipelago. Among the low-landers, there are various linguistic groups.  Courtesy: Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap

• Under the proposed federal government system, the president is both the head of state and the head of government, and serves as the commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces. 

• Islam is the oldest recorded monotheistic religion in the Philippines, having reached the Philippines in the 13th century with the arrival of Muslim traders from the Arabian Gulf, Southern India, and their followers from several sultanate governments in the Malay Archipelago.

• A 2012 census estimate stated there were 10.7 million Filipino Muslims, or about 11 per cent of the population.

• Many advocates of federalism see no other formula to end the incessant armed struggles in Mindanao, where the native Muslim populations have thrived for centuries before Christianity was introduced to the islands in 1521.

• Earlier proposals envision the creation of a federal system of government with 10 component states. Now, new proposals call for the creation of 18 states, including a Bangsa Moro federal state for the Muslims in southern Philippines. 

• A "double whammy" of communist rebellion and Muslim secession continue to rob the Philippines of its full potential, though the country's educational system remains one of the best in Asia.

• The Philippines had 15 presidents since 1896, following the declaration of independence from Spain. Most of the Philippine presidents, however, are from the main islands of Luzon or the Visayas.

• President Duterte, former mayor of Davao City on the Mindanao island, is the country's first leader from Mindanao. He also traces part of his roots to the Maranaos, a Muslim Filipino tribe in the restive southern island of Mindanao.

• Duterte, whose government is also negotiating with communist rebels, won the presidency in 2016 by a landslide after he campaigned for federalism, peace and order and rooting out drugs.

• Duterte's advocacy to transform the country's system of governance from unitary to federal is the first time since the 1987 Constitution was crafted that a president has actively supported such a move.

• In provinces outside Manila, there's an overwhelming clamour for the shift to federal form of government.

• The proof of support for federal project will be seen in during a national plebiscite when the voting population (more than 40 million people voted in 2016 elections, 81% or registered voters) will be asked whether or not they favour the shift.

• One of the key institutions that may lose their power in a federal form of government would be the 24 senators, a nationally-elected legislative body that comprises the Upper House of Philippine Congress.