- Debate on Federal Philippines: A Citizen’s Handbook by Eduardo Araral, et al.
Debate on Federal Philippines: A Citizen’s Handbook
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2017. 108 pages.
The question of a federal Philippines has been a longstanding debate among academics and policy makers. However, the Duterte administration has recently fast-tracked the path to federalism, forcing the debate to enter public discussion. As of the most recent public opinion poll, 67 percent of Filipinos remain opposed to federalism. However, due to the highly political nature of the current federalism proposal, everyday discussions on the topic have been highly polarizing and partisan, thus failing to reach the core political and structural issues. Despite the public chatter, the regime’s transition toward federalism is gradually becoming a strong possibility. In July 2018 the administration’s constitutional commission released a draft for a federal Philippines, containing many of the administration’s priority reforms. As federalism progresses on the legislative side, the government contributes little to the popular discourse except through a vulgar song-and-dance routine, Pepedederalismo, by Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Esther Margaux “Mocha” Uson. Filipinos searching for more meaningful discussion may find the Debate on Federal Philippines: A Citizen’s Handbook a timely and highly welcome assistance in objectively examining the implications of such a drastic political change.
This handbook comprises six chapters by six different authors from across the spectrum of the federalism debate. Each chapter takes a frequently asked questions (FAQ) format for the benefit of nonacademic readers and ordinary citizens. In the first chapter Gilbert Llanto, president of the Institute of Development Studies, provides a general background on decentralization in the Philippines and the Local Government Code of 1991. Some readers may find it odd for a book on federalism to begin with the Local Government Code. However, Llanto’s chapter frames federalism as merely one of many options for the ongoing decentralization process. The Local Government Code is an already existing attempt at addressing the same issues that federalism is purported to address. This chapter poses two options: improvement of the current unitary system, which has already [End Page 534] been gradually decentralizing, or an outright shift to federalism. Llanto also identifies the distribution of power as the core issue in the federalism debate. By beginning with this chapter, the book challenges readers to examine the sufficiency of the current path of decentralization before considering the more radical option of federalism.
Following Llanto’s chapter, that of Julio Teehankee, professor at De La Salle University and a member of the constitutional commission, provides a comprehensive history of the federalism debate in the Philippines and the basic characteristics of federalism across different countries. Teehankee sees federalism as a means of correcting the country’s overcentralized power structure and uneven economic growth originating from past colonial administrations. This particular argument would have been stronger had the chapter included more economic indicators of an overcentralized system. Interestingly, the chapter includes lists of both existing and defunct federalisms, revealing that federalism has its limitations and may be vulnerable to changing political conditions. Among the existing forms of federalism are the three primary models, namely, the American, Canadian, and German models (30). Readers may realize the difficulty of adapting these Western models to the Philippine setting. The chapter also reveals the connection of the federalism question to the debate on the Philippines’s shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government. The latter debate has its own distinct component issues, such as the balance of executive power, legislative dynamics, party politics, regional representation, and electoral politics. Although the most common arguments for federalism include fiscal equity among regions and improved relations between central and local governments, this chapter reveals how federalism can drastically alter the power structures within the Philippine government and echoes Llanto’s assertion on power as the debate’s core issue.
In chapter 3 Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, tackles the common fears and risks regarding federalism, such as possible regional secessionism, entrenchment of political...