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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, January 9, 2018
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Trying on federalism


There's a lot of talk about the Philippines adopting the federal system of government and from the way politicians in power tell it, the adoption of this form of government is a done deal. But, how well do the people, even the advocates in the ground level know about the intricacies of a federal system? We had been under a unitary system under the Spanish crown, the American colonizers, the Commonwealth and the Republic. Even the short-lived government of Emilio Aguinaldo was unitary.

A street random survey was conducted by a television station and the published interview shows that most have heard the word but don't know what it means. In several instances, in small gatherings, I also found that most do not understand how the federal system works.

This is good and bad. It is good for the advocates of federalism especially if they are politicians in power because their followers may just do the worst kind of thinking, “follow the leader.” On the other hand it can be bad if most people don't understand what it means that they will just vote against it to be on the safe side. In the long term, however, it all boils down to where the nation's leadership will bring us.

In 1788, General George Washington told the proponents of the federal form of government that after the Revolution their “work will merit the notice of posterity”. Will Washington's comment be heeded by our federalistas and work for a government that posterity will take notice of as great achievement? Or will the present proponents be damned as goaded by vested interests?

If the American Constitution framed by the Federalists survived for over 200 years with few amendments, why have we changed constitutions three times within 82 years and want to change again? The first Constitution remained the longest, from 1935-1973 or a period of 37 years.

If we trace the reasons for the changes of our 1935 constitution, we will notice one thing: they serve the people in power, like Ferdinand Marcos for the first change. Cory Aquino discarded the Marcos constitution. Now it is President Duterte. The fear of most politicians of President Duterte made them sing in chorus as those who feared Aquino agreed to allow her to choose her own people to write her Constitution.

We still don't know what kind of federal government the politicians are talking about. Is it parliamentary or unitary? How independent will the so-called federated states be? Consider that from the beginning of the US federal government, the states were independent of each other, functioning as separate and distinct, with their own government, army, police, system of taxation and state constitution.

When the 13 states eventually adopted the federal system, they gave up only certain powers to the federal government. It is not the federal government that allocated to the states what the federal government wanted to give.

In our case the envisioned federal states would still be organized and their territories delineated. We have already regions but these are not independent entities and are dependent on the national government. If we adopt the federal system, we will do it in reverse of the US states. In our case we will receive only what the federal government will give in contrast to that of the US.

It is unlikely then that we will gain more independent powers if we federate. We will be creatures of the federal government, unlike the American states that created the federal government and therefore granted only limited powers to insure their independence. Can the creature demand more from what its creator extends?

Of course, there are numerous things to consider. The point is the need for massive information campaign because we plan to adopt a new kind of governance of which we have scant knowledge and no experience. But until now there is no such campaign and yet the government is talking of adopting the federal system within two years. The new system will require a constitutional amendment and so far nobody has said how we will amend the constitution.

The American system of federated states is only one in the world. There are other forms but usually the independent states federate but retain their prerogatives. Be careful because we are doing the reverse.*



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