Federalism and planning


FEDERALISM may be the answer to the ailing imperial Manila and to the rest of the country. It could address the need for a balanced, fast, and decisive decision-making. Federalism cuts national bureaucracy short.

The Philippines is 400 times the size of Singapore, 300 times the size of Hong Kong, 75 times the size of Dubai, and three times the size of South Korea. Certainly, the potential of our country is limitless.

Let us look at our past and reflect on it. Along with it, let us learn from observing other successful forms of federal states such as in the United Arab Emirates and in Germany.

Ancient city form
Before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, the civilization along our rivers had already displayed an earlier form of federalism. At the banks of the Pasig River extending to the coast of Laguna de Bay, an ancient polity existed called the Namayan Kingdom. The kingdom is made up of a confederation of villages (barangay), which had leaders ‘Datu’ and warriors ‘Maharlika’ on each of the villages.

From the confederation of several ‘Datus,’ a supreme leader ruled among them. According to Fr. Huerta, the rulers were Lakan Tagkan and Lady Buan.

When the Spaniards arrived in Manila in 1571, the two other polities that they encountered are The Kingdom of Tondo and The Kingdom of Manila, which were ruled by Lakandula and Rajah Sulayman. The setup of the polities was the same. It was a confederation of villages led by one ruler. It is significant to point out that the ancient region of what we now call NCR today was not governed by a unitary government or by a single leader. There was a political division.

Most ancient civilizations around the world settled along the rivers. But what is interesting with the kingdoms in Manila is that they had a sense of boundary and responsibility. Until today, the confederation of villages is carried over in our current political setup. Villages are clustered to form LGUs or municipalities.

On a side note, world history tells us that empires fall because top-bottom approach does not resonate with all the citizens, leading to inefficient budget allocation and police power, as well as selective development.

The current challenge
There are a lot of inefficiencies with the bureaucracy today. The national capital occupies a small space in the country, 0.16 percent to be exact, but around 60 percent of national budget goes to her. Though despite the budget, Manila was not able to use it properly. P2 billion a day is wasted by systemic traffic congestion and urban sprawl in the city, despite it having most of the country’s budget. Manila is a centralized city with poor planning and bad habits.

Our current government setup needs to be faster and less bureaucratic. While there are efforts for bottom-up planning, the funding is still top-down, rendering some plans underfunded. LGUs and regions are restrained if political favor is not given to fast track certain projects. The consequence of having a centralized city with underdeveloped provinces and regions is unbalanced development. Quality of health and education in the provinces is different from Metro Manila, except for a few. As an architect and urban planner, I believe that regions should be integrated seamlessly through plans that will play out to their strengths and comparative advantages. Today, many cities are copying the errors of Metro Manila, including urban sprawl, poor mass transportation, and lack of affordable housing.
Learning from UAE, Germany
Before oil was discovered and traded by kingdoms along the Persian Gulf, its main industry was the pearl trade and was a strategic location for maritime trade. However, the pearl trade collapsed in the 1930s, and hardship was felt throughout the coastal communities.

In order to establish proper security among the kingdoms in the area, the treaties evolved into the federal states. In the UAE, security, infrastructure, and the oil trade are coordinated. Though independent, such as the city of Dubai (the most populous city in the UAE), it is very much in line with the economic development and security coordination with Abu Dhabi (UAE’s second most populous city). The core of the federal idea in the UAE is security, observance of Shariah law, and economic development. Ever since the UAE was formed in Dec. 1971, the federal states have grown into a middle power.

On the other hand, Germany is made up of 16 states that were officially formed in 1949. The main emphasis of the independent states includes education, culture, the arts and the sciences. Through autonomy, the states were able to have authority in the direction of their education, and were able to specify what type of job training they will specialize in. Unlike in a top-to-bottom approach, the skill set is not properly taken into account.

Postcards from the future
There is a need for decisive leadership. Bureaucracy has the tendency to water down the real needs of the community. Federalism might be able to address that issue. We must empower good local leaders to integrate the interests of the region, so that it may come up with a united vision. The future rests on visionary leadership, political will, good design, good planning, and good governance.

On June 24, before we welcome the new administration, Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture will host a talk at the AIM Conference Center. We will share our vision for the country. This includes recommendations on urban planning, architecture, urban design, urban renewal, inclusionary zoning, humanizing our streets, creation of urban growth centers outside of Metro Manila, and preparing our communities, towns and cities to be more livable, resilient, safer, smarter, and sustainable.


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  1. Abdul Ampatuan on

    The federal type of government, I believe is considered fit, only when you have a huge country like the US, Germany, etc. Wider geographical area may mean a bigger scope of responsibility on the part of the national government. That is why it needs to decentralize some of its functions and responsibilities to its federal states. Singapore, I think, is not a federal country, only it applies a parliamentary form of government and the power of the President also called ‘a ceremonial position’ is limited only in choosing his cabinets and to head the State military)

    Should federal-parliamentary form becomes a law and implemented, the following issues or concerns will be expected:

    a) The power of the President will become limited or dissipated.

    It is expected that the President’s power to run a nation will become limited. One feature of federalism is that there will be a reversal of budget allocation (70/30), the 70% will go down to the federal states and the remaining or smaller portion of the budget will be retained in the national government. Therefore, the President may have a limited capacity to interfere with the affairs of the federal states.

    Since, most of the powers of the President are delegated to the Chief Ministers in federal states, it is expected that the Chief Ministers will solve the problems in their respective areas or zones and attend first hand to the needs of their constituents. The role of the President, in this case, will only be of a supporting character.

    The main concern here is that what if federal states are led by corrupt politicians? Surely, the huge budget will just simply go to their pockets, thus, making the lives of their constituents more miserable and since, power and control is given much to them, they can exploit everything. As a consequence, we can expect a massive diaspora of their constituents to move to other states where they think they are safe, pampered and not exploited. This can create bigger problems in the future.

    In federalism, I have learned that it calls for the abolition of Congress, and instead, the legislative and executive branches will be unified in every federal state. This is usually, headed by a Chief Minister and his many cabinets, and counterbalanced by a Shadow Minister and his black cabinets. (I think this is like a two party/bloc/group system, which is composed of the minority and the majority).

    The big question here is that if the above set-up will be followed and more politicians sit in the government, and we know for sure, that if there will be MANY politicians sit in the federal governments, there will be a MASSIVE corruption. Although, they are saying, that corruption will be stopped because both groups will be in constant monitoring against each other, the question is, ‘Are we sure that they are going to perform their job?’ Or perhaps, they are there to fool people around, just to create a political drama for entertainment. In the end, the ones that benefit are the politicians, but, the sufferings will be on the tax payers.

    Since, the above is a two-bloc system, there will only be limited choices from a pool of candidates. Therefore, political dynasty is expected and will become prevalent in this kind of set-up.

    With federalism in place, federal laws will be different from one state to another. There might be laws that might be repressive in one state or that which limits your freedom and rights, or perhaps, laws that are favorable to some groups due to its dominance. In this case, the national government could not easily interfere, since, the legislative function is already delegated to the federal states and their laws must be respected.

    Although, independence is what we can see in federalism, but, the question is, how long can this independence be able to thrive? The threat is real and imminent! If we have federal states who have different laws, these will possibly create more divisions and differences, and national disintegration. What if some states favor prostitution or abortion or creation of militant groups? How will the national government respond when the system limits its interference? I am afraid that this nation will become more chaotic than before, and instead of unifying, there will be continuum of disunity.

  2. Thank you for advancing the cause of federalism; a system that will suit us to be more
    participatory and inclusive. More power, Sir!

  3. Honorable President R. Duterte,

    Please kindly consider Arch. Jun Palafox in your administration. His unselfish insight and vision for livable, resilient, safer, smarter and sustainable Philippines can only be achieved and realized if he is given a direct voice in your administration. This is the kind of person that must be part of your cabinet. A person with unselfish vision, mission, and love to his country. Mr. Palafox can be a great contributor to the great success of your administration and legacy to the Filipino people.

  4. Driggs Matabaran on

    Thanks a lot for this article. Although I am not familiar how federalism works, the reason why I support it is that I noticed that most Filipinos migrate to federal government countries – Canada, US, Australia, etc. – practically highly developed ones. Now I learn that a great number of our OFWs are also working in federalist country such as UAE… My point is that there could be something in federalism that supports balanced development and inclusive growth… Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and insights… Your technical inputs will be very valuable to the new administration…

  5. Architect Jun Falafox,
    You have a very good vision of the Philippines. You have to very visible to Duterte administration so that your vision can be realized. Filipinos are suffering socially and economically. Through federalism can address the social and economic inequalities of the Filipino people. For instance in the south, they have huge resources but remained untapped especially strategic minerals. Hopefully, under Duterte administration federalism will be realized in order to uplift the socio-economic conditions of our people. May God bless you!