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.