Federalism cannot stand alone


FOR decades, the Centrist Democrats in the Philippines has worked for the replacement of the Manila-centric unitary state structure of the Philippines by a federal structure. In a country as big and as diverse as the Philippines, federalism is a key element of a subsidiary state structure—in which the power of decision-making is brought as close as possible to the citizens, whose lives and well-being are affected by that decision.

Centrist Democracy is based on the core value of human dignity, and this includes as a central element the right of self-determination of each human being as a single person, and of co-determination for the social groups it belongs to; the family, the neighborhood, the villages, regions and ethnic groups.

These principles of subsidiarity and self-determination as guiding tools for the establishment of a humane society are encapsulated in federalism as the form of regional self-government.

It seems that, finally, the time has come for the realization of this key element of true democracy in the Philippines. The new administration has declared the reform of the 1987 Constitution as one of its priorities, replacing the unitary, centralized state by a federal state structure. However, there is a danger if we consider federalism as an aim in itself and not as a tool for regional democratic self-government for our citizens.

There is a kind of magic triangle of real democracy: this is the essence of lessons learned from successful as well as poor performing and completely failing democracies during the last 100 years all over the world. Only where the three elements all come together will democracy be said to be functioning successfully well and sustainable in emerging and modern countries. These are inclusive democratic participation of the citizenry; a parliamentary form of government; and a subsidiary state structure.

Philippine democracy is, and I quote former Chief Justice Reynato Puno: “… [A] pure façade on top of dynastic patronage structures.” It cannot work to the satisfaction of the citizens, because there is no inclusive democratic participation, no parliamentary form of government and no subsidiary state structure in the Philippines.

The Centrist-Democratic Vision for the Philippines is to introduce simultaneously all these three elements of real democracy in a fundamental reform of the Philippine Constitution. The 1987 Constitution decidedly has noble values but an incongruent institutional setup, which made the Philippines after the EDSA-Revolution a failing democracy.

Federalism has to be built on inclusive democratic participation,

• with a system of principled political parties owned and operated by citizens, with transparent internal democratic structures, financial independence from dynasties and patrons, and anchored on specific platform of government;

• with an electoral system where even the marginalized sectors be allowed a fair chance of being represented through “proportional representation”; and

• with an electoral process where the laws against vote-buying and other forms of undemocratic manipulation are strictly enforced.

If federalism is established without this inclusive democratic participation, regional states will be controlled by powerful dynasties or even warlords—and not by the people in the regions. There is a second prerequisite. There are numerous studies showing clearly the superiority of the parliamentary over the presidential system, especially in countries after periods of dictatorship.

If federalism will not be combined with parliamentary form of government on the national and regional level,

• the regional administrations will be marred by blockades and grid-locks between the executive and the legislative branches, leading to horse-trading on each and any strategic and legislative project resulting in an ineffective government;

• the regional administration executives will be at a standstill and unaccountable as there is no effective control or “check-and-balance” until the next elections; and

• the dominant political families and patrons can lord it over the regional government or state as if it were a “unitary entity.”

It does not improve the situation of our people to get federalist structures with no effective and accountable government.

When experts from the Philippine government and from the MILF drafted in 2013/2014 the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, they considered very carefully how this autonomous region could function in the future for the benefit of the people and for a stable, democratic development. With the clear dangers of potential warlords and patronage structures destroying the new political entity before their eyes, they came jointly to the conclusion to draft it as a parliamentary form of government, built on a new, partly proportional electoral system with principled political parties.

In the upcoming constitutional reforms, these issues have to be taken into account. Otherwise, the new structures will be built into the clouds, they will be nothing but big words, and we will give the people the stones of continuing corruptive state structures instead of the bread of effective democratic governance.

Peter Koeppinger, PhD, is the current project director of the European Union-Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (EU-KAS) Philippines Partnerships for Integrity and Jobs Project (Project I4J). He is a former resident representative of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in the Philippines (2009-2014). He served as one of the co-convenors of the Centrist Democratic Movement (CDM) of the Philippines in 2010 to 2011, and has been the foreign political consultant of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines: Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya (CDP) from its establishment in 2012 up to the present. He is a member of the Board of Advisors of CDPI.


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1 Comment

  1. The first step to democratic processes is knowing what really a democratic system is and that start with educating the people. 70-80 percent of the people would care less or are totally ignorant about all the systems we are talking. Now the hard truth about this country is that few people really care about the common good.

    Many of the proponents of the federalism are the current political dynasties, they are pushing it not because they envisioned people empowerment but simply they see it as a final push to pave way for the establishment of their small kingdoms.

    Local chiefs will be kings on their own.

    The Autonomous region for muslim mindanao (ARMM) which is a parliamentary system (i would say pseudo-federal-parliamentary system in principle) ended up monopolized by the Ampatuans with public funds ending in their of vaults.