Federalism project puts the cart before the horse


Second of two parts

First read
By pressing for a system switch to federalism before Congress can choose between a constituent assembly and a constitutional convention as the vehicle for charter change, President Duterte and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez have put the cart before the horse.

A cart is a vehicle which is ordinarily pulled by a horse, so to put the cart before the horse is an analogy for doing things in the wrong order. The idiom is about confusing cause and effect.

In the case of the federalism project of the administration, the President and the Speaker are using federalism as the horse to drag Congress into amending the Constitution.

By failing to sequence their actions correctly and logically, they have tied themselves up in knots. Especially Speaker Alvarez.

The speaker vaulted over the cart and the horse, when he spoke before a business forum about a grand timetable: – A Constitution draft in one year, a plebiscite by 2019, and an election under a new Constitution by 2022.

This sounds as though we are being rushed or hustled into something.

Speaker Alvarez should explain why The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in its website reports that the Speaker is determined to destroy “imperial Manila” and bring full independence to Mindanao.

Destroy? Declare independence?

Would the turncoat legislators have joined the House super majority had they known of this independence agenda of the Speaker?

Will the Senate extend Alvarez its cooperation in enacting his plans?

A project with no terms of reference
Since it was first floated during the election campaign, it always troubled me that federalism was predetermined by its proponents as a solution to a problem or problems that they could not precisely define.

Sometimes federalism proponents say that it is the solution to conflict in the South.

At other times, they contend that it will assure development and better living standards for those sections of the country that feel deprived and neglected.

Equally troubling is the observation of some friends in business and public management, that federalism looks like a project with no terms of reference.

Terms of reference in project planning and management describe the purpose and structure of a project to accomplish a shared goal. It is often referred to as the project charter.

As someone who has spent a good part of his professional life in policy research and policy development, I submit that a change in political system is no ordinary change. It is a seismic shift in the political order and our political universe.

We can agree that all the country’s 13 regions, with the exception of the national capital region, will benefit from greater decentralization, increased devolution, and fiscal autonomy in relation to the central government.

We can agree that the country also needs more jobs, less poverty; more innovation, less inequality; and more unity, less conflict.

But there is clearly no urgent need for a wholesale shift to federalism to achieve such objectives. There are other more practical strategies and low risk alternatives, which also should be evaluated against objectives.

Federalism, or any major constitutional change, needs to be built upon solid foundations, not on the shifting sands of political opportunism, feeble political parties, electoral immaturity, weak institutions, and the dominance of political dynasties.

Drawbacks of federalism
Research among countries that have adopted or transitioned to federalism highlights some major issues about this governance model:

1. Federalism fails when it is driven by political interests and not social ideologies.

2. Federalism does not decrease inequality. In many instances it exacerbates inequality between states and regions.

3. Federalism does not create jobs, or a better business environment. States lack the skills to attract business, negotiate deals and provide quality services.

4. Federalism weakens the state as a whole.

5. Federalism prevents uniformity of laws and creates confusion.

6. Federalism is expensive to run.

7. Finally and for me most troubling, federalism will increase the number of politicians! And the overall cost of governing.

In a report published in 2006, the World Bank observed: “Presidential federal systems, compared to parliamentary systems, increase the probability of high corruption levels.”

Malaysia as model
During the recent election campaign, DU30 casually mentioned Malaysia as a possible model for Philippine federalism.


Malaysia, the worm inside the BBL Trojan horse?

Malaysia, which has been fomenting Muslim secession in Mindanao since the Marcos era?

The other day, presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza announced that the administration will resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Malaysia.

Why Malaysia again, when it has never been an honest broker for peace talks? Malaysia, which is suffering from a $1.2 Billion fraud perpetrated by its prime minister?

A few days after the May 9 elections, Malaysia was quick out of the blocks promising to help us shift to Federalism. Really?

The very fact that Malaysia is involved in the federalism project should consign it to the dustbin.

The shifty talk from con-con to con-ass to con-com demonstrates deceit and desire to take a quick, easy, and lazy approach to political change.

The Philippines needs to apply an evolutionary approach based upon gradualism, and focus upon the fundamental pillars of democracy which are common to any system, irrespective of structure.

The defects of the federalism project show in the way an old proposal of Nene Pimentel is being dusted off by his son, the new Senate president, and peddled as a solution. No research, no evaluation, just a simplistic approach that raises more questions than it answers.

The lesson of Australia
It is also worth noting that some federated states have been studying lately how to reform their federal systems because of increasing difficulties and shortcomings.

Australia is one example. At the conclusion of its study on the costs of federalism for Austrialia, which was commissioned by the Business Council of Australia, Access Economics observed:

“Reform – and the greater prosperity it could bring – is increasingly falling foul of the overlaps and inefficiencies in our federal system of government.

“In brief, Australia’s federal system suffers from:

(1) too much overlap,

(2) too big a mismatch between what the States get via taxes and their spending,

(3) too heavy a Federal hand in areas of State responsibility,

(4) too much ‘destructive competition’ across jurisdictions, and

(5) too little cooperation across States and between States and the Australian Government.

How much does this cost?

“This will show up as:

(1) Higher than necessary costs of government

(2) Higher than necessary costs of doing business

(3) And lower than necessary living standards for ordinary Australians.

And yet Australia is one of the most successful states and dynamic economies in the world.

How do you think will we Filipinos fare with the federal system, given our legendary incompetence in governance?



Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. Give us examples. Some details. Back up your line item statements. You can’t just say those things without some form of example in each argument. Convince your sophisticated reader.

  2. Mr. Makabenta, will you kindly publish an article re: Con-Ass , Con-con , and federalism , so that all Filipinos will know and understand the meaning of each its purpose and advantages of each form .

  3. Aphetsky Lasa on

    The author deliberately ignored that there are two sides to a coin. Having only either side makes that coin illegal tender. Likewise, there are advantages and disadvantages to a proposal or idea, as in this case, federalism. By enumerating only his so-called drawbacks, the author presents only one side of the equation. Apparently there is no urgency on the side of the author to shift to federalism but it is incumbent upon himself to also list the advantages so as not to look opinionated and biased.

  4. Cha-Cha? Federalism?

    The more it changes the more it stays the same!

    During Marcos time the more he stayed, the more the country changed.

    Sayang a lot of progress in the RP golgen age sana.

    Kaya iprayority nyo paandarin ang legacy niyang Bataan Power Plant, parang awa niyo sa Bayan.

  5. Silverio Cabellon Jr on

    If the aim to change the 1987 Constitution is to provide for local autonomy, there is no need because it is already provided in ARTICLE X

    Local Government

    General Provisions

    SECTION 1. The territorial and political subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. There shall be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras as hereinafter provided.

    SECTION 2. The territorial and political subdivisions shall enjoy local autonomy.

  6. Phil Star Aug.4,2016-” I Can Give BBL to MILF and Sulu to Misuari ” sabi ni President Duterte. Ganyan ba talaga ka powerful Ang isang Presidente Sa Pilipinas Na Hindi Na idaan yan Sa Congress, Senado at Magkaroon ng isang Plebisito? Parang kanya yung ibinibigay Nya? Madali Na lamang mag declare ng independence Ang Bangsamoro State pag tayo ay nasa Federalism form of govt Na. E ano din Ang ibibigay Nya Kay Joma Sison at nakipag peace talk Na rin? Di maging legal Na rin Ang Communist Party of the Philippines Sa atin Govierno? Kaya ba ng Tao magbayad ng 2 Tax(Federal at State) at the same time? Mawawatak watak Ang bansa natin pag ganyan Ang systema at lalong lalakas Ang Political Dinasty pag Federal Na. Lalong lalakas Ang mga Private Army nyan Sa Mindanao. Isa pa Armadong grupo ay Gagawin part ng isang Federal State e delikado yan. Meron ba tayong narinig Sa ibang mga Rebeldeng grupo Sa ibang bansa binigyan ng Federal form of govt para wala ng gulo? Wala di ba at Ang ginawa ng Govierno ay Total All Out War Sa lumalaban Sa Govierno, tulad ng Sri Lanka. E di peaceful sila at naubos Ang mga Tamil rebels. Dapat pag isipan mabuti yan Fedetalism at mga Armadong grupo Na iba Ang ideology Ang makikinabang nyan Na bandang Huli hihiwalay Sa Republika ng Pilipinas.

  7. Samuel Abiertos on

    Here’s a much better, faster way to amend the PH Constitution: Appoint three highly respected people–a jurist, a fairly educated private citizen, and a clear-headed educator–to quietly come up with a draft incorporating the desired changes that are so well-known and are no-brainers anyway. Have the PH President, Senate President, Speaker of the House, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court discreetly discuss and then approve the draft. Disseminate the draft widely through the mass media (print, TV, radio) and social media. Then submit it one month thereafter to a people’s referendum on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. This would also be a foolproof way of effectively subverting the machinations of family dynasties, well-entrenched politicians, and vested interests and of saving billions of the country’s scarce financial resources. If this is done right, presto! PH will have a new, more responsive Constitution in four months at most. No sweat!

  8. Simple lang yan, ipaintindi sa tao ano yung federal. Wag mong gawin example yung sa ibang bansa, nasa pagdadala ng government yan, kahit anong style ng government i-employ mo pag hindi naman magcooperate yung tao, especially yung sa goberyo, wala rin mangyayari. Sa nagdaan na administration under the current form of goverment, ano ba ang nangyari sa pinas? Kya nga naghahanap ng ibang paraan para magawan ng solution. I kayo naman mga critico comment kayo ng comment. Instead gumawa kayo ng article para maintindihan ng tao kung ano yung federalism at kung ano yung hindi dapat gawin para hindi masira ang straktura ng gobernyong ibig i-emplement. Wag yuung puro negative………………..

    • G. Federal – Gusto mong ipaintindi sa tao yung Federal System of Government, pero bakit yung mga nagtutulak hindi maipaliwanag ng maayus kung ano ito????- Ang komentaryo ni G. Makabenta ay kung susuriin mo -ipinakikita niya kung ano ang “problema” na dapat solusyunan muna . Hindi sinasabi ni G. Makabenta sa kanyang artikulo na siya’y nagmamagaling at nakikita lang niya ang “butas”(loopholes) ng isang Federalismo. Ang Iskandalong malaki ay tulak lang tulak ng Federalismo pero bahag naman ang buntot ng mga proponents sa pagpapaliwanag. May mga itinatagong “multo’ sila sa likod ng federalismo na kung hahatawin ng husto ng mga Kritiko ay mahihirapan silang maipalwanag. Yung pag bibigay halimbawa sa ibang bansa – ay pinapakita lamang kung ano ang depektong dulot at dapat makita na at paghandaan. Hindi sinsabing puro depekto lang ng ibang bansa ang nakikita bagkus hinahanap na dapat ng solusyon . Hindi si G Makabenta ang gagawa ng solusyon -sinasabi na niya ang depkto upang gawan ng solusyo dahil sila naman ang mga mambabatas na nagsusulong ng Federalismo.