Key questions on changing the form of government to federalism


There is a need for change in governance to maintain the change brought about by the Duterte style of governance, and that is federalism. In this light there are questions that need to be addressed that may help us as a nation to have a successful and continuous change where services can reach the people fast. As the head of a Local Government Unit for many years, the President knows that service delayed is service denied, as well as justice delayed is justice denied. To do this, federalism as a form of government may be the best route. But as this change is very disruptive and does involve significant cost, let us clarify the questions that need to be answered.

I discussed the proposal for federalism with Dr. Ador Torneo and I agreed on three major points that need closer consideration. He raised important questions that have remained unanswered since 2005 when we were classmates at the University of Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance.

1. Which form of federalism should the Philippines adopt? There are many forms of federalism including the US model, Malaysian model, German model, Swiss model, etc. and each is suited to a different set of circumstances. The basis for choosing one form over another should be clear.

2. How much will the government have to spend in adopting a federal form of government? This is bound to be costly because state/regional governments and administrative structures will have to be established and capacities have to be developed. Related to this is, how long is the transition?

3. How will state/regional governments support and sustain their operations given the large discrepancies in terms of resource base and resource generation capacity across regions? Addressing this is important because there are regions that currently have small resource base and resource generation capacity. It will not help the goal of federalism if regional/state governments are not fiscally sustainable and have to be subsidized by the national/federal government, because fiscal dependence will also have a bearing on their autonomy.

These questions need to be answered in the course of drafting proposals on federalism.

In light of achieving clarity for measurable and achievable results, we have to work hand in hand and keep an open mind.

I am reminded of a time I delivered a lecture to enforcement officers when I was a public servant, in a meeting in Palawan, emphasizing the need for them to take extra precautions in their manner of observation and the content of their reporting. I asked that they seriously consider the reality that you and the person next to you may be in the same place at the same time, looking at the same incident, your respective observations will never be the same. This is because the extent to which our critical mind can absorb and process reality is limited by the sum total of our individual life experiences. Not even identical twins are spared of this constraint. Thus, our interpretation of events, even with distinct parameters in place, can never be truly objective. Nothing then becomes absolute, and what is considered right today may be deemed wrong in the future, or vice-versa. Overcoming this necessitates a conscious effort toward open-mindedness and empathy.

Mary Rose Magsaysay served as Undersecretary of the Department of Energy, having taken her BS and MA DEGREES from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She also completed the Exec Course on National Security from the National Defense College of the Philippines and the Strategic Management of Regulatory and Enforcement Agencies at the Harvard Kennedy School of Govermemt in Boston Massachusettes.


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  1. Mabait na Pinoy on

    If we keep on comparing Philippines to other countries such as the United States or Germany, we will never get started to form a Federal government. However, if we really want to be part of this journey, we must keep an open mind and stay flexible because there will be thousands of discrepancies on the new form of government. One of the very important thing is to make sure the new Constitution have rooms for amendments. They should write the new constitution with people in mind, that this living document is for the people.

    As far as the expenditures during the transition, mahhh God! it will cost tons of money and it takes political will for PDU30 to get started. The Philippine Government can generate funds by selling treasury bonds, municipal bonds, and maybe loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

    It is absolutely true that some regions will be better off, economically and financially from the others but the central government can help these regions in so many ways. In the U.S., Mississippi is one of the poorest state in the United States. However, the Federal government have spent tons of money building Federal Infrastructures such as Interstates, moving military bases such as a Naval Base in the coastal area and Air Force base in Biloxi, another coastal area. Mississippi have created a floating casino, a gambling ship that goes up and down the Mississippi river, and this is another income for the state. In the State of California, it went bankrupt so many times in the last 30 years, because of mismanagement and at times, the State cannot even afford to pay its electric bills, and the supplier, Pacific Gas and Electric ( PG&E) almost cut off their Electricity, but the Federal government rescued the state every time they are in a hole.

    Whatever form of government the Filipino people want, they can achieve it by working together and it does not require a heavy duty think tank company to do the analysis on their behalf. We need to understand the Philippines is still a very poor country and we are still fighting war on two fronts, corruption and drugs. Majority of the Filipino people or 91% trusted PDU30 and most likely, he will be successful in this journey because what he is doing now is for all the people of the Philippines.

  2. Read on

    Simple Governance
    The government’s priority is to serve the people’s need now, not 20 or 10 or even 5 years from now. That’s how I see the Duterte Government is doing things. It’s unconventional only because it differs in approach from the documented traditional and acclaimed bureaucratic system of the National Government. Actually this approach is not new to successful chief executives of Local Government Units (LGU’s) who are besieged by requests from their constituencies every single moment of their administration. There are no sweeping statements or months of great debate before a project is launched or a decision made – just a day or a week at most to ensure everything sits well within the locality. So that on a National Scale is what we are seeing and feeling all the way down to the masses with this government’s approach – no ifs and buts, just pure action. This style of governance is well loved and currently appreciated for its swift results, and that puts back the people’s confidence back in the government. But this style of governance generates a lot of opposition from those whose interests are adversely affected. I pray the current administration successfully weathers such interference. It took a special kind of strong administration, unafraid and headstrong, to implement this kind of governance, and that is what our current Administration is doing. Whatever it takes, the job will be done. No one can deny that this is a responsive type of government.
    Is this sustainable? If our structure of government evolves to support it, the answer is yes, and this points clearly to a Federal system of Government. The final decision rests on the cost of transitioning to a new structure of government versus the benefits for the people of the Philippines. What are the questions we need to answer? First: how much will the government spend to convert to Federalism? Next: what are the quantifiable benefits per person and how long will the process take? Will its benefits per person be substantial enough to justify the costs?
    Service delayed is service denied as much as justice delayed is justice denied. I’ve seen the Federalism presentation to the Local Government Units and am rallying for the support of the people to ease the transition and render a responsive type of government truly sustainable. I say this because decision-making time is shortened when budget allocation is concerned. Today LGU’s only get a very small fraction – about 30% – of the National Government Budget, while national agencies get a hefty 70%. This results in LGU’s having to request allocation from the national government budget every time need to deploy funds beyond their designated budget, which in turn slows down the distribution of government services by a minimum of six months! And that is if it even gets approved! In contrast, the twelve or thirteen proposed partially independent Federated States can respond to the in a shorter period of time because the federated states will have the majority of the national budget and will be concentrating only on their respective territories which has more or less seven provinces each on the average, and not the entire eighty-one provinces across the country to deal with. In short, more focus on local interests and more access to funds means better distribution of benefits. There are of course challenges. Who will assume the National Debt? Maybe this is the time to educate the public which projects were funded by it. Who were the beneficiaries of these debts? What happened to these projects? Answering these questions truthfully is a good start towards formulating guidelines for accountability.

  3. Are there pre-requisites? For instance, would it not be better to make the shift when: (a) there is already less corruption in government, (b) when the Fil people are more forward looking (rather than still keeping that Marcos-Aquino spirit of rivalry still going on) (naiwan na tayo ng ating mga regional neighbors), (c) wait or ask all the traditional politicians to retire (I think many, but not all, present politicians that are still working within all branches of the government are uselss, termites).

  4. I find it odd that there are two major components missing in this campaign…

    1) Comprehensive study of what model would best apply given the current condition and deficiencies of the country, and:
    2) Vote of the people, after they have been properly educated and informed of the pros and cons of such government.

    I fear that the powers today campaign all of these ideas – based on concept and academe – without really understanding what it is like to be covered by such program. I doubt that even the current president experienced and what it is to be like, living in a federal and state-run government.

    I must attest that after living close to 3 decades in the State of California, and have played a major role in developing related federal and state programs for the San Diego Association of Governments relating to social welfare, work programs, transportation, logistics, rail and the like, I would say that this is a very complicated subject that really needs a think tank and a steering committee that are well informed and experienced to take on a crucial role that will define the social and government future of the Philippines.