Here are the highlights of the first of academic lecture series on federalism at the House of Representatives, a joint undertaking of IAG and the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) of the House. A policy report on the proceedings will be issued in a separate publication. 


Federalism 101: Overview of Federalism: Concepts, Types and Process of Establishment; Basis for Demarcating Boundaries for Federal States: Ups and Downs of Ethnicity, Language, or Economic Considerations as Boundary Markers

August 2, 2016 (9am-3pm)

Speaker Belmonte Hall, South Wing Annex, House of Representatives



In the opening remarks by Dr. Romulo Miral, the proposal to shift to federalism was placed in the context of spreading benefits of growth and addressing highly uneven development among the country’s regions. Even as specific problems were cited as poverty, inefficiency in delivery of public services, graft and corruption, and promoting accountability, Dr. Miral stated federalism is not supposed to be a cure-all to ailments and pointed to past efforts akin to promoting greater autonomy (e.g. formulation of the Local Government Code, Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao). He hoped that at the end of the lecture series, the participants would have a better understanding of federalism.


In his introduction to the lecture forum, Atty. Benedicto Bacani outlined the major topics/themes to be discussed and presented in the lecture series (including fiscal federalism, focus on Mindanao), and emphasized there is no such thing as best practices in federalism and what matters is whether the design (of government) addresses the context.


In the lecture/session “Understanding Centralization and Decentralization in the Political and Administrative Spheres”, Dr. Paul D. Hutchcroft presented basic considerations in opting for decentralization. The first was on choosing a combination of decisions on the model to adopt. The speaker gave three domains: (a) Central-local relations or the distribution of work and authority between central and local governments, (b) Representational Structures, referring to either a Presidential or Parliamentary System, and (c) Electoral Systems, concerned with plurality, proportional, party list, or a hybrid scheme of electing officials. Principles governing the path to political reform included (a) identifying the problems that need to be solved, (b) evaluating the capacity of administrative and political institutions, and (c) anticipating unintended consequences. The presentation highlighted the need to carefully consider these decisions in developing a system suited for the Philippines. Asked on whether to choose a unitary or federal system, Hutchcroft replied, “There are no easy answers.” He also stressed that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach and that local values or priorities in the local level, and national values or national aspirations like equity, stability, and efficiency have to be balanced.


Download Dr. Hutchcroft's presentation here.


The second lecture/session “Overview of Federalism, Concepts, Types and Process of Establishment” saw Dr. Temario Rivera point out two main drivers of the adoption of federalism: one, decision made by pre-existing constituent states to address a classic threat (e.g. US in the fight with the British for independence); two, there are serious ethnic, religious, linguistic differences and federalism is necessary for integration. He underscored the importance of common key political institutions such as the written Constitution and the Supreme Court. Dr. Rivera emphasized that the problem is not in defining boundaries between central and local authorities but in having a system that will address problems of interconnectedness (e.g. disaster can affect more than one region). He noted the importance of having a strong party system in a federal system for decision-making and policymaking.


Download Dr. Rivera's presentation here.


During the first Q&A, a common concern of a few congressmen was that the shift to federalism should be problem-driven or meant to address specific problems. For his part, Hutchcroft warned against high risks of unintended consequences when it comes to making structural/institutional reforms, citing the case of Thailand where a policy seeking to reduce turncoatism became a vehicle for the strengthening of authoritarian rule. Dr. Rivera meanwhile surfaced the possibility of not even shifting to federalism at all if problems can be solved already within the existing framework/system and if one needs only to build reforms upon what is already present (e.g. through amendment of Local Government Code). During the later part, Hutchcroft talked about the need to strengthen the country’s regions and its regional bureaucracy. Dr. Rivera, commenting on what reforms may be needed in the 1987 Constitution, pointed to “provisions on dynasties”, and on other types of reforms included the need to amend the party list law, amend the electoral system, and pursue bureaucratic reforms in Comelec to make it more responsive to automation issue(s). The Q&A ended with a brief commentary by Hon. Salceda on the importance of regional units, his expression of support for federalism as a way to address spatial problems/characteristics, and with the need for a constitutional enabling law to respond to such spatial issues.


In the third lecture/session entitled “Dynamics of Identity, Culture, Politics and Economics as Bases for Political Boundaries”, Prof. Ponciano Bennagen provided an anthropological perspective on establishing political boundaries. He posed the question, “Is political identity based on ethnolinguistic attributes really necessary in the consideration of political boundaries for multi-level governance within the nation-state?” In other words, what drives ethnoliguistic groups, as collective identities-in-themselves, to become collective identities-for-themselves to the extent of engaging in long, drawn-out struggles (either armed or unarmed) to have their own legally-recognized territories for self-governance?


Read Prof. Bennagen's paper here.


Bennagen’s part is to trace the transition from natural autonomy to constitutionalized autonomy in a broad span of about 30,000 to 70,000 years. According to him, what we are having is just a manifestation of the template in what is referred to by one author as the cognitive revolution. We need a new kind of cognitive revolution that “comes from a cultural revolution duly informed by greater scientific understanding of probabilistice and paradoxical human nature within a rapidly changing world.” According to him, this requires concerted planning to produce enduring, efficient and effective institutions. It also means looking at history and best practices.


In the fourth lecture/session “Moro Case: Right to Self-Determination and Boundaries of Autonomy and Federalism”, Atty. Randolph Parcasio narrated that the proposed Mindanao federal state is based on the centuries-old demand of the Bangsamoro people for their right to self-determination. He added that federalism could serve as a peace formula as it will rectify historical injustice and restore peace in Mindanao. He then presented some historical background on the Moro federal state, to wit: (a) pre-colonial Mindanao was an independent nation with economic ties and trade relations with neighboring Asian nations; (b) by the 16th Century, four Moro states already existed (Sultanate of Sulu, Sultanate of Maguindanao, Buayan Sultanate and Apat na Pangampong in Lanao); and, (c) during the Spanish-American War of 1898, all three competing powers - Aquinaldo's revolutionary government, the Kingdom of Spain, and the U.S. government, acknowledged that the Moros were not part of the Philippines.

Download Atty. Parcasio's presentation here.


Additional historical basis for the Federal State of Mindanao were also presented during the fourth session. These included: (a) Mindanao was a Moro Province; (b) Declaration of Mindanao Independence of Datu Udtog Matalam; (c) the war for independence of the MNLF; (d) the Mindanao Independent Movement led by Ruben Canoy; and, (e) the Movement for Independence by One People Mindanao (OPM). Atty. Parcasio also cited that Mindanao is composed of provinces, cities, municipalities and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structure as cultural and socio- economic bases for being a separate federal state.


Atty. Parcasio stressed that among the primary reasons for the continued armed struggle of the Moros were: 1) U.S. government’s unilateral abrogation of the Bates Treaty In 1904, a treaty previously signed by the US and the Sultanate of Sulu, acknowledging the Moros independence and specifically guaranteeing respect of the identity and integrity of the Sulu Sultanate; 2) The issuance of PD 1618 by Pres. Marcos which established two autonomous regions: Region IX (Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur) and Region XII (Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Sultan Kudarat) which the MNLF believed was a violation of the 1976 Tripoli agreement; 3) The passage of RA 6734 creating the ARMM which the MNLF again believed that it violated the Tripoli Agreement (the ensuing plebiscite reduced the Bangsamoro homeland to four provinces namely: Tawi-tawi, Sulu, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao); and 4) The passage of another law, RA 9054 [An Act to Strengthen and Expand the Organic Act for the ARMM] which was again questioned by the MNLF despite the addition of Basilan as part of ARMM, because of its violation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.


Atty. Parcasio also cited reform proposals suggested by the MNLF which included: (a) a federal republic composed of federal states namely: Luzon, Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao; (b) that if the system is bicameral – each state shall be represented equally in the Senate with 24 Senators each; and (c) that if the system is parliamentary, it must provide for direct vote for the president as head of state. The speaker concluded that to address the demand for self-determination and to finally settle the Mindanao problem, the Federal State of Mindanao should have the powers and authority as provided in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, RA 9054, the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro and the Bangsamoro Basic Law. He added that as far as practicable, the same powers may also be applicable to the other federal states of the federal republic.


During the fifth lecture/session on “Observations and International Experiences on Federalism and Boundary Markers of Federal/Autonomous Systems”, Mr. Rohan Edrisinha of the UN/UNDP spoke on the issue of federalism in South Asia and the options and lessons for the Philippines. He explained that identity politics is a feature of Asian politics, and federalism is one of the constitutional mechanisms that can be used to deal with identity politics in South Asia and other parts of the world. Mr. Edrisinha also spoke on the processes that Nepal, Sri-Lanka and South Africa went through when these countries shifted to federal forms of government. He said that these countries, like the Philippines, dealt with secessionist problems before their shift to federalism. He stressed that federalism is an effective counter to secessionism as shown in Canada and Spain, which both moved to federalism to prevent secessionism. Mr. Edrisinha likewise discussed the issue of boundaries, citing two cases: 1) In Nepal, while they agreed on using ethnicity and viability as bases for demarcation, the constitutionalists could not agree on which of the two to give greater emphasis upon; and 2) In Sri-Lanka, the issue was complicated by historical claims of boundaries that were disputed.


Download Mr. Edrisinha's paper here.


Mr. Edrisinha elaborated on challenges with federalism. One, federalism recognizes the particular and may be doing so at the expense of the common. In other words, some people may identify themselves as members of a particular ethnic group more than being citizens of a country (e.g. Tamil vs Sri-Lankan). He said the challenge is to do both: affirm the particular and transcend it, recognize and respect ethnicity of a group and at the same time promote the national identity of the majority. According to him, this is best exemplified by the rainbow coalition pushed by Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Two, federalism is also about shared rule. It is concerned about autonomy and giving provinces a stake in central institutions. It encourages power sharing at the center and fostering a new, inclusive, genuine national identity. There should therefore be mechanisms that will promote shared rules. Three, there are also fears that if powers are devolved to provinces, the largest groups there might discriminate smaller ethnic groups. A bill of rights that is national in nature must bind national and provincial institutions. And four, the capacity of the bureaucracy should also be strengthened to ensure that the constitutional grant of power is realized. On the issue of what problem is being addressed by federalism, Mr. Edrisinha said that the answer will depend on where it is asked. Different groups of people in a country will have their reasons for shifting to a federal government and that is why there is a need for consultations and trying to understand the other parties to come up with solutions for the problem.


During the second open forum, the issue was raised on whether there was a need to include in the constitution a provision to block secessionism. It was pointed out that there are already enough laws to cover the issue. For one, rebellion and sedition are already punishable by the penal code and the human security act. Another issue raised was on whether the political parties are already mature enough for the federal system. The panel agreed that there should be a serious discussion about political parties. The panel members also warned that regional political parties are dangerous to the federal system. A strong political party system strengthens a federal government. There is also a need for redesign of our electoral systems, including a revisit of the party list system and strengthening single district representation.


Dr. Miral closed the forum with the affirmation that the purpose of the series is for knowledge-sharing and that remaining questions will eventually be answered in succeeding fora.