THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Who’s for a federal-parliamentary government?

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/31 January) — I keep receiving messages asking to join the movement towards federalism with a parliamentary form of government—as if the proposal, or at least the idea behind it (its rationale), hasn’t been what I’ve been writing about for years.

I really don’t need convincing about the soundness or desirability of federalism. What convincing I need is on the soundness of mind and purity of motive of people espousing federalism.

Those who advocate federalism should be clear about what they mean by it, to define what they have in mind. For there are various versions of federalism that people must be aware of, what’s proper, what’s improper, what’s make-believe, and what’s a downright con-job.

Just make sure what you’re getting into; choose the version that best conforms to your principles and political beliefs and stick with it so no one gets confused.


For example, there’s federalism that’s in fact a pretext to carve out territory that one can rule like a kingdom. It’s a more sophisticated way to gerrymander territory and reserve a portion or portions of it as one’s political playground.

For instance, from his pronouncements, Rodrigo Duterte has this kind of federalism. Only he would be in charge of it; to contemplate anyone else or anyone outside his family to govern it is unacceptable.

Indications are, whether he rules a city or the country, he must dictate or manipulate its affairs. This is a lawyer who doesn’t speak of the law but of taking the law into his hand, nor talk of justice or due process but threatens summary justice on suspects. In other words, his word is the law, and woe unto him who thinks otherwise. Not an edifying way to initiate or institutionalize the federal system.

Zubiri of Bukidnon, Pinol of Cotabato, Emano of Misamis Oriental, or Jalosjos of Zamboanga are cut from this same fabric. They are the darling oligarchs of their patronage-cultured constituents.


The so-called “ministerial form of government” preferred by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is another, though not much different, version; patterned after Malaysia’s, its patron and supporter.

The key is in the term “minister.” Whoever sits on the throne of the minister is all powerful. He appoints all other ministers and lesser mortals—and their fate hangs on his patronage. Recall how Anwar Ibrahim (presumptive successor as prime minister) was politically destroyed by Mahathir Mohammad with dubious charges of homosexuality.

Then there’s the truly democratic version of federalism—fastidiously guided, motivated, and governed by the spirit and practice of democracy (i.e. rule by the people) and Rule of Law.

This version derives its strength from the principle of subsidiarity—i.e. that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from the citizens; that therefore development must grow from below and not merely trickle-down by the will of those above.


Under this principle, the upper levels, including the Central Government has a subsidiary function—performing only tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.

Short of independence, this version of federalism is the highest form of autonomy.

Actually, we already have autonomy. But no one seems serious about activating it, not government, not the supposedly civil society, not the educated constituents.

So autonomy has not materialized although it has been ordained and funded since 1992; it is not operative in a significant way. Although it is prescribed by the Local Government Code (R.A. 7160), it remains moribund and dysfunctional—dominated, manipulated, and controlled by the higher units of government.


What obtains today is ersatz autonomy—in name only but in fact merely a disguised version of the old system where public servants ruled as de facto monarchs, dictators, and occupiers.

True federalism is grounded on people power, in which constituents not only have a sense of sense of ownership of their government but actually and actively influence its policies, programs, and conduct.

To get started on the road to federalism requires no earthshaking effort or campaign.

Simply implement the provisions of the Local Government Code starting at the primary level, the barangay—where all successful initiatives and reforms must be anchored and institutionalized. Then amend the Code to incorporate the unexpressed aspects of federalism and parliamentary governance.

But this cannot be done with an immature view of citizenship on the part of the constituents. There must be what can best be termed as an Assertive Sovereignty—the urge backed by political will to influence serious political aspects of one’s life. More on this later on.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at development academy of Philippines, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. [email protected]