SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: What’s with federalism? Part 2

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 15 January) – Proponents of federalism blame the economic inequities between the rich and poor regions of the country on the unitary political system controlled by the central government in Manila. Changing the form of government is supposed to address this lopsided development as a way of improving the people’s social conditions.

While the unitary form of government may have shaped to some extent the uneven levels of development across the country, such argument wavers when confronted with the fact that many countries with unitary forms of government have prospered. This means that countries that opted for federalism did it for reasons other than the supposed economic malaise caused by a unitary system.

On the part of the founding fathers of the United States, they opted for a federal system because the people did not trust the central government owing to their experience under British rule. They believed in striking a balance between the two levels of government (central government and the federal states) to prevent either of them to become too powerful. In theory, the setup has also allowed the central government to focus on its priorities in the global stage.

Belgium was forced to go federal, that is, grant self-governance to Flanders, to preserve unity. This preempted what could have become “political karma” for Belgium, which broke away from Holland in 1830, a move that historians traced to a history of racial divisions dating back to the Roman period. In contrast, France, a unitary system, continues to confront belligerence from the island province of Corsica.

Yet, not in all cases has federalism, as a recipe of accommodation, succeeded in assuring unity, or at least, harmony. The autonomous Basque provinces continue to demand independence from Spain. The former Yugoslavia disintegrated after genocidal civil wars triggered by the declarations of independence by Slovenia and Croatia and fought along ethnic lines.

Federalism proponents may cite the Belgian and French experiences in their favor, that is, argue that it would help resolve the Moro question in Mindanao. However, prescribing federalism to the point of repudiating the terms of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro would only negate the gains of the Mindanao peace process.

Here’s why. The 2014 agreement already vests powers in the Bangsamoro that are far wider than those granted to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Thus it is unlikely that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as representative of the Moro people, would gamble on a new, unclear formula that may erase what it has achieved through years of armed struggle and negotiation. Prudence dictates that it should demand the implementation of the agreement before embarking on federalism to ensure that such gains are preserved.

Besides, the CAB is a commitment of the Philippine government which it can only dump at the risk of losing the goodwill of the international community, the Muslim countries in particular.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at

Note: Read Part 1 here.