TO THE POINT: Cart before the Horses

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 12 March) — “Putting the cart before the horse” is an adage expressing “oddity” or “reverse order”“baliktad” in Tagalog; “suli” in Bisaya-Ilonggo; in Bisaya-Cebuano, the President’s native tongue, may someone fill the blank.

This is what’s being done in the Philippines in the move to shift our system of government from the unitary to federal. The primary aim is to disperse power and resources concentrated in the central government under the President in Metro Manila to the provinces. It is believed to be the only way to make the poor provinces progress. The move, listening to the siren songs of the advocates, sounds good.

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The move calls for the grouping of regions into states. The ruling PDP-Laban, some individuals or groups in the House or Senate and the Consultative Commission have different proposals as to the number of states to be created.

Whatever be the final number, there will be two levels of government – the federal government for the entire country and the state government for the individual states. Gleaning from reports about various plans, we can see that very much of the powers of the present Central Government and the state revenues will be given to the states so created to make them self-ruling.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution is being amended into the Federal Constitution. It is expected to delineate the states, define the type of federalization for the Philippines, define the allocation of powers and resources and provide for how the states will exist and co-exist and relate with the federal government.

The Federal Constitution is being rushed to be ratified before the May 2019 midterm election. It can be inferred from media reports that the ruling party wants the federal and state governments elected in 2019 to undergo a three-year transition or learning period; by the election of 2022, the Philippines will be under full-fledged federal and state governments.

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Apparently, the move is uniquely Filipino. The Philippine unitary system of government will be transformed into federal system by creating states. In federalized countries like the United States of America, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, India and the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, et cetera, existing self-ruled or independent states or political entities form a union or a federal state; or, they apply for admission to the union or federation.

For advocates of Philippine federalism, the history of federal states will give them insight into the correctness of their advocacy. For instance, Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy consisting of thirteen states, originally Malay kingdoms, and three territories. The United Kingdom consists of Scotland, Wales and England in the Island of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The first three evolved from kingdoms dating back to the 10th century.

In the case of the United States, the thirteen colonies that revolted against the English King started to unite in the Continental Congress, then under the Articles of Confederation and finally under the Constitution of the United States of America, referred to as the “Union”. The Articles of Confederation ended and the Constitution took effect on March 4, 1889 after eleven states had ratified the Constitution.

The 13 states – all colonies which became states after writing their constitutions — were admitted to the Union upon their ratification of the Federal Constitution.  The 37 other states had to apply for admission after qualifying for statehood from organized territories and writing their state constitutions. The first state admitted was Delaware on December 7, 1787; the last, Hawaii on August 21, 1959 – a gap of 172 years. Arizona, the 48th state in mainland USA, was admitted on February 24, 1912 – 125 years after Delaware.

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Under the long-established mode of federalization, sovereign states – self-ruled or independent – shared their sovereignty and economic resources to form a federal state or “one state out of the many”. Figuratively, they are a team of horses, trained and robust, pulling the cart.

In comparison, in the Philippine unique style, states will be created out of regions and provinces – mostly impoverished – composing the unitary political system to convert the unitary to federal. The movers are assuring the Filipinos that federalization will emancipate the impoverished from poverty. Figuratively, the created states are hungry, emaciated untrained horses tied behind the cart. They cannot pull the cart; neither can the cart pull them.

As stated at the outset, there is a reported plan to have a three-year transition period from May 2019 to May 2022 as the training period of the untrained federal and state governments elected to learn the federal system. It is not so simple as that if we look into how the existing federal states came into being and see the conflicting proposals of the movers of Philippine federalism.

The federalization move in the Philippines is disoriented.  It does not bode well for the country and the people.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patriicio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City and later the Mindanao Kris. He is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his ‘commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator, and Peace Advocate.’ You may e-mail your comments to