A Federal State of Bicol?

Despite the deafening issues of food security, increasing fuel and electricity prices as well as tuition fee hikes, the issue of federalizing the Republic of the Philippines would not die down. The reason: The federal system is seen to be an answer to the pressing woes caused by a centralized government.

Last April 23, Senator Nene Pimentel passed Resolution No. 10 entitled, “Joint Resolution to Convene the Congress into a Constituent Assembly for the Purpose of Revising the Constitution to Establish a Federal System of Government”. The idea is to amend the 1987 Constitution and institute what Pimentel calls as an “invasive surgery” and disperse political and economic power throughout the nation.

The idea of federalizing the Philippines is not anymore a new idea. During the Spanish period, Indios like Jose Rizal wanted the Philippines to become some sort of a federal province under the Kingdom of Spain. The Spaniards, however, loathed this idea as they don’t want to be on the same level with the early Filipinos. During the American period, a number of Filipinos also wanted the country to be a part of the United States just like what happened with Hawaii in 1959. But then, statesmen like Manuel Quezon would rather “prefer a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans”.

But the seed of federalism remained and this time, it evolved to a different concept – the Philippine sovereignty is retained with its provinces or regions converted into federal states. Under Pimentel’s proposal there will be eleven States while others, like the idea being espoused by Dr. Jose Abueva, one of the leaders of the contemporary federalist movements, want it sixteen. In all proposals, the Bicol Region will be a separate State equipped with powers such as the power to tax and manage its internal affairs.

One of the professors from Bicol University, however, argues that the proposal is not only feasible but is also disconcerting. He reasoned out that we are already attuned to a central form of government so there is no reason to federalize. Asked why, he didn’t elaborate. But whether he has or he lacks reasons to back up his claim, we do not know. The only thing certain is that new ideas are usually opposed not because they are unmeritorious but because they are new.

It is undebatably true that we have tried and tested a unitary form of government. Since the Republic began, presidents rule the country and have extensive power over anything else – including the private lives of the people. The local government units (LGUs) – from provinces to barangays – only exist to help facilitate the collection of taxes and perform the necessary social services the national government should be providing. While these units are at the front facing the brunts of the people, it is the national government that enjoys the privileges brought about by a larger share of the resource pie. And this is true even with the passage of the Local Government Code of 1991. Thus, we hear of LGUs soliciting funds from the presidential coffers to augment the municipality’s income or wallowing in debt just to be able to answer the demands of their constituencies.

Aside from the unfair distribution of power and resources between the national and local governments, the present unitary system also makes it easy for the members of the central government to get involved in corruption. Hence, we hear of the members of the First Family involved in scandals as well as wheeling and dealing fiascoes like the NBN-ZTE Broadband and the Spratly Islands project. With the federal form, these will be minimized as power will be resting on the federal states. The fear that corruption will just only be decentralized under the federal government is hard to tell. Unless anybody has heard of Canadian and American presidents involved in corruption or noted federal countries like Germany and Great Britain on the corruption list.

The feasibility of an Uragon State, however, remains at the sidelines especially if the 1987 Constitution will not be amended. With Pimentel’s resolution, we can see hope. But along with this hope are questions particularly on the timing and method. Any moves to amend the Charter under the presidency of Gloria Arroyo will surely be shot down and will always be considered as tainted with the interests of the Arroyos. Even then, to quote an unknown poet of the past: Let each hope be a seed and faith, the rain. Let the day move its course and wait for the seed become a tree of fame.###


5 thoughts on “A Federal State of Bicol?

  1. http://oragonrepublic.net/modules/newbbex/viewtopic.php?topic_id=3&forum=5

    Calls to Split Up the Philippines, People are calling to secede from the ph
    Brad1603 Posted: Jun 17 2005, 06:13 PM

    People in Ilocos, Mindanao, and Cebu have been openly calling for separatism from the Philippine nation-state in order to establish their own indepedent republics, if Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is overthrown in a people power revolution. The popular mayor of Davao, Rodrigo Dutertes, said the following: “We’re sick and tired of the antics of the leaders in imperial Manila. They easily change leadership based on people power, which is actually the rule of the mob.” Dutertes is calling for a separate Mindanao Republic. Luis Singson, the governor of Ilocos Sur, has also called for an indepedent Ilocos Republic if GMA is ousted. Similar sentiments are being voiced in Cebu, other parts of the Visayas, and the Cordillera (maybe in Bicol? I dunno). It seems that people outside of Metro Manila are getting very tired of being ruled by what they view as “Imperial Manila”.

    I attended a press conference today at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, in which they were calling for the resignation of Arroyo. Senator Pimentel was present. More and more within Metro Manila are calling for her ouster. If that does happen, will the rest of the Philippines stay with Manila, or will they break off?

    Btw, there’s a book called “A Country of Our Own: Partitioning the Philippines” by David C. Martinez. I think every Filipino should read this book, regardless of whether you agree with the author’s desire to separate the Philippines into independent countries. The facts and perspectives in the book are very interesting and staggering. The website is http://www.acountryofourown.com

    Here are some news websites on the issue.

    On a “Mindanao Republic” or “Bangsa Moro Republic”




    On an “Ilocos Republic”


    On an indepedent Cebuano/Visayan Republic


    On the idea of a “Bicol Republic” (hehe, i just took this from this site)



    Yeah, I think that “people power” can start losing its effectiveness when used too often. At some point, things have to calm down, and people have to be able to rely on laws, the constitution, and so forth; if they can’t rely on this, then there is something wrong with the entire system. In the Philippines, I don’t think anything will change by substituting the personality of the presidency. No matter who the president is, the fact is that the Philippine islands are ruled by a powerful oligarchy – a few families who are after money and power. The people must demand that the oligarchy share the power, wealth, and resources – by force, if necessary. Secession seems to a be a viable answer to this (although, as Moledo said, this is a very radical idea, and thus far, the people don’t have a strong passion or enthusiasm for the idea; although things may be changing as officials in Mindanao and Ilocos are publicly threatening secession if Manila overthrows Arroyo through people power.)

    As for the federalism solution, here is one person’s reaction… In his book “A Country of Our Own: Partitioning the Philippines” (www.acountryofourown.com), David C. Martinez responds to the call for federalism:

    “Wrong, for several reasons.

    First, the only time that federalism has worked historically was when it was hammered out and agreed to by equals, such as the sovereign states of the United States, the provinces of Canada, the cantons of Switzerland, the Lander of Germany, the territories of Australia, and the sultanates of Malaya. Federalism is a solemn compact between peers, not an expedient accommodation between a dominant central authority and its vassal nations.

    Secondly, federalism is not a Band-Aid to separatism. In Sen. Miriam Santiago’s words: ‘There seems to be a moral duty [to consider]… that federalism is the only antidote to secession. So if it comes to a choice between federalism and secession, there is no choice. We have to work for federalism.’ Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. was even more forthcoming: ‘The proposal to adopt the federal form of government is meant primarily to provide the foundation for a just and lasting peace in central and southern Mindanao and secondarily to provide an equal opportunity for the development of the regions of the country to counter the perception, if not the reality, that Metro Manila is favored over other regions in matters of development.’ This type of logic is pathetic, because no other country in the world has opted for federalism because vis-à-vis secession it is perceived to be the lesser evil. The bottom line: ‘Politicians [are proposing] federalism because they can’t find a sensible solution to the Mindanao problem… [The] truth is, federalization… to stop a regional war is an admission of weakness.’

    Thirdly, federalism is not a simple matter of merely amending our Constitution. University of the Philippines professor of public administration Dr. Jose Abueva, although he favors the concept, warns us that ‘Federalism is not a status quo that can just be conferred; it has to be demonstrated first.’ He cites, among others, the U.S. and Malaysia, whose states experienced an extended period of ‘living alongside each other as independent entities’ before deciding to federate. Abueva is right – indubitably right – to be cautious. In Germany, to cite but one instance, the idea of federalism took a full century to bloom; it was seriously considered in 1848, 1871, and once again in 1918 before its final adoption in 1949.

    Fourthly – and most fundamentally – the federalism currently proposed for the Philippines is not federalism at all. What is the essence of federalism? From Sir John George Bourinot’s “How Canada is Governed [1909]”:

    ‘The object of the British North America Act of 1867 is neither to wel the provinces into one nor to subordinate provincial governments to a central authority, but to create a federal government in which they should be represented – a government entrusted with the exclusive administration of affairs in which they all have a common interest, while each province retains its independence and autonomy.’

    This is not the federalism advanced by its proponents in the Philippines. Sen. Pimentel defines their concept for us: ‘As for the powers of the government, the federal states may have powers over matters that are not reserved to the federal republic.’ ‘Reserved to the federal republic?’ The very bedrock of federalism is the premise that all power – other than those expressly designated to the federal government – belong to the states. Nothing is “reserved” to the federal government. In Canada, America, and the rest of the federal countries of the world, it is the states/provinces/cantons/regions that empower the federal government – not the other way around. These countries obviously understand and respect the timeless truth that ‘sovereignty resides in the people.’ Our self-styled ‘federalists’ don’t – or refuse to.

    Here’s the avid test for our ‘federalists’: ask them if they’re willing to emulate the American experience: let our regions become independent first, just like the American colonies originally were, whereafter our regions can always choose to federalize. That’s the only way we can guarantee that the federation, if created, will be authentic – it will be ‘hammered out by peers.’ If federalism’s current proponents refuse, then we can be certain that they’re no federalists. I am personally persuaded that their promise to share power is a play intended solely to extend the life, now imperiled, of the centralist state. Few were surprised when Arroyo declared in July 2000 that ‘the country is not ready to dismantle the presidential system in favor of… a federal form of government.’ If our profanely privileged class has its way – as it has for the last hundred years – the country will never be ready” (pages 428-429).

    Hagbayon Posted: Jul 4 2005, 06:18 AM


    Mindanaoan regionalist sentiment is age old. The root is deep.

    Federalism has to go through a process. We can’t just declare our respective regions as federal states. And I don’t think nations go federal because they are in the middle of a national crisis. For one, we must consider a lot of things, like the politics in the region for instance. We have political dynasties here.

    Here’s something I read from my pretty cousin Marie. She’s in the States:

    Join the ORAGON MOVEMENT (Albay Council)
    Message: Albayano ka, Bikolano asin Pilipino kita! Join the
    Oragon Movement…. Go Federal!

    For inquiries:
    contact us:
    Joel M. Calla – Albay President (09183126890)
    Gigi C. Ventanilla – Secretary (09175581740)
    Jesus Canale Jr. – Chair Membership


    Comment ko lang:

    One thing with Bicol is that, it’s hard for us to unite. A federal state has to have some degree of unity within itself. Let’s unite first before even considering federalism.

    Or I might as well support a Rinconada federal state. Hehe.

    We are ‘Germans’ kaya superior kami, hehe. Jok only.

    Thanks to Oragon Republic forums…

  2. Federalism is a dream. Our country is not yet ready for this kind of government because it is very expensive. We should realize that we still have many debts. Changing our country into a Federal shape is just chaotic plan that will cause turbulences in the public. Corruption will become more easier for the leaders due to extent of powers that they will have. So for me the country must focus first on the problems that we are experiencing rather than changing the form of government that we have. The one who is responsible for this cha cha is just giving me a hint that he/she just want to include his/her name in the Philippine History Books…hahaha

  3. @ Kenneth

    Federalism is a dream … yes, and yet. But it doesn’t mean that since it is a dream it is not attainable, or that since it is a dream we should stop working and wait for things to happen. If that is the case, we will have no doctors, engineers, teachers, chemists, and other professionals. We will not even have this Internet and blogs, and e-mails all of which started from dreams, and trials, and errors, and imperfections. But these dreams became a reality and for that reason I am honored to have you visit my site.

    The Philippines is not ready for Federalism … yes, and yet. Because before we even make our first step we are already stunting the growth of the federalist idea. Some of us even argue without even having due understanding of the concept.

    Federalism is expensive … yes, but no. If we look at the short run — the costs of constitutional change, etc., etc., — there is truth in the claim. But if we look at the bigger picture, our losses in corruption, in the maintenance of the existing government, in the duplication of jobs, etc., that would be bigger than what we’ll have under the federalist set-up.

    We have debts… yes. And we incurred that under the present set-up. And we will surely have more if we do not change the system. And the rate of increase? When Marcos left we have $4 B debt which increased to $20 B under the Aquino period and $45 B after Ramos. Now we have $ 95 B based on the Bureau of Treasury (website is http://www.treasury.gov.ph/). We are not yet certain if Garci manipulated the figures to make them appear smaller. Foreign borrowing is un-checked because of the existing powers vested in the president. Which will not be the case in the federalist set-up as the president will be limited to be the head of State and not the Government. We still like the present set-up? You know the most logical answer. But consider this: Each of the Filipinos has a debt without their knowing courtesy of the present government.

    Changing the country to federal set-up a chaotic plan? That’s a fallacy of ignoratio elenchi. How and why? There may be changes but it does not follow that every change will result to chaos and turbulence. If so, then what can we say of the EDSA uprising in 1986? Or the enactment of the 1987 Constitution? There were changes but not chaos.

    Corruption will be more easier under the federal set-up… not really. Power will be dispersed and so are the resources. I think you are arguing against unitary system not federalism.

    Focus on the problems first… of course. But the problem is systemic and we should address it in that aspect. Have you heard of progressive or “good” neophyte politicians who became bad/corrupt in the end, right? But how about stories of traditional politicians who became good? None, right? Because the system corrupts good people. Let’s put it this way: Systems are like containers and the public officials, the water. The shape of the water depends on the shape of the container and not vice versa. Am I becoming a Buddhist? Okay let’s use concrete example. We have the priest Panlilio, the governor of Pampanga, who is now being accused of being autocratic and anti-good governance. And remember when did he exposed the P500 thousand gift from Malacanang? Only when he was prodded by the media. If not, he could have pocketed it.

    The one pushing for Cha-cha is desiring only to be included in the history books? Maybe if he is a friend of history writers. This is because “history is how the writers depicted it.” Otherwise, why didn’t the history writers discussed more of the persons behind the Federalist Party who clamored for making the Philippines a Federal State of the US? And the efforts of the Visayans and Ilongos who, prior to the Malolos Convention, already drafted federal constitutions for the country of Visayas? I am wondering where are they in the history books.

    My take in the federalist discussion is at:

    I would also encourage you to join our discussion at http://fedecentralize.wordpress.com

    thanks for visiting and i hope you drop by again.

  4. Actually, the Philippines is not unitary, but semi-unitary. The reforms mandated by the Local Government Code of 1991 made this possible. Kaya lang, tano man ta masasabi ta na unitary ang sistem kang administrative system kang Pilipinas?

    Sa totoo lang, the Philippine administrative system is unitary only in abstract, legal, and theoretical level only. We are indeed federalized in practice. The idea of too much centralized government came from the Americans during their occupation in our shores. They said that the Philippines is too centralized because of Spanish legacy. Then they introduced “reforms” to “decentralize” the country. However, their real motive was to “centralize”, not to decetralize, the Philippines (Hutchcorft, 2000). The truth is nadipisilan sinda na i-control ang Pilipinas dahil sa patronage-clientelist system, bossism-type machine politics, and anarchy of families in our system. In order to end the Philippine-American war, kinaipuhan ninda ang suporta kang mga provincial oligarchs para ma-control ang archipelago. The reforms that they introduced were in fact a stepping stone to centralize the government, which they did with strong difficulty.

    Masasabi ko pa na “federalized” talaga ang Pilipinas because of machine politics. Traditional politics in the Philippines dictates na kaipuhan mo ang supporta kang provincial oligarchs para makahakot ka ning boto sa national politics. Many case studies about this can be found in the book of Alfred McCoy “An anarchy of families” na nagsasabing mayong nakaka-survive na national politician na mayo ang supporta kang mga local leaders. Maski ang presenteng presidente ginigibo yan (kaya baga hanggang ngunyan mayo pang impeachment complaint ang nagpo-prosper).

    Sabi ni Dr. Abinales and Donna Amoroso sa libro ninda na “State and society in the Philippines,” in order to solve the problems in the Philippines, EXORCISE AMERICA. Sinda mismo ang nagpa-usbong sa patron-client politics sa Pilipinas dahil kinunsinte ninda ini when the Americans were still in the Philippines. Para lang ma-control ang archipelago, they set aside their ideals of liberal democracy. Kaya ngunyan the Philippines is being essentialized as “the dark side of America” dahil sinda mismo ang nagkunsinte kani. They strengthened first their collaborations with the provincial oligarchs rather than the State kaya ngunyan masasabi na the Philippine state is weak (Abinales & Amoroso, 2005), which paved the way to the rise of political patrons and provincial oligarchs all over the country. (although yaon na sinda even before the Americans, lalo sindang nagkusog in the 20th century). Hilongon pa nindo: the most prominent political patrons in the country were also prominent collaborators with the colonial masters during the American era. They were even appointed as officials in the Philippine Commission and the Commonwealth. Ang halimbawa kani: Osmeña, Pardo de Tavera, Lopez, etc.

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