When then Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte ran for president of the Republic of the Philippines in 2016, one of his campaign promises was to shift to a federal form of government.
It looks like it will have to be one campaign promise that he will not be able to fulfill, considering that the majority of Filipinos are rejecting the idea outright. In fact, most of our countrymen back home are not in favor of altering the present Constitution in any way, shape or form at all.
Conventional wisdom says it may not be perfect, but it is far better to live with the present charter at this time rather than blindly jump into unknown territory.
Roughly four out of five adult Filipinos reject charter change and federalism for good reason. No, they are not afraid of change. What there are wary of is change for the sake of change, and not because it is absolutely necessary.
Arguments against federalism are plentiful. For one, the cost of maintaining a federal form will be higher than the present form because the government bureaucracy can be expected to grow.
Then there is the danger of the Philippines being broken up into federal fiefdoms led by warlord governors, who could even be drug lords or gambling lords.
Further, the consultative commission that drafted the proposed new constitution was made up of a most unimpressive batch of legal minds, with a handful of exceptions. The basic law of the land that they hurriedly crafted is considered inferior to the present charter.
The government has not yet launched what is expected to be a massive information campaign to convince the people to agree to charter change and a switch to a federal form of government.
It can be expected that the numerous countries which have a federal form will be cited as successful examples, not the least of which is the US. Some of the Philippines’ close neighbors such as Malaysia and Indonesia are also federal in form with a parliament, and they are doing much better than the country, at least economically. This is the one difference they and other countries have with the US, which has a presidential form of government in a federal setting. The US still has senators and congressmen, rather than members of parliament.
It is not yet clear what the Duterte government wants to foist on the Filipino people, although most members of Congress appear inclined to adopt a parliamentary form. In their minds, they will still be the country’s lawmakers anyway, whatever form of government.
But while Rodrigo Duterte remains popular with the people, the same cannot be said of Congress. His sheer popularity will not be enough to convince the majority of the electorate that a massive change is needed now.
One senior Philippine lawmaker said it best. Senator PanfiloLacson said that the messy change of leadership in the House of Representatives last week is a strong argument against switching to a federal form of government.
There is one thing that needs to be changed in the Philippine political system. The stranglehold of dynasties is what’s been preventing the country from taking a great leap forward.
As long as the few families which have ruled for decades are removed, there is no way for the Philippines to move forward. Mr. Duterte’s federalism is not the answer.