UP professor shows risks in shifting to federalism

University of the Philippines political science Professor Gene Pilapil said that there is no consensus shown on political science studies that a federal form of government is better than the current unitary form of central government that the country has.

This is the professor’s answer to advocates of federalism, who claims that equitable development in the Philippines can only be achieved by changing the current form of government. Pilapil said that he has yet to see any evidence that directly supports that claim.

Pilapil also said that a change to a federal government is complex as it would require overhauling the constitution and institutions such as courts, local governments, and the bureaucracy. He added that simple legislations of the local government code can actually address the very same problem that federalism wishes to address.

“No democratic country has ever attempted to shift from unitary to federal and from presidential to parliamentary at the same time. So we do not have the scholarly literature to guide us and that means that intellectually we’re on our own,” Pilapil said in an interview.


The U.P. Professor also warns that in case the country goes to federalism and does not deliver the expected outcomes, it would be difficult to shift back to a unitary type of government.

Pilapil further noted that many Filipino leaders lack the political maturity for an effective federal system. He also pointed out the number of turncoats after a presidential election and the existence of political dynasties in the country as additional hurdles that would make the shift to federalism riskier.

“Before you have talk of any shift to federalism, you actually have to address reforms of your party system,” he said.

Pilapil also warns that the existence of undisciplined political parties can make problems worse and that this may be used to pursue clan interests over national interests. Because of this, he says that if there will be an amendment of the constitution, a constitutional convention must be organized where the delegates are elected by the people.

However, Duterte and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez support a constitutional assembly.

Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., a federalism advocate, says that there are ways to protect the constitution from vested interests.

“The committees of the Senate and of the House should be obliged to conduct public hearings throughout the nation, especially in far-flung areas, so that the people will have a chance to express their views,” the former senator said through a phone interview.

“And secondly, whatever action or direction the constituent assembly will take, President Duterte should be on top of the situation,” he added.

Pimentel also cited Malaysia and India’s experience of federalism, wherein it showed that federalism can speed up the development of provinces and can open doors to lasting peace.

In another pitch for federalism, Duterte vowed on Saturday, October 29, to step down once the framework of a federal type of government is established.

“Accelerate federalism and let us find a configuration of government where regions are more powerful,” Duterte said.

“I will not wait for six years. Just hurry up,” Duterte added.

He said that this has been his dream – to decentralize the national government and give more power to local government to hasten local development programs. He added that the challenge is for the Bangsamoro people to elect honest men who have a strong desire to “help their fellow Moros.”

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