Federalism and citizen participation | Inquirer Opinion

Federalism and citizen participation

The type of government we have is one where we have little involvement in the making of decisions on matters that directly affect us. We voice our desires and aspirations through elected representatives, who are often accused of acting in ways apart from our will. In such a case, citizen participation is at the level of tokenism.

We want a government where we are the actors. This involves the totality of our national life. The system that we have long adopted but failed us should be changed.


President Duterte’s obsession with a federal form of government reflects his desire for regional self-governance. He wants to widen citizen participation, hasten growth, and promote the emergence of self-rule—a government where we play a greater role in running our affairs.

Groups like the People’s National Movement for Federalism and the Liga Federal ng Pilipinas are working to make federalism gain greater public acceptance through increased public awareness and knowledge.


Federalists say that state governments will have autonomy to address their own problems.  Also, the states will make their own policies and local leaders will be more accountable. The autonomy of the states will lead to economic development, and we will have more incentive to live and work in states outside Metro Manila. Local governments will retain most of their income and will more easily address the needs of their component sectors.

With federalism we will have a system of interaction and will become closely related by the expression of our common desires, needs and aspirations. This will facilitate the realization of development goals as we come into a common understanding of what we want. The policies we make will represent our wants unique to us and relevant to our needs. Necessarily, our economic resources should be effectively managed for inclusive growth.

The Philippine federal system should activate citizen participation, where we will have greater involvement in charting our future. Because of our participation, the gap between our aspirations and reality will be lessened. Public policy, which is the product of multilevel interests at the national level, is far from the realities obtaining in the provinces. That is why policies made in Manila also focus on and fit within the city.  Also, that is why the provinces are left out in the scheme of things, resulting in the rapid and excessive influx of people to Manila.

When there is citizen participation, we can articulate our interests and aspirations. This results in policies that are more realistic and significant, policies that are proximate, timely and relevant.

With our wider participation in the affairs of government, we will become more loyal to it. We will become more involved in our affairs as a people. We will also become more confident in our leaders. We will feel we have self-governance and we will dislike being governed by others.

Citizen participation should send the regional representative to the state parliament bearing the greatest interests of his or her constituents. The first reading of his or her bill is his or her dialogue with his or her constituency. Nothing in the agenda of the state parliament should be devoid of the people’s involvement.

The observation when the economy grows is that it does not trickle down. But with citizen participation, mass sharing in the fruits of development will be easier achieved. Because those who lead the state will operate within the region and all the good that results from state governance will redound to the constituency’s benefit.


Citizen participation demands that we directly govern ourselves. That may be farfetched, but shifting to a federal system is a move toward it.  When that happens, we will have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

German Delos Santos Caccam is a former member of the Philippine Agricultural Journalists and of the Public Relations Organization of the Philippines.

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TAGS: citizen, Commentary, Duterte, federal, federalism, Government, opinion
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