Dismantling the power dynamics in PH

05:04 AM July 25, 2017

The proposed shift to federalism is a revolutionary bid by President Duterte that necessitates the exercise of his firm resolve. The aspiration of ending the age-old political exclusion in the country means that he must wage a formidable battle.

But the enemy in this new challenge is not the traditional oligarchy stationed in the capital. The President has to deal with the reality of internal strife in the insular way of life of the South and the almost narcissistic greed of local dynasts who desire eternal rule.


Federalism is a state-centric approach that is anchored on two basic principles — “self-rule” and “shared rule.” By self-rule, the federal state empowers the regions by giving them some form of autonomy. This includes the power to decide on the extraction of natural resources in order to utilize these for the improvement of the people’s quality of life. By shared rule, some of the usual functions of the national government related to health, education, and public works are split or devolved to the regions.

Self-rule is rooted in the idea of subsidiarity, which is the power to take responsible action and be held accountable for that course of action. In a unitary system, the central government makes the final decisions on trade policies, taxation, and even the school curriculum. Fiscal federalism will allow local governments to propose line items in their respective budgets which will deal directly with the hiring of the needed personnel for healthcare and education, thus addressing whatever deficit there is in these sectors with a sense of immediacy.


But if federalism were to succeed, it is important to understand the Philippines’ colonial past and determine our particular weaknesses in order to hasten the transition to authentic autonomy.

For instance, some local conflicts are a result of warring political families, whereas the people’s lack of opportunity to choose better leaders is a consequence of the dynastic nature of local politics. Our former oppressors have left an imprint of a power dynamics that characteristically breeds a weak political culture which is clearly reflected in the inefficiency of our bureaucracy.

The political development of any nation depends on many factors. While the people are indeed the most important element in the state apparatus, it is important to determine which principles and tools are truly needed for strengthening the institutions of the government.

These include moral leadership, the control of corrupt practices, improved bureaucratic functions, public consultations and dialogue, security and public safety, regular and honest elections, and observance of the rule of law.

A weak state translates to destitution, high unemployment, and inability to enforce the law. But any weakness in terms of politics is not only a matter of fiscal administration; there is also that question of cultural dialogue.

Without unity and a sense of tolerance for religious differences and the uniqueness of a people’s identity, a linear approach to democratic governance patterned after the developed world is no solution to social and historical injustices.

It is equally important that people trust their leaders and those who are in positions of authority. Leaders must possess the moral competence and the ability to rally the people behind a common vision.


At the moment, the Philippines is a unitary system. The oligarchic nature of our economy is the principal reason Filipinos continue to suffer from economic, political and social injustices.

When a country’s people are hungry, it does not always mean that the country is poor. Rather, deprivation is due to the dominant structures and bred-in-the-bone unfair practices that force the powerless to the margins of society. Thus, the success of the proposed federal system will largely depend on dismantling the underlying power dynamics in the country.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.

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TAGS: Christopher Ryan Maboloc, federalism, Inquirer Commentary, Rodrigo Duterte
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