Federalism fuzzy to Filipinos | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Federalism fuzzy to Filipinos

Federalism is not readily definable, but comes in many different forms, shapes and sizes.  Polling about a specific type of federalism will potentially find the extent of public support or opposition to that particular type. This has serious implications for political partisans.

The administration’s vagueness (deliberate, or accidental?) about what type of federalism it espouses for the Philippines makes it difficult for a politically nonpartisan institution like Social Weather Stations to survey public opinion on the matter on its own account. Is the survey looking for good news, or bad? Good or bad for whom?


The SWS report this week—“One of four Pinoys are aware of the Federal System of Government: 37% support it, 34% are undecided, 29% oppose it,” posted at www.sws.org.ph on 6/28/18—is based on a survey that described federalism only as a system that creates a new level of local government, above the provincial but below the national.

That was a deliberately minimalist characterization of federalism. There is no proposal for federalism, as far as I know, that would keep the present provinces completely separate, and not grouped into a set of federal “states.”


Unawareness that federalism involves creation of states. The report’s numbers about “awareness” pertain, therefore, to the single basic feature of creation of a new level of local government. It does not mean that only 25 percent of those interviewed got acquainted with the word “federalism” for the very first time.

What it does mean is that only a small minority of 25 percent were previously conscious that federalism, of any form, would necessarily introduce an entirely new level of local governments (called “states,” for example) to the Philippine political system.

Inability to name one’s federal state. The public unconsciousness of the impending creation of states is confirmed by the inability of over 70 percent to name what their federal state would be.

Hardly any named a region, such as Bangsamoro or National Capital Region. Among those who did respond, almost all named merely provinces, cities, or towns. Even “state of calamity” was cited, which might not even have been a joke.

Indifference to prospective creation of federal states. The numbers on “support” and “opposition” to federalism in the SWS report should likewise be interpreted as pertaining to that single basic feature.

The 37 percent support and 29 percent opposition, which imply a neutral +7 (correctly rounded) net agreement, pertain to the entire population, including the three-fourths that realized, only upon being interviewed, that federalism involves creating a new level of local government.

Public understanding enhances support. Looking more closely, we find that opinions toward federalism are quite different between the one-fourth previously aware and the three-fourths previously unaware of the implied creation of a new level of local government.


Those previously aware are 57 percent supportive and only 22 percent opposed to the feature of creating new local governments. Such people are both familiar and comfortable with federalism as a unification of certain levels of local governments.

Those previously unaware are 38 percent undecided, 32 percent opposed and 30 percent supportive. Opinions could not be any more divided. These numbers will be posted as a supplement to the original report.

Present public discourse about amending the Constitution, it seems to me, is mainly about term limits, the parliamentary system and the like. It is not really about federalism.

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TAGS: administration, federalism, public support, SWS
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