Bangsamoro substate, not federalism

/ 05:18 AM September 13, 2018

As envisioned, the proposed shift to  “federalism” will divide the country into  several “states” comprising more or less the existing geographical regions. Some political pundits have pompously claimed that federalism will arise from a proposed “federal” constitution.

But that is not federalism in its truest sense. Federalism did not arise that way in the United States or Germany, which represent the political model for federalism. In the American and German models of federalism, there were previously long-standing existing states with their own separate state “constitutions,” and these states eventually  grouped together in a federated union that was then characterized as federalism.


In fact, in the US, the Constitution never mentions anything about federalism, even if it is of common political knowledge that the US is a federal state. The US Constitution does not create “states,” but merely allocates governmental power between the federal government and the already long extant state governments.

In the case of Germany, the German Basic Law expressly states that it is a federal republic. But it is merely descriptive, because, the fact is, there have long been existing states, called “Länder” in German, with their own state constitutions. These  Länder grouped together after World War II to form the Federal Republic of Germany.


In political science, the true characteristic of federalism is the existence of independent states — with their own state constitutions — that form together into what is known as federalism. In other words, federalism is not formed by carving up regions to constitute the states. The lack of a separate constitution for each state in such an artificial setup even detracts from the true nature of federalism.

In modern times, what comes to mind as another model of federalism is the European Union, with different full-blooded European nation-states coming together in a union along federal lines.

It is the function of the federal constitution to allocate governmental powers between the states, on one hand, and the federal government, on the other. It is in this context that a federal constitution can truly be considered as such. A constitution, like the one being foisted by the Duterte administration, is not federal in nature when it purports to carve out regions into states. It is more in the nature, rather, of a glorified local government code masquerading as a federal constitution. The only difference is in its name and its object, because it is called a constitution meant to create states out of groups of provinces and cities.

In our history and political culture, it is ineluctable that there have been no independent, existing states at all. There is no public desire for regional states, as evidenced by the low public awareness and support for federalism.  Even the Cordillera Administrative Region rejected the concept of autonomy in a plebiscite.

Only our Muslim brothers  in Mindanao have consistently demanded self-government, from the time of the Moro National Liberation Front to the Bangsamoro Liberation Front. It is only this distinct minority that has consistently evinced, through decades of wars of liberation, a long-standing desire for a “substate,” as expressed in the recently passed Bangsamoro law.

If federalism is meant to provide a substate not only to the Bangsamoro but also to the other regional states for the sake of political equality, why create other regional states just to create a substate for the Bangsamoro?

As a matter of practical politics, the most viable solution to the problem of the Bangsamoro is to push through with its clamor for a substate. This solution should be threshed out in the Supreme Court, where the government and the Bangsamoro should be able to ardently defend the constitutionality of the project.


And if there is a need to amend the 1987 Constitution to forestall any constitutional challenge, then the proper constitutional amendment should be done to accommodate a Bangsamoro substate. This political nonsense about federalism should be stopped as an exercise in political witchcraft.

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Jude Josue L. Sabio is a lawyer.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Organic Law, charter change, federalism, Inquirer Commentary, Jude Josue L. Sabio
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