The risks of shifting to federalism

05:03 AM October 10, 2018

The first risk comes from our lack of political maturity as a people. A structural shift to a new system will introduce important bureaucratic changes and will remove obstacles that have impeded the delivery of basic services. Indeed, important governmental functions need to be devolved. However, the attitude of the people and their inability to adopt to unfamiliar rules will hamper the efficient transition to decentralized mechanisms. If people do not improve in terms of their critical mindsets and continue to be blindly obedient to political patronage, then the purpose of federalism is defeated.

The second risk is the possibility of the emergence of rising centers of power. Given that resources will be controlled by regional governments, wealthy localities will naturally have the advantage over those provinces that are in the peripheries, given the latter’s lack of economic and political muscle to challenge the political and business elites that would lord over the affairs of the people. Although this setup is probably a lesser evil than having only one center in which power is concentrated, the equitable distribution of resources will still be problematic if inclusive mechanisms for democratic involvement are not in place.


The third risk comes from the lack of competence of some leaders. Regional governmental structures would need to craft fresh laws and complex policies. Since they will be promulgated by the newly constituted regional governments, there is a need to examine if we have the right human resources to make this radical shift viable. The talents and capabilities of Filipinos cannot be underestimated, of course. But notwithstanding our resilience and the ability to adapt to changes, more capacity-building measures will be needed, both from the technocratic and the administrative sides.

The fourth risk comes from the overreliance on a national leadership that may not really have enough time to preside over this structural change. Since we are transforming the country into a semipresidential and a hybrid parliamentary system, two things can actually happen. The office of the presidency might find itself in a power struggle, or the prime minister might become subservient to the president. While the prime minister is naturally the de facto head of the ruling party in the parliament, the president can exert pressure and influence the choice of the former.


Shifting to federalism is a major political experiment in which the lives of more than a hundred million are at stake. The country needs to move forward, because the present unitary system is not working. It was simply handed over to us by way of an unjust historical contingency. What seems also obvious is the manner by which our leaders govern us. The problem is systemic. The reality is that elections in the country are not open to everyone. A patronage system still determines the outcomes of political exercises. The distribution of wealth favors the interests of those who are in power.

To overcome this dilemma, the right thing to do is to secure first the people’s unity. Although a constituent assembly appears to be a convenient way to change the present Charter, a prudent option must be taken. To do so, the reform of the Constitution should be done by way of a constitutional convention in order to ensure that the people are well-represented.

“Democracy is hard to love,” said Iris Marion Young. But, while painful, democracy is about the free choices that people make. Without this freedom, there is no development to talk about. The people should be the final arbiter of this nation’s fate.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He was trained in democracy and governance at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Bonn and Berlin, Germany. His paper, “What is Structural Injustice?” is forthcoming in the Philosophical Quarterly of Israel.

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