Federalization’s false promises

Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has just revived the proposal to amend our Charter, converting the government from unitary to federal form. Advocates of federalization claim that the unitary government has not worked and, therefore, we should federalize. This approach, they say, will hasten economic development and solve ethnic divisions in our country. Also, these developments will happen quickly, and without extra costs.

Really? The facts are as follows:


Three countries with federal forms of government — the United States, Canada and Australia — progressed from being less developed countries or LDCs (vis-à-vis Europe) to First World countries. However, they all failed in assimilating their minorities. The blacks and Native Americans in the United States, the Quebecois and native Indians in Canada, and the Aborigines in Australia are living testimonies that assimilation has not been achieved in these three countries.

At approximately the same period, three countries became independent in Latin America, with federal forms of government: Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The social structures of these three countries remain as in colonial times — the criollos (full-blooded Spaniards) on top, then the mestizos, and, at the bottom, the indigenous Indians. These countries have “arrested developments,” remaining LDCs with unassimilated minorities.


There are federal unions that imploded recently, namely the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The United States and Nigeria survived as federal forms, but only after bloody civil wars.

On the basis of the foregoing, no country in the world with a federal form of government has achieved the twin goals of economic development and elimination of ethnic divisions. In short, our federalists are promising something that has not yet been achieved.

The federalists also advocate a shift to the parliamentary system of government, saying this will insure that the federal system will work. But I served tours of duty in three federal unions under different systems of government: Canada (parliamentary), the United States (presidential) and the Soviet Union (dictatorial). All three unions are failed unions.

The case of Yugoslavia is interesting. Upon its establishment, it was a monarchy, then a constitutional monarchy, then a military dictatorship and, finally, a communist totalitarian regime. Nonetheless, its federation collapsed. Thus, the form of government has no bearing on the success of a federation.

Establishing a federation is a long process. The United States had to fight a bloody civil war in 1861 to save the union 75 years after its independence in 1776. As noted, the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, 74 years after its de facto creation in 1917. Yugoslavia  was established in 1918 and broke up in 1991 after 73 years.

It appears from this record that it takes about 70 years before one can conclude whether a federal system does work, and is not the instant success our federalists are depicting.

Federalization is a complex issue, and the possibility of failure is high. Thus, a meaningful discussion of federalization must include the issue of what should be done in case the experiment fails. Do we fight a civil war to keep our country together, as the Americans and the Nigerians did? Or do we peacefully divorce, as the Soviets and the Czechs did?


One must note that contemporary civil wars are bloody and endless affairs, as shown by events in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, with each combatant bringing in outside help.

The proponents of federalization are thus engaged in a massive deception. Each time they claim that this will be a cake walk for the prosperity and peace of the Philippines, they are actually laying the groundwork for the dismemberment of our country.

* * *

Hermenegildo C. Cruz served as ambassador to Chile and Bolivia from 1989 to 1993.

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TAGS: charter change, federalism, hermenegildo c. cruz, Inquirer Commentary
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