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Commentary

Federalism means equality in status

/ 12:36 AM September 03, 2016

No one knew if federalism was possible until the Americans were able to accomplish it. The states already existed, initially united under a confederacy, and eventually formed what is now the US federal system.

Since the states were already existing, what the US founding fathers did was just to formalize the federal union, by dividing the powers of the government between the federal state and the different states. Thirteen original states initially formed the federation. Other states joined later, resulting in what is now the United States of America.

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In continental Europe, Germany stands out as a leading example of federalism which is similar to that in the United States.  The states in Germany (called the “Lander”) had a long history of existence before they finally joined what is today the Federal Republic of Germany.

In the German language, “Lander” is for the plural word “states” while “Land” is for the singular word “state.”

The long, deep and violent history of the German Lander dates back to the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, characterized by conflicts, bloodshed, destruction and wars among the different Lander, which at certain junctures of German history numbered 1,000.

The development of the Lander continued in 1949 when, after the end of World War II, the United States directly  participated in the formal creation of the different Lander in its zone of occupation. This was done by establishing a constitution or basic law for each of the Lander.  At that time, the United States was one of the four occupying Allied powers in Germany.

The United States proposed a federal system for Germany, as was evident from its effort to formalize the existence of  the different Lander through the political medium of a basic law or constitution for each state. It was cognizant of the long German history and tradition characterized by the existence of states, including the dominant Prussia and Austria that, at certain junctures in German history, established  a confederacy or a federation.

More than that, the federal system was close to the heart of the United States, which found a striking similarity and parallelism between its own history of existing states and the rich and deep history and tradition of the Lander.

France favored a unitary type of governance in its zone of occupation, reflecting its own type of highly centralized unitary semi-presidential system of government. But eventually, all the other “Lander” in the other zones of occupation, including that of France, followed the United States’ lead.

In May 1949, the German Basic Law (or constitution) came into force with the consent of the Allied occupying powers.  Unlike the US federal constitution, the German Basic Law expressly declares that Germany is a democratic federal state. Thus was formally born the Federal Republic of Germany, popularly known as West Germany, which later united with East Germany.

Unlike the United States and Germany, the Philippines has no history characterized by the existence of different states.  For 400 years our country was under the colonial rule of Spain. It was directly under the Spanish monarch who ruled through the governor general. After the end of Spanish colonial rule, the Philippines came under US colonial rule, interrupted by a brief Japanese occupation.

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Our country was never a state until it was granted independence by the United States. Since it was a colonial subject ruled as a whole by a colonial power, it was accustomed to a unitary, centralized authority emanating from the colonial power.

Under the 1987 Constitution, autonomous regions were created in the Cordillera and in Mindanao. The Muslims in Mindanao accepted regional autonomy; the people in the Cordillera did not, indicating a lack of a sense of statehood applicable to all other regions in the country.

Past Philippine leaders, notably Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmeña, campaigned for national independence from the United States. It was not part of the political agenda to organize a federal state for the Philippines.  In fact, the 1935 Constitution, which was drafted by a constitutional convention, did not create a federal system for the country, even as it drew up the presidential, tripartite government from the US constitution.

Neither did the United States push for a federal system for the Philippines, contrary to what it actively did in Germany in 1949.  More specifically, the United States did not push for the formal establishment of different states here, contrary to what it did for the German Lander in 1949.

From the 1935 Constitution up to the 1987 Constitution, the drafters heavily patterned our governmental system after the US constitution. But interestingly, they stopped short of copying the US federal system.

I submit that the US and Philippine leaders back then did not see the historical and political basis for a federal system for our country, considering the nonexistence of different states, unlike in the political history of America and Germany.

Since the existence of states in America and Germany preceded the federation, there was no need to formally create them in their respective federal constitutions. The  formal creation of the states was made through their respective state constitutions.

Just like the US federal constitution, the German Basic Law merely apportions governmental powers between the federal states  and the different states.

In the Philippines’ case, it is the first time in its political history that a “substate” or separate sovereign entity is ever proposed through the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). To this extent, the Bangsamoro clearly stands out, as proposed, to be a separate state, just like a state in the United States or a Land in Germany.

In our quest for federalism, the goal of establishing a Bangsamoro state through the BBL is a step in the right direction. It directly corresponds with the basic law or constitution of the different American states and the German Lander.

The question remains as to how the other states are to be formally established. But one thing is sure: As part of the goal for national political equality, each of the regional constituent states proposed by former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. also deserves a basic law just like the Bangsamoro.

By providing a basic law or constitution for each state, equal status is given to each constituent state and the federal state, which is a basic ingredient of federalism.  Equality in status is achieved, because the federal state and the different states constitute a state in their own right under a federal system.

Jude Josue Sabio is a lawyer.

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TAGS: federalism, France, Germany, Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, United States
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