There have been so much discussions and debate about the planned federalization of the Philippines. Here are my current study notes as I inform myself about this direction where our government is leading our people.

For starters, I rely on the information gathered by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Personally, I look at federalism through the lenses of strategic peacebuilding.

According to John Paul Lederach, strategic peacebuilding “encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships.” Strategic peacebuilding involves a wide range of activities and functions that both precede and follow formal peace accords.  Such activities include conflict transformation, military intervention and conversion, governance and policymaking, restorative and transitional justice, environmental protection, human rights, civilian and military peacekeeping, peace education, activism and advocacy, trauma healing, and social-economic development. Reconciliation is the central component of strategic peacebuilding. The conflicting parties must be willing to go on a journey from resolution of issues to rebuilding of relationships.

My understanding of federalism is enhanced by the analyses of two scholars from my alma mater, the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

In a paper he read during the 9th European Southeast Asian Studies (EUROSEAS) Conference at the University of Oxford last 16–18 August 2017, Prof. Rolando Talampas compared our journey towards a federalist republic to that of our ASEAN neighbors:

The issue of ethnicity has been much involved in the federalism experiences, no matter how critiqued, in the southeast Asian countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar. In these countries, on the one hand, dominant state actors have sought to stabilize their regimes or pursue democratic inclusion, and on the other, minority or ethnonational forces have sought to realize greater measure of autonomy. Thus, federal experiences have been called “minimalist,” “uncompleted,” among others. Capturing lessons from dealing with various issues that impinge on the desirability of the shift to federal system makes for an industry. Arguably, studies have indicated that varied and opposite intentions have yielded some shared concerns but different conclusions as to whether federalism were really the best system that these countries needed…

Ethnic or ethnonational minorities can only benefit from federalism as the postcolonial ethnic majority central government’s populist posturings erode the salient vestiges of authoritarianism, that is, via more inclusive democratization. However, the different contingencies of democratization vary across cases and thus seem to shape scenarios that put central/national state intentions and programs at a greater advantage. Nationalism trumps ethnonationalism. As a result, minority reactions to unrealized goals complicate the federal picture.

Rodrigo Duterte’s federal shift promise may or may not draw lessons from the country’s neighbors. But if and when he does so, it could be further argued that it would be in the same intention—notwithstanding his pro-Mindanao rhetoric—to keep the power and authority of those who view country’s minorities from the same vantage point. And the outcome would not be much different.
  (“Different Federalisms, Same Outcomes: Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar Lessons For The Philippine Shift?” By Rolando Talampas)

Meanwhile, in the same 2017 EUROSEAS Conference, Prof. Rothhoff pointed out the connection between federalism, ethnicity, and inclusive development.

The idea of introducing federal structures in the Philippines may be seen as addressing the issue of lacking inclusion of large segments of Philippine society in development processes. This includes indigenous communities.

However, federalism is unlikely to be a panacea. There are best practice examples for states organized along federal principles (e.g. Germany), on the one hand, and states with a centralistic alignment of government structures (e.g. France), on the other hand.

While ethnicity-centered semantics are less important or accepted in many debates pertaining to the federal organization of the state the situation seems to be different in the Philippines. Here, the federalism debate seems to be loaded with ethnic, ethno-lingual, ethno-religious semantics – or concepts of otherings. In fact, the Philippines does have an abundance of possible ethnic-centered group descriptions… For the case of indigenous communities, these issues will be discussed against the backdrop of shifting leadership paradigms towards specific patterns of Philippine elite democracy. Eventually, the question is whether federalism as discussed in the Philippines could be an avenue towards inclusive development via diffusion of power, or if federalism along semantics loaded with forms of (ethnic and quasi-ethnic) othering is just an organizational resource (in the sense of an instrument) applied in the struggle over access to, e.g., natural/economic resources. Alternatively, is the othering semantic concealing elite interests or even intra-elite struggles over resources and, thus, contrary to the idea of federalism leads to exclusion rather than inclusion of the population.
  (“Federalism And Inclusive Development” By Ulrich Rothhoff)

There are so many angles to look at. There are so many just-peace implications to consider.

For now, I support an ‘evolving federalism,’ and I reject the PDP-Laban model of federalism.

Along with many challenges in the field, the issue of federalism in the Philippines brings critical implications to just-peace advocacy and inclusive development practices.

Yes. I support the Cordillera and Bangsamoro autonomous regions as provided in the Constitution. These regions would be good starting models of evolving federal states. I’m for ‘Evolving Federalism’ — “where regions would first enjoy autonomy before graduating into full-fledged states after meeting certain criteria.” (Puno)

No. I don’t believe that we’re ready for the PDP-Laban model of federalism, especially the way it is hastily processed, because it will only exacerbate political dynasties and warlordism in the regions. In this issue, I’d listen to this video statement of Former SC Chief Justice Davide and to the public statement of Former SC Chief Justice Puno.

The PDP-Laban model of federalism needs to be examined if this is indeed applicable to the sociopolitical contexts of our land and people, and not just making it convenient for foreign interests to take control of our rich natural resources.

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