Philippines Needs Federalism

One of the biggest mistakes made by those who take a fanatical approach to geopolitics, is thinking that there is a one-size-fits-all political solution to different countries, with different histories, different contemporary needs and different problems which require solving. In Syria for example, a federal constitution could result in lingering sectarianism within a medium sized country that requires a unifying, non-sectarian, pluralistic central government to make a Syrian identify the overriding national identity, as opposed to a multitude of violently competing sectarian identities.

For Russia, many have praised the federal model for allowing a compromise between the inclusive pan-Russian identify embraced even by patriotic non-ethnic Russians and ethnic Russians alike, while allowing for regional matters to be addressed by regional bodies.  However, some in Russia, including opposition Presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, seek to return Russia to the unitary state it was prior to 1917, by restoring local units which correspond to Tsarist era guberniyas, which Zhirinovsky believes more accurately correspond to regional identities than do the units of the overly complicated post-Soviet federal system.

In Philippines, there are unique issues facing a large state whose island composition means that various regions are literally physically detached and consequently politically remote from one another. Because of this, some regions have become wealthy and influential, while others have been left behind by years of mismanagement and neglect.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s flagship drive to federalise the country seeks to correct these highly pronounced regional differences. Beyond economic divides, federalism could forever settle the issue of the Muslims in Mindanao, who for decades have rebelled against central authority from Manila. Duterte has gone a step further, in stating that if his federal project is not approved, he will nevertheless work to give Moro (Muslim) areas in the south, a degree of autonomy.

Duterte’s progressive, economically egalitarian and peace minded proposals have naturally met with opposition. Sadly, much of this opposition skirts the real debate and simply accuses Duterte of trying to enhance his power. In reality, far from enhancing his power, a federal solution takes power away from the President and Congress, leaving their hands free to concentrate on making the international trade deals, security cooperation deals and other regional and global interactions that are necessary in an economy that is one of the top ten fastest growing on earth.

Duterte’s hands on approach when he was the mayor of Davao has helped him understand that the issues on the streets of cities and regions, are best left to those with first hand experience, who have to literally live with the consequences of their decisions. The fact that many of the northern elite look down upon Duterte due to his origins in humble Davao, is likely another reason these same elitists oppose Duterte’s federal solution for a modern country. Federalism could also help to break the power of corporate and political oligarchs whose control over the country Duterte has pledged to end.

As countries become more powerful, wealthy and influential, it is important for the national leadership to think globally in the interests of their people, while patriotic men and women inside the country act locally based on the needs, desires and characteristics of the people in their cities and regions. In this sense, Duterte’s plan readies Philippines for its new role as one of the leading countries of ASEAN, with a clear multi-polar and wide reaching vision of international partnerships in Asia and beyond.

Duterte has even stated that if met with consistant opposition, he is willing to compromise by introducing a hybrid-federal model based on the “One Country – Two Systems” model that China has employed in respect of the local autonomy in Hong Kong and Macau. This demonstrates not only that Duterte is an open minded leader, but one who is willing to take cues from the most successful country in Asia and the wider world, China.

Sadly, the Liberal opposition to Duterte are so intent on poisoning the political debate in Manila and beyond, that they are accusing a man who is proposing a limitation on his national power, of wanting to be a dictator. Either the Liberals are incredibly stupid or incredibly naive.

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