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Unintended consequences of Senate Joint Resolution 10 and other similar proposals calling for "Federalism."

Saturday, 8th March 2008

Filipinos universally concur that political power in the Philippine Republic is overly concentrated in Manila without realizing that centralization of government is a primary characteristic of the Civil Law legal system. Short of dumping the Civil Code for Common Law, the implementation of a single codex of law naturally presupposes that the law is to be administered from a single point of origin.

The Civil Code of the Philippines (1950) has its roots in other earlier legal systems such as Roman law, especially the Corpus Juris Civilis (592) of Emperor Justinian, and the Spanish Código Civil (1885), a modification of the Code Napoléon (1804) first imposed upon Spain during the Guerra de la Independencia Española (1808-1814).

The geography of the Eastern Roman Empire, France, and Spain are all continuous land territories with a more or less homogenous population which can be easily consolidated under a centralized government. This collectivist mindset is ingrained by default in the Filipino consciousness, a position inherited from our shared history with Spain.

Added to these difficulties stemming from the physical environment are the true historical foundations of the Filipino nation-state: the intrinsic anti-Catholic errors of 19th century Jacobin socialism and Progressive Era (c. 1890-1920) populism. As it is today, our current political system is entirely a debate between competing forms of socialism.

These philosophical origins remain obscure today due to an almost universal unwillingness of most Filipinos to critically reflect upon the past. They do however, recognize the ruinous effects of these philosophies upon the social sphere: patronage politics and a culture of dependency (on those in political authority) where personal responsibility, spot decision-making, and individual incentive are routinely thwarted.

Let us first examine some key concepts:

What is a unitary state?

    It is a system of government wherein all governmental power is vested in a central government and whose branches of government are governed constitutionally as one single unit.

    Unitary state. (2008, March 3). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:26, March 9, 2008, from

What is a federation ?

    A federation is a union comprising a number of originally self-governing states united by a central government.

    Federation. (2008, October 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:17, October 25, 2008, from

    Federalism. (2008, October 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:18, October 25, 2008, from

How does a unitary state differ from a federation?

    In a unitary state, sovereignty resides in the central government and authority flows from the central government down to the sub national levels.

    In a federation, sovereignty originates from politically equal, independent and sovereign nations who then delegate specific responsibilities and a portion of their authority to a new administrative government.

Are there any other alternate forms of federal systems?

    Yes. A confederation is a government in which politically equal, independent and sovereign nations create a central government by constitutional compact but do not give it power to regulate the conduct of individuals. In a confederation, the central government makes regulations for the compact, but it exists and operates only at the direction of the constituent governments.

    Confederation. (2008, October 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:18, October 25, 2008, from

Conclusion: While a confederation would be the inverse opposite of the unitary state, and which would fulfill the espoused intentions of the proposal planners, its form would severely curtail the political ambitions of our public servants and thus is unlikely to be put up for serious consideration under the status quo.

The Philippine territory is not a single contiguous land mass and the population is ethno-linguistically diverse, with 160-173 distinct indigenous and non-indigenous multilingual ethnic groups . These factors make communications and travel difficult, time-consuming and costly.

Elected officials and political theorists alike have periodically tendered suggestions on how to permanently eradicate these social symptoms. But without a frank recognition of their origins, any proposed solution is doomed to fail. The current panacea is to decentralize the political power of the national government and transform the Philippine Republic from a unitary state into a federacy.

Various proposals have been tendered, including:

  • Five nation-state proposal by David Martinez.

Martinez, David C. (2002). A country of our own: Partitioning the Philippines. Washington: DayKeeper Press. ISBN-13: 978-1893710122.

  • Original 10 State [Regionalism] proposal by Dr. José V. Abueva, PhD.
  • 11 State [10 plus Manila] proposal by Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.

Press Release. (2008, April 23). Pimentel files resolution on Federal System. Senate of the Philippines.

ABS-CBN News Online. (2008, April 24). Eleven senators endorse federal system of govt. Author.

Pimentel, A. et al. Senate Joint Resolution 10. Retrieved from!.pdf

Will any of these various proposals result in a federal form of government?

    No. Implementation of Senate Joint Resolution 10 will not result in a federal form of government. The end result will not be a federal state, but in what is known as a “devolved unitary state”. It will be “federal” in name only, just as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is “democratic” in name only.

Before I go into specific details, let us consider:

What is a devolved state?

    It is an increasingly common form of unitary state wherein the central government statutorily allows sub-national levels of governments extensive powers. Known in the United Kingdom as home rule.

    However, the central government reserves the right to withdraw those powers at will, the sub-national levels having no actual right to any of powers granted. The powers of sub national levels in a devolved unitary state are held entirely at the pleasure of the central government.

    Devolution. (2008, October 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:29, October 25, 2008, from

How does a devolved unitary state differ from federalism?

    • Scotland has a wide degree of autonomous law-making power, however, there is no right for Scotland to challenge the constitutionality of UK national legislation, and laws of Scotland can be overridden, and the powers of the Scottish parliament revoked or reduced, by an act of the national parliament or a decision of the Prime Minister.
    • In the case of Northern Ireland, the devolved powers of the region have been suspended by a simple government decision on several occasions. From 1973 to 2007, Northern Ireland was directly ruled by the United Kingdom’s central government in London.
  2. It differs in that the sub national levels of a devolved unitary state do not have any constitutional rights to challenge national legislation or preserve their powers. (e.g. Constitutional review)

    In the devolved state model, while the central government may choose to delegate some of its authority and functions to the sub national levels (which may have their own governments and allowed to have their own laws, and typically practice a large degree of autonomous decision making), the state remains de facto, if not de jure, a unitary state.

    Depending on the exact legal status of the devolved powers, the laws of the sub national governments may be overridden, or their law-making powers curtailed by either a statute from the national legislature or by a simple decision of the head of government.

    The United Kingdom is a good example of this:

    Thus, the UK is still a unitary state, despite superficially appearing somewhat like a federal state in practice.

Just because the central government, if it chooses to do so, delegates authority to sub national levels, this does not change the fact that the central government shall always retain the principal right to recall such delegated power.

What is the indicative marker that a unitary devolved state, rather than a federal state will be the ultimate result from Senate Joint Resolution 10 : “A resolution to convene the Congress into a constituent assembly for the purpose of revising the Constitution to establish a federal system of government”?

The fact that all directives in this proposal for government reorganization is emanating from the top-down. None of the current sub national governments are recognized as constituents nor are they being consulted as to their desires in the matter. Their only choice is to either take it or leave it.

    In short, the central government will continue to dictate to the rest of the country what they should or should not do. The sub national constituents exist at the pleasure of the central government. We already have that now so why are working towards more of the same?

Let us examine the following:

  1. Article 1, Revision 2-3: “The Federal Republic shall be composed of the following 11 States:”
    1. What is the rationale behind having precisely eleven “states” ?
    2. Is it in the best interest of the provincial governments to have an additional layer of bureaucracy and administration between them and the national government?
    3. We currently have 81 provinces grouped into 17 regions. Is there any advantage to having 11 “states” as opposed to 17 or 81?
    4. If we go by ethno-linguistic groups, then according to SIL International, Filipinos are actually 160-175 distinct indigenous and non-indigenous ethno-linguistic groups each with their own culture and language. Why not grant the territory of each group statehood?
    5. The notion that large legislatures are unwieldy and unable to work for the benefit of the nation is untrue. 
      • People’s National Congress (PRC): 3,000 delegates
      • Parliament (UK): 1,378 members
      • Parliament of India: 802 members
      • National Diet (JPN): 722 members
      • Cortes Generales (ESP): 609 members
    6. As to the composition of these proposed “states” , what is the rationale behind say having the Ifugaos and the Ivatan sharing the same arbitrary political state? Tagalogs and Bicolanos? There are Chavacanos and Ivatan colonies in Mindanao. Wouldn’t that muddy up the waters?
  2. Article 1, Revision 4: On secession.
    1. If in the event that the inhabitants of a “state” decide to secede, what is the rationale behind having a second ratification if not to frustrate the popular will? In a federal system, the constituent units are sovereign and its up to nobody but them if they decide to enter or leave the political compact.
    2. Why are there no provisions for admission of new “states” into the federal government?
  3. Article 6, Revision 2: Composition of the Senate.
    1. What is the rationale behind having precisely75 senators, six from each proposed “state”?
    2. What is wrong with having two senators per province, or five senators per region, or one senator per ethno-linguistic group? How did you arrive at this magic number 75?
    3. What are the duties of the Senators towards their respective “states”?
    4. Do the “states” have the power to recall or sack their Senators?
    5. Who is responsible for the salaries of these Senators and their staff? The “states” or the national government?
    6. It would be realized almost immediately by everyone that secession from the proposed states would be to the benefit of partisan politics, not for nationalist grounds, but just to pack more seats into the Senate to gain a larger share of the pork. All it takes is one province to set a precedent.
  4. Article 6, Revision 2: Composition of the House of Representatives.
    1. What is the rationale behind having an upper limit of precisely 350 representatives?
    2. We currently have a population of 90 million. Is it even remotely logical to expect a single representative to be responsibly attentive to the needs of approximately 257,143 constituents when currently a representative cannot handle 360,000?
    3. If a Representative is freed of the responsibility of an additional 102,857 constituents, will this guarantee true representation of the other 257,143 constituents in Congress?
  5. Article 6, Revision 11: Exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Congress.
    1. In a true federal system, it is the constituent states which delegate powers to the central government. Why is the central government staking its claim beforehand and expecting the “states” to simply comply? Don’t you trust the “states” to come to an amicable settlement as to the division of duties?
  6. Article 10-11: State governments:
    1. Why are the state legislatures ordered to be unicameral? Particularly if the framework being used is this 11 state scheme. Would not a bicameral legislature with the upper house giving representation to the various provinces be a better choice as they have their own priorities?
    2. The same goes about the manner of election, salaries, apportionment, jurisdiction, etc. Why not let the people of the “state” determine how such representatives are selected. If this plan is to encourage diversity, then it fails as it certainly looks like more of the usual micromanagement from the central government.

What are the author’s reasons for proposing a federacy?

    • speed up the development of the entire nation (by allocating power which at present is concentrated in the central government to the regions that will be converted to federal states)
    • help dissipate the causes of the insurgency throughout the land, particularly, the centuries-old Moro rebellions.
  2. Reading Senate Joint Resolution 10 entitled, “A resolution to convene the Congress into a constituent assembly for the purpose of revising the Constitution to establish a federal system of government” claims the federalization of the Republic would:

    Pimentel, Aquilino, Jr. (27 April 2002). Why Adopt the Federal System of Government? A Primer on the Federal System presented to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines at its annual convention. Tacloban City.

If this is the true end of these proposals, then they can easily be achieved simply by fully implementing the Local Autonomy Act of 1991. There is then no need to amend or scrap the existing Constitution of 1987.

    1. Senate Joint Resolution 10 will do nothing to end the jihad. Islâm cannot abide that formerly Muslims lands (which once reached to Manila) are in the control of non-Muslims. While there may be peaceful Muslims, there is no such thing as a peaceful Islâm as it is a warrior religion.
    2. Senate Joint Resolution 10 will do nothing to end Communist insurgency. If these bandits could ignore the fall of global communism, do you imagine that they will pay attention to another legislative act?

As to the claim that Senate Joint Resolution 10 will speed up the development of the entire nation, we see a paradox: this proposal offers to decentralize power by application of command economy allocation.

    Charter Change. (2008, February 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:59, March 9, 2008, from

Rightly or wrongly, I feel that this proposal is less about federalism, and more about politicians angling for more power. I make no accusations. I name no names. All I say is that whatever future benefits are offered by this scheme, I see too many possibilities for oppression to our persons, to our rights and to our liberties. Given the choice, I would rather stick with the devil I know, the 1987 Constitution even with its numerous socialist defects, than risk what little freedoms with adventurous experimentation.

The paradox: In order to have true federalism, we would have to defunct the unitary Philippine Republic and hope that the now independent nations will wish to reconstitute it.

Conclusion: While it is common sense that over-centralization of political power is a constant and looming threat to our natural rights and individual liberties, this proposed solution should be rejected out of hand by right thinking citizens.

The reasons to do so are as follows:

  1. Federalism cannot be imposed from above. Top-down attempts to impose federalism upon a unitary nation state will only result in a devolved unitary state. True federalism must be built bottom-up. It implies the fragmentation of the unitary state down to individual level which the current government will never sanction.
  2. This proposal is really a deceptively marketed plan for extended devolution of the current system and is federal in name only . There is nothing inherently wrong with home rule, but why label it something it is not rather than let it stand on its own merits?
  3. If the public is already being falsely informed by the name alone, how can we place any faith in the proposal without wondering what other things are being quietly snuck past the public eye? Such as:
    1. Article 7, Revision 4a: Manner of Election of the Vice President.
      1. Instead of the VP receiving votes on his own, he is now piggy-backed on the votes of the President. It is a free appointment where an unpopular politician receives the second highest office in the land simply because he gets tied to the winner.
      2. How does this amendment:
        • speed up the development of the entire nation (by allocating power which at present is concentrated in the central government to the regions that will be converted to federal states)
        • help dissipate the causes of the insurgency throughout the land, particularly, the centuries-old Moro rebellions.

Consider the following quote:

“It’s stupid to require everybody to have read the proposed changes before signing.”

-José V. Abueva, premier advocate of (false) federalism, on the 25 October 2006 Supreme court ruling rejecting the Sigaw ng̃ Bayan People’s Initiative.

Bordadora, Norman. (2006, October 31). Staunch charter change advocate loses cool over SC ruling. Philippine Daily Inquirer.

  1. What would any of us do if someone, a bank manager, a car dealer, a police officer, tells us to just shut up and sign whatever? Whether you actually do sign or not, would you honestly think that what just happened, happened for your benefit… or theirs?
  2. Whatever costs each plan may entail, there will be no resulting fundamental changes to the nature of the state. The state will still continue to be unitary so why not save our money for something else worthwhile?
  3. There are just no safeguards to prevent abuses of the new system.

Where is the equivalent of the Article IV, Section 1 of US Constitution: the “Full Faith and Credit Clause”

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

    • Without such a specific amendment, what is to stop the central government from overriding any state law it feels is detrimental?

Is there any constitutional obligation by the central government guaranteeing each state a republican form of government? If not, should we assume that the states are free to vote themselves into:

  1. a Communist dictatorship?
  2. an Islamic caliphate?
  3. a monarchy?
  4. a state of anarchy?

If not, what then is the government response when it does happen?

    1. How the public allay their suspicions that this and other plans for either federalism or charter change are not simply for the benefits of the authors?
    2. Would the authors of this plan agree that in exchange for this proposal passing and the wholehearted support of the public, that they and their families to the sixth degree of kinship by either blood or marriage to resign their government posts now and be forever barred from holding any kind of public office or receiving public money?

This proposal will actually dissolve one of the few existing safeguards limiting the political ambitions of our elected officials, while the declared objectives (i.e. federalism, decentralization) becomes incidental.

  1. Article 8, Revision 10-11: Abolishing the Judicial and Bar Council
    2. With the Judicial and Bar Council scrapped, the President will be given the power to nominate appointments to the Judiciary making the new judges politically beholden. How can they judge against him? This is a direct revert to the Martial Law system that Filipinos fought to overturn since 1973.The Judicial and Bar Council was the creation of Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion who said:
  2. “The Judicial and Bar Council is no doubt an innovation. But, it is an innovation made in response to the public clamor in favor of eliminating politics from the appointment of judges.”

    “At present, there will be about 2,200 positions of judges, excluding those of the Supreme Court, to be filled. We feel that neither the President alone nor the Commission on Appointments would have the time and the means necessary to study the background of everyone of the candidates for appointment to the various courts in the Philippines, especially considering that we have accepted this morning the amendment to the effect that no person shall be qualified unless he has proven a high sense of morality and probity.”

    (Record, Vol. 2, p. 487)

Final note:

The causes of poverty and rebellion in this country are not due to lack of government legislation or lack of government control. These social evils are a result of too much government intervention, too many laws, and too many governors. In short, the continual violation of the principle of subsidiarity, of which, we as Catholics are expected to adhere to.

In our present system, as well as what is offered by this proposal, even if all future laws to be made were done solely for the interest of the people and not just for the ambition of the legislators, sooner or later, all of us would inevitably become lawbreakers as it becomes more and more impossible to comply with the increasing rate of regulations and increasing size of government.

Ezra Taft Benson, US Secretary of Agriculture for Eisenhower administration said this:

“My attitude toward government is succinctly expressed by the following provision taken from the Alabama (State) Constitution:

“That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” (Art. 1, Sec. 35)


  1. Laurel, José P. (1926). Local Government in the Philippine Islands, Manila: La Pilarica Press.
  2. Abueva, José V. ed. (2002). Towards a Federal republic of the Philippines with a Parliamentary Government by 2010: A Draft Constitution. Kalayaan College, Marikina City.
  3. Abueva, José V. (2000). Transforming Our Unitary System to a Federal System: A Pragmatic, Developmental Approach.
  4. Brillantes, Alex B. (2002). Decentralization and Devolution in the Philippines: Experiences and Lessons Learned After a Decade presented at the International Conference on the “New Developments in Asia: Appraising a Decade of Experience, Problems and Prospects” at Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea. 7-9 April.
  5. Pimentel, Aquilino, Jr. (2001). FEDERALIZING THE REPUBLIC: the ultimate basis for a just and lasting peace in central and southern Mindanao. Delivered at the Kusog Mindanao sponsored forum on federalization, New World Renaissance Hotel, Makati City, 30 November. Viewed on 22 June 2002.
  6. Pimentel, Aquilino, Jr. (2002). Why Adopt the Federal System of Government? A primer presented to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines at its annual convention, Tacloban City, Philippines, 27 April. Viewed on 22 June 2002
  7. Watts, Ronald L. (2002). The Relevance Today of the Federal Idea.
  8. World Federalist Association. Federal Systems in the Twentieth Century. Viewed on 22 January 2002.
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