A SURVEY conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) last March said only 27 percent of the respondents were aware of federalism, an idea long pushed by the Duterte administration. That is about one in every four Filipinos.
Asked if they would support a federal system of government for the Philippines, 37 percent said yes, 29 percent said no, while 34 percent were undecided. The net agreement of plus-7 (agree minus disagree) was described by SWS as “neutral.”
Pulse Asia, the other major survey organization in the country, had similar findings: 71 percent said they had little, almost none, or no knowledge of federalism. A big majority of 66 percent were not in favor of federalism.
Along with the all-out police campaign against drugs, the proposed shift to a federal system of government has been the major advocacy of the Duterte administration. The President has proposed it as a way, he said, of correcting a “historical injustice” to the Moro people.
It would take a revision of the present Philippine Constitution to put a federal system in place. It would require a major reorganization of government – at very great budgetary cost – as it would add another tier of the bureaucracy to the current national, provincial, municipal, and barangay government units.
Even before the planned Constitutional Assembly to revise the Constitution, there is a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that President Duterte asked Congress to enact. He is due to sign this new law when he delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress on July 24.
The BBL failed to make it in the previous Congress during the Aquino administration, so great was the opposition to the idea of granting so much autonomy to one region of the country. It was as if a separate territory was being carved out of the Philippines where the Moro people would have their own Shariah law and traditional Muslim practices would be followed.
Under the very strong leadership of President Duterte, the BBL was finally enacted by Congress but it will still be one of the two autonomous regions of the country provided for in the present Constitution, the other being the Cordillera Administrative Region.
The next step, in the President’s plans, is the revision of the Constitution to divide the country into federal regions or states, similar to the federal systems in other countries like the United States, Germany, and Malaysia, where long established states agreed to unite.
We do not have a similar historical experience in the Philippines, which explains why the recent surveys of SWS and Pulse Asia show most people do not know about federalism and are not likely to support it. The only reason it is being strongly pushed today is
President Duterte wants it. Among other officials, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has spoken for it, as it was originally the key advocacy of his father, former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimenel Jr. We have yet to hear other officials speak for federalism as ardently as President Duterte.
The recent SWS and Pulse Asia surveys show there is so much yet to be done to get the Filipino people firmly behind the idea of federalism. We may have to be content with the BBL law, which fits right into the present Constitution, while the administration carries on a more systematic and more convincing campaign to inform the Filipino people about the benefits of federalism.