Based on historical accounts, the federalization of the Philippine islands is an idea opined since centuries back by Jose P. Rizal, the Philippine national hero who wrote in an essay published in La Solidaridad in 1889-1890, “[Once liberated] the Islands will probably declare themselves a federal republic.” This idea has been presented, proffered and proposed by individuals and groups alike under different administrations hence though has yet to prosper.
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2016, President Rodrigo R. Duterte committed to supporting the federalism process. In December that year, he signed Executive Order No. 10, creating the Consultative Committee, which was mandated to “study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution including, but not limited to, the provisions on the structure of the government, local governance, and economic policies.” Appointed in January 2018, the Committee members comprised of politicians, justices, lawyers, and educators. In July 2018, the Committee, which was chaired by a former Supreme Court chief justice, submitted the draft federal constitution: “Power to the People: Bayanihan Federalism, Power to the Regions,” a final version of which was released to the public a week later.
After the President’s fourth SONA in 2019, the government said it would continue the country’s pursuit of federalism. Charged with the duty of “integrating, harmonizing and coordinating ongoing efforts towards Federalism and constitutional reform” is the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Federalism and Constitutional Reforms established in 2018 by President Duterte through Memorandum Circular No. 52.
On the premise that “constant consultations with all sectors of society is essential in every stage of the process of constitutional reform so that all such efforts towards reform will embody the sovereign will and reflect the ideals and aspirations of the Filipino people,” the IATF, which comprises eleven government agencies, leads the information dissemination initiatives of the government at the grassroots level necessary to raise public awareness on federalism and constitutional reform.
In support of the Philippine government's public information drive on federalism and constitutional reform, the Hanns Seidel Foundation, in cooperation with the Pimentel Institute for Leadership and Governance (PILG), is supporting education and information activities on federalism. The main objective is to provide broader and deeper knowledge of the philosophy and the principles of federalism as a form of government and help key representatives of government and members of society gain a better and more comprehensive understanding of federalism.
Joint activities held in 2016 included a public forum, a youth camp and, with the support of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), a seven-member Philippine delegation to Germany as part of the “Information Exchange and Study Visit on Federalism.” The delegates now comprise the pool of core group members/experts who, equipped with increased knowledge on federalism, help in the further dissemination of salient features and principles on federalism, promoting public awareness and understanding on the topic and help in the recognition of a unique form of federalism that is best suited to the Philippine context.
From 2017 to 2019, activities were conducted in Luzon, in Visayas and in Mindanao. To help participants gain a better understanding of federalism as it is applied in other countries, an international expert was invited to speak in two series of fora and conferences and a series of workshops with media practitioners. Additionally, fifteen fora have been held in different regions in the country. In order to initiate lively exchanges and meaningful discussions, varied points of view were presented, as much as possible.
All activities were held in partnership with the PILG, with the support of various government and non-government entities, including: the NCMF, the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), the Office of the Governor of the Province of Quezon, the Office of the City Mayor of Cagayan de Oro, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), the Office of the Vice Governor of the City of Masbate (2018), the Office of the City Mayor of Iligan, and the Hon. Raul M. Gonzales, Sr. Foundation, Inc. Also amongst these entities were both public and private academic institutions, such as: the PhinMA Cagayan de Oro College (COC), the University of the Philippines Law Centre, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), the University of Makati (UMak), the Rizal Memorial Colleges (Davao City), the Legacy College of Compostela (Tagum City), and the Bukidnon State University (BSU). Participants comprised local elective officials, broadcast and print media, representatives of non-government organisations and special interest groups, members of the academe, and students.
With the help of the PILG, the Foundation supported the attendance of a total of seven participants to the two-week program of the EURAC Research Winter School on Federalism and Governance (Editions 2017 to 2020) held in Austria and in Italy. During these activities, the participants gained broader and deeper analyses of the phenomena of federalism, regionalism and multi-level governance from a legal and a political science perspective, particularly on the aspect of power sharing, examined together, and thereby gained a better and more comprehensive understanding of federalism. In 2019, through the same support, two Philippine representatives participated in the Canterbury Christ Church 2019 held in Kent, United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the Foundation also supported the attendance of a total of four participants to the International Munich Federalism Days (2017 and 2019) held in Bavaria, Germany. The participants to these courses join the seven members of the Philippine delegation to Germany (2016) in comprising the members of the Core Group on Federalism or the “alumni.”
The Foundation also funded the printing of a limited number of copies of the late Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr.’s book, “Federalizing the Philippines: A Primer,” which embodies Sen. Pimentel’s proposal for the Philippines adoption of the federal system and which was distributed to the participants during some of the major activities. Additionally, the Foundation supported the printing and distribution of a flyer outlining main features of the draft federal constitution of the Consultative Committee.
The information drive on federalism in the country is intensifying and the HSF and the PILG have planned a line-up of information activities to help increase the awareness of the general public about federalism, contribute to deepening their understanding thereof and assist them in making informed decisions when the time for the referendum comes.