Too Much Power Concentrated in Manila

The ongoing conflict between the DILG and Governor Gwen Garcia of Cebu has highlighted one of the fundamental problems we have in our system of government: too much centralization. Here you have a sitting governor (who is to end her term in six months) being disciplined for an offense that happened a long time ago. The punishment is too harsh and really unnecessary and out-of-place. Justice has not been served. Rather than fault Gwen for her quixotic decision to continue fighting, we should rather look at the system that has allowed this to happen.

I am a member of the CoRRECT Movement, and our ultimate goal is to reform our system of government by rewriting the 1987 Constitution. We do not claim that fixing our problematic constitution would magically also fix our problems, but it is a prerequisite. We just can’t move forward until we fix our constitution. We have three planks: economic liberalization (free markets), evolving federalism, and a parliamentary form of government.

lapu_lapuOur second agenda, evolving federalism, is what’s most relevant in the present discussion. It is really about decentralization, and what it means exactly is allowing each region to have its own government. We believe in the principle of “subsidiarity”, which Wikipedia defines thus:

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

“Subsidiarity is an organizing principle stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. The concept is applicable in the fields of government, political science, cybernetics, management, military (Mission Command) and, metaphorically, in the distribution of software module responsibilities in object-oriented programming. In political theory, subsidiarity is sometimes viewed as a principle entailed by the idea of federalism.”

Federalism, the idea of dividing our nation into its different regions, each with its own government, does not mean that each region will be its own country with its own national defense, completely independent from Manila. We want Manila to keep some of its present powers, but we want to LIMIT those powers to the barest minimum. In particular, we want to limit the power of Manila to that of command and control of the national military, including the duty to protect the country from invasion, natural calamities, and local insurgency; the power to decide the level of national taxation and the collection thereof; and finally the power to protect individual rights through the national judiciary. The national government may enact new laws, but those laws will have to conform and not be in conflict with a new constitution. All national government powers not defined in the new constitution are RESERVED for the regional governments, and if not defined for the regional governments, are then RESERVED for the people. The idea is to limit the encroachments of the national government into local government.

In this kind of system, the national government will not have the power to suspend, much less dismiss, any local official. The DILG cannot punish somebody just like it punished Governor Gwen Garcia. In fact, in this kind of system, there is no need for a national government department such as DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government). If a local official abuses her office and tramples the rights of any one person, then such person can sue the local government officer by filing a complaint with any of the national courts. It can be argued that, in this case at least, the role of the DILG is no different from that of the national courts, and all we have done is add more cases to the national courts. (Our over-backlogged court system is another issue, which our constitutional changes will also fix, but that’s another subject.) There are several differences between the DILG handling the situation, and a court doing it:

  1. In a formal trial, the accused or at least her lawyer would have been present in all proceedings;
  2. Whereas the DILG, being a political body, cannot throw away cases that are politically motivated, any court can dismiss frivolous cases; and
  3. In a formal trial, the only criteria for judgment would be national laws, which would be limited to the protection of individual rights; contrast this with the DILG, which has to concern itself with all the gory details of governance, as shown by its ruling in this case. In short, the DILG meddles in the affairs of local governance, the judicial court would not.

The national judicial system will be the final arbiter of disputes, but each region, if its finances allow it, may set up its own local court system. The local court system will be subject to both the national constitution and regional laws. (This will then have the added benefit of fixing the Bangsamoro issue once and for all.)

Each region may also enact its own taxation. Fear not that each region will then fleece its inhabitants by too high a level of taxation. Each citizen of the country will not lose his/her ability to move from one region to another, therefore regions that tax too much WILL see their populations decrease. By increasing taxes too much, their revenues would therefore decrease instead of increase.

Most people also fear that each regional leader can then easily abuse the new powers. The question these people should ask is this: can you trust the Manila central government more than you can trust your own local leaders? Who would be more difficult to watch, your local leaders, or national government leaders?

Our geography which is made up of thousands of islands, our different cultures (from the well-known frugality of the Ilocanos to the colorful festivities of the South), and even our history all cry out for a federalist system of governance.

A good friend (Edgar Millan) wrote more than a year ago:

“… The Ilocanos of the north had their own history starting with the Ilocos Revolt in 1661 and the Great Rebellion in 1762 led by Diego Silang among many others. Then of course, there was Juan Ponce Sumuroy who led a revolt in Samar in 1649 and the famous Francisco Dagohoy, the Bol-anon who led an 85-year revolt in Bohol in 1744.

“In truth, the short-lived Malolos government had feeble authority over the revolutionary movements in the Visayas and Mindanao. The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Visayas and Mindanao, established on Nov. 17, 1898, in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo was fueled by federalist tendencies. These clashed with the unitary and centralized tendencies of the Malolos Congress where Tagalogs overwhelmingly outnumbered representatives from other regions. The Visayans resented attempts by Malolos to assert its authority and the Luzon force was regarded as an “invasion” force by the Visayan revolutionaries led by their supremo Gen. Martin Delgado. As for the turn of events the following ocurred:

“On Nov. 17, 1898, at the plaza of Santa Barbara, Delgado proclaimed the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Visayas and Mindanao. He raised the Philippine flag sent by General Emilio Aguinaldo. It was the first time that the Filipino national flag was hoisted outside of Luzon Island. When the flag reached the top of the bamboo pole, the air reverberated with cries of Viva Filipinas! Fuera España! Viva Independencia! The band struck up the Marcha Libertador composed by General Delgado’s brother Posidio. The provisional government was later replaced by a Politico-Military Government on Nov. 23, 1898, composed only of the Visayas, because the Visayan leaders finally preferred instead, a federal arrangement composed of –Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, as a logical substitute because of its indigenous elements.

“With the merger on Dec. 2, 1898 of the Independent Republic of Negros and the Cantonal Government of Bohol (established in August-1898); the Panay government that included Romblon (part of Capiz), based in Iloilo was renamed Federal Republic of the Visayas, patterned after the U.S. Federal and Cantonal government of the Swiss Confederation. On April 28, 1899 President Emilio Aguinaldo abolished the Federal Republic and appointed Delgado as the civil and military governor of Iloilo Province under the central Philippine government. He waged guerrilla warfare against the Americans on Panay Island.”


32 Replies to “Too Much Power Concentrated in Manila”

  1. Nice piece of history from Edgar Millan. First time I come across that one on the Visayas. But I believe rather than prop up the argument for federalism, the Delgado episode actually demonstrated early on that the Philippines, precisely because of strong regionalism among its natives, has (note, not HAD)not quite achieved enough degree of cohesion to stand as a nation. To add a little to that piece by Millan, the Dagohoy revolt was finally quashed by forces comprised of Cebuanos and the Diego Silang uprising, continued by Diego’s wife Gabriela after he was treacherously killed by a friend, was quelled by a large force of Macabebes from Pampanga. Come to think of it but this lamented pervasive crab mentality of Filipinos is rooted in this continuing ailment of regionalism among the people. Likewise corruption in government, endlessly complained of against one administration after another, must take roots in a culture of kanya-kanya. The heck if the government is corrupt so long as we partake of that corruption, fine with us. I shudder at the phenomenon of political dynasties developing more quickly and on terrifying scales on the regional level than on the national. I think this is a great concern that urgently needs to be addressed. Will federalism at this point of the country’s political growth stem the terrifying evolution of regional political dynasties? Devolution of central authority is one thing, but first attaining a strong unified nationhood is another, and of the two the latter must take first place.

    1. I don’t think any form of democratically-elected-government will fix the problem with political dynasty. If we want an end of it, we have to start on the constituent who elect their officials.

    2. What regionalism? Regionalism is only a concept if looking upon a pan-“Philippine” paradigm which is fictitious and fragile from the beginning. These aren’t “regionalism”; these are nationalist movementS.

      1. So many Filipinos think the whole Philippine political and social structure is the most sacrosanct idea we can uphold as citizens of this country. We are nothing but a state to begin with–nothing but a mere legal-based sovereignty bound by a constitution that dictates at some point to which extent what is “Philippine,” who can be “Filipino,” and until where can be called part of the Philippines. There’s no racial or ethnic group called Filipino. Even the language named after which is an artificial definition.

  2. Ours is a subtle dictatorship. This was accomplished without firing a shot or declaring martial law. It is now more of a government of the dictator, by the dictator and for the dictator. Dark, scheming politics rules the day. Political expediency and opportunism guides the yellow administration. Thus… “the ends justifies the means.” Justice, equity, fairness, the rule of law and due process are now tools twisted by the dictatorship as it uses democracy against democracy. Independent and co-equal democratic institutions are corrupted and destroyed as blind obedience bows to the will of one man who wants to control everything. BS Aquino is the cause and the effect. He is the beginning and the end. I still believe in the present system. It is the number one political personality that is at fault. I therefore suggest the creation of an Anti-Dictatorship Bill to penalize all forms of dictatorial control in the national government.

  3. I’ll look into this further but my first impulse is one of support. In a perfect world I would enjoy Anarcho-capitalism but sadly the world isn’t perfect.

  4. This system is already in place. The ideas behind the structure are a little different, but not much.The malcontents will be malcontents and nothing will change,especially the malcontents!

    1. Really? How is this “not much” different from the current structure? You don’t think it’s radical enough to remove direct control of local governments by the national government?

        1. I am not aware of any civil disobedience protest that happened in CDO. Did I miss any news coming from there?

          In a federal system like we imagine, the national government cannot meddle in local affairs. Hands off, Manila!

  5. My impression about money from the provinces is that it is being remitted to Manila. Otherwise, the Aquino admin wouldn’t have stupidly admitted that provincial money is being used to subsidize the Metro Rail Transit! Here it gets exposed to corruption. In my view, the rules should be, no more remitting of money except the portion that is already promised to Manila. The provincial governments should just send a report. Keep money for the provinces in the provinces. Don’t send ’em to Manila.

  6. I do hope federalism will kick in sometime near in the future. what is to become of us here in visayas and mindanao. our city produces 11million, yet only 5 million goes back to us.

      1. In the article you posted, it’s not explicit why it’s termed “evolving” federalism. Does the “evolving” has to do with

        1. eventual transition of the government to federalism after (assuming) the constitution has been amended

        2. the growth of each region through competition with one another for business investment and people

        I assume the second item is the one you refer.

        1. Here’s an answer from CoRRECT:

          Immediately after Constitution is amended to prescribe a Federal system, we need to first get the provinces deciding on how they want themselves to be organized into regions, how they want to name their regions, etc. A process for how autonomous regions were created was done in a bottom-up fashion by Spain, and we think it is very much worth emulating.

          Moreover, after the provinces finally get reorganized into autonomous regions, these regions will evolve towards federalism in a gradualist fashion so that in terms of fiscal management, the regions will have to determine their tax collection schemes versus the national government, and for a transition period of perhaps 5 to 10 years, the regions will slowly formulate their own laws, enact local taxation, etc.

          As opposed to doing all of this instantaneously, the use of the word “evolving” clearly expresses the gradualist nature of how this will be achieved.

        2. Thanks for the reply.

          BTW, the articles in the CoRRECT site is pretty much back up factually.

    1. Hmm. Some disadvantages I can think of offhand:
      1. The national government would have much less control over the regions. If a governor misbehaves, the national government can’t do much about it. It is up to the aggrieved party to file a complaint at a court.
      2. Citizens will have to pay two taxes in most cases, one national and one local.
      3. Laws will not be uniform. Some regions would allow divorce, for example, unless the new constitution still prohibits it. However, certain laws would tend to be uniform, like the ease of doing business because the regions would be competing with each other for business.

  7. Not to be negative, but it’s not really the system that’s problematic- it’s the voting public.

    In addition, do we not already have local policies which are similar to state laws which are still under the national law (constitution)?

    We also already have the representatives of each region. The only real difference I see is that the local government units would have far more power in their hands. This, based on the political history of the Philippines, is a very bad idea.

    Lastly, I’m pro empowering the provinces. I too would like to give due attention to the provinces, or as one poster said, for their finances to no longer be remitted to Manila. But this comes with a great IF. And that is IF these provinces take care of their own, to the point that they no longer need to go to Manila.

    1. Both the system AND the voting public are problematic. Remember that the 1987 Constitution was written with protectionist policies in mind (the 60/40 law as emphasis). Furthermore, you could elect the most pristine, immaculate and sinless person you could think of on the President’s throne, and at the end of their term they’ll STILL be labeled corrupt and be charged with “plunder.”

      Reforming the Constitution to include a less-centralized governmental system won’t necessarily eliminate corruption and protectionism overnight, but it would be a first step to eliminate redundant bureaucracies.

      I have no idea why most Filipinos love bureaucracy, anyway.

      1. “I have no idea why most Filipinos love bureaucracy, anyway.”

        Most likely because it insulates them from the responsibility that they would have to take if they did things themselves.

    2. Manila is not taking good care of the provinces anyway. I mean, why are all the advancements in Manila instead of the provinces reaping the benefits as well? So, hand over the money back to the provinces. I’m pretty sure each house can best determine its needs and the solutions? Do you want someone else taking care of your finances or would you rather do it yourself?

        1. Is that not the case now? I don’t really get the difference. The governors now or even the board members are tasked to handle their provinces. Wouldn’t a change in the system merely be a change in the title of those in power?

        2. wantonman, ask yourself this: if we had a federal system, would Gov. Gwen have this problem now? This is not mearly “a change in title”. Federalism will reduce the power of Manila drastically, and that’s why they will resist it vigorously. They will come up with all kinds of reasons why it can’t work. But it CAN work, and it’s a much better arrangement.

        3. It is not the case now. If there is a federal system of government, Gov. Gwen will not be evicted from power by the central government. In a federal system, if Gov. Gwen needs to be removed for her crimes, it is up to the citizens of her province, not by the Executive branch of the national government. Having the national government decide who in the provinces stay or not takes away from the power of the voters in that province to decide the competency of the Governor.

        4. People deciding whether Garcia remains in or goes out? And then a federal government. Having a mob mentality that is Da Pinoy all around us, I wonder what kind of federal government are we going to have?

        5. It will be a mob mentality for a while as the people stumble around while finding their self-governance legs. However, they will eventually be on their feet because the responsibility has been delegated to them. If the people don’t shape up, well they have no one else to blame but themselves. There will be no more excuses.

  8. Hey sorry to go off topic on this, but are there any articles in getrealphilippines about criticizing our laws(RA’s, etc)?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.