Deceptive advertising of federalization

July 20, 2016 at 16:00


Deceptive advertising of federalization

By:  | 12:10 AM July 19th, 2016

FOLLOWING President Duterte’s promise during the election campaign, Congress has tabled a proposal to establish a federal system of government. Federalization has been depicted by its proponents as the panacea for our national problems.

Those proposing federalization engage in cherry-picking, invariably citing First World countries under the federal system to emphasize the blessings of this type of government. Usually cited in this regard are the United States and Canada; ignored are Third World countries under the federal system, like Mexico, Nigeria, Argentina, Brazil, India, etc., which have serious problems of governance, not to mention federations which recently failed, like the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The worse part is that the two countries cherry-picked as model federal systems, the United States and Canada, are rotten cherries. These two countries are actually deeply flawed federal systems.

The present federal system of the United States survived only after a bloody civil war in 1861-1865. For a period of 85 years, from their independence in 1776 to 1861, the Americans failed to make their federal system work by peaceful means. The American civil war was fought on the larger issue of state rights—the right of a state to secede from the Union, and not on slavery as is commonly believed.

Canada came into existence under the British North America Act in 1867, just after the US civil war. The law, having in mind the US civil war, allocated the powers of government with the enumerated powers granted to the provinces, and left the residual powers to Ottawa. This reversed the provision of the US Constitution. In the United States, the enumerated powers are given to the federal government, while the residual powers are given to the states. Theoretically, Canada should have a strong federal government while the United States should have a weak central government.

Things have not worked as planned for both countries. In America, the federal government is all-powerful vis-à-vis the states of the union, while in Canada, the reverse is the case. Whenever Ontario and Quebec get together on an issue, that often becomes the national policy of Canada. The reason for this is these two provinces hold more than 50 percent of the population and account for about the same percentage of the GDP of Canada.

Thus, the goals of a federal constitution, as written, could have a different outcome upon implementation.

Another oversell by the proponents of federalization is that it will hasten the development of the Moro areas and, in this manner, settle the Moro problem. The example of Canada belies this optimistic projection. Canada was a developing country when it adopted the North America Act in 1867. Since then, it has become a wealthy First World country. Affluence did not solve the Quebec problem; the vote to secede from Canada lost by just 1 percent of the votes cast in 1995. (See “BBL oversimplified the Mindanao problem,” Opinion, 5/26/15.) The next vote on the same issue may have a different outcome.

To put things in perspective, the Philippines is beset with many problems. A shift to a federal form of government will by itself generate new problems. As noted, the main problem in a federal union is the allocation of powers between the national government and the states. In addition, federalization will not be an instant cure for our national problems. The Canadians, since 1867 up to now, or a period of 149 years, have been trying to make their system work. The United States, after 85 years, fought a civil war to settle the federal question. The Soviet Union, which was established in 1917, collapsed after 74 years, in 1991.

The proponents make it appear that federalization will be an instant success, understating the fact that it could take years before a federal system works, if at all.

The probability of failure of a federal system is, therefore, high, and when it fails, like Humpty Dumpty you can no longer revert back to a unitary system. One reason is this: The cost of preserving a nation is prohibitive. Out of 33 million, around 630,000 Americans, Union and Confederate, died in their civil war, or 1.9 percent of the population. Recent conflicts to preserve a federal union, like the Nigeria-Biafra civil war and the Yugoslavian breakup, have also been costly in human lives. If our own federal experiment fails, and we fight a civil war on the same scale to preserve our nation, there will be 2 million casualties out of our present population of 106 million.

Consequently, if we adopt federalization, we should have a Plan B: What do we do if it fails? Do we fight a civil war to preserve our country? Or do we come to our senses and accept that our country will become separate states? A breakup of our country will be a bloody affair. Our Muslim brothers will be in the cauldron. When Muslims fight each other, it becomes an international affair, as the opposing sides bring in jihadists from abroad. The events happening now in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan will be replicated in our country.

Hopefully, when Filipinos vote in a plebiscite to decide the issue of federalization, they will incisively examine the issue. The proponents of federalization are engaged in deceptive advertisement in the face of evidence to the contrary. The future of the Philippines as one nation undivided could be compromised if federalization fails.


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