Stop complaining, start dreaming

Philippine languages wiki jpg

Languages of the Philippines [Source: Wikipedia]

 Stop complaining, start dreaming

Not about what is, not about what has been, but about what could be.

A vibrant nation is a respected adult in the family of nations. An effective and efficient economy, a young and innovative culture, a democratic beacon in Asia.

How to get there? One answer: PEOPLE.

How to free people and let them exert their fullest potential? Create an assertive, “we can do it” culture. A culture where people can identify with and be recognized for their contribution. Fast, furious, creative.

Recognition within the horizon of a family is too small. The horizon of the current nation is too far, 100 million too large. The light beacons in Manila are too distant for many.

As one of the necessary steps, create manageable states, transform the centralized nation into a federalist nation with states that people can oversee and identify with, where politicians have to take responsibility, no excuses possible, too close by for “palusots”.

Let’s have a look at 1- what it could be, 2- why it might help in our development, 3- what roadblocks need removal, and let us sketch 4- how we could get there. Just a “shooting document” to start the discussion, the more founded criticism the better, the more innovative suggestions the better . . . By no means is this the ultimate bible of how it should be.

(Federalism in the US means more power to the federation, federalism in Europe means the opposite, more power to the members. Here we use federalism in the European sense.)


  1. What do we mean by federalism?

The Bangsomoro agreement could be a starting point, a pilot case before the all-out transformation. When the Bangsomoro limited “independence” is successful, and there are no reasons why it shouldn’t be, then one should ask why limit this transformation to only one federal state? Why not a Federal Marcos Land in the North, a Pacquiao-Dueerte alliance in Eastern Mindanao, a Visayan state, Greater Bicol, Semi-independent Panay and the Tagalog Homeland . . . ?

How should we carve up the current nation? It will be important to recognize existing relationships between central cities and their large surroundings, the economic integration, the geographic/infrastructure possibilities, the shared cultural/food/language/heritage, common problems, the current region . . .

Complementary is the key word in splitting up responsibilities. Eventually all responsibilities should be at the lowest State level, except where efficiencies and scale justify delegation to a higher level, the Nation or the ASEAN level, e.g. a national constitution and constitutional court, a national treasury and currency, national defense, some economic entities, some regulating powers to keep the playing field flat to the ASEAN level.

The end result could be “asymmetric”, meaning that not all states will get the same powers in all domains (as in Spain, some regions have more independence than others). Residual powers and issues not specified by the “federalism law” can be delegated upward to the nation or to the member states.

To limit the levels, a state is to be split into community clusters and these communities can split into many barangys. Cooperation of clusters and of barangys to be promoted, but not mandatory.

On all these responsibilities, what federations are functioning better? Plenty to compare with, countries like the EU, US, Russia, Malaysia, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium . . .


  1. Why break up into states?

Smaller countries seem to be more successful on most scales of comparison. (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Nether lands, Switzerland, New Zealand, Singapore . . . ) Are they more flexible, faster? More solidarity / equality? More “ownership”? More concrete targets?

When distances will get smaller, quantities get easier to understand, identification more spontaneous. A feeling of “what we do ourselves, we do better”. Hiding in Manila or blaming Manila becomes impossible. Gone will be “it’s not my baby”, and “when will they learn in Manila that we are a special case?” . . .

Power will be less absolute and less absolute power corrupts less. (Also the relationship of strong dynasties and little development will get clearer.)

Variation between the states will generate an upward pressure; competition leads to progress.

Focus will be more on effectiveness than on efficiency. Effectiveness will be seen because the results (or lack of) are closer, easier to see. Large bureaucracies tend to focus on efficiency as effectiveness is often more difficult to measure.

More people will have the feeling that they can make the difference. There will be many more ways for political upward mobility. The step from major to the state level will be easier. Ideas can come from many more places than just Manila. The “steering” nation and ASEAN levels will be more for experts than for politicians (elected or nominated by the states).


  1. Some potential roadblocks

In the past natives had to adjust to immigrants. In Mindanao many local peoples are outnumbers by Visayans and some other immigrant groups such as Ilocanos. Even after the split some states will have very mixed populations.

Current powerhouses will have to break down, lose influence.

Badly managed expectations of the population. Common benefits not clearly explained. Mechanism of solidarity not clearly defined, rich states fear they’ll have to share too much, poor ones fear too little support.


  1. How do we get there?

The responsibility transfer should be in phases, e.g. Phase One, the delegation of culture (use of language, sports, arts . . .) and education (with the setup of national guidelines). Local legislative and administrative bodies for the former. Phase Two, infrastructure, health/tourism, economic development. Phase Three the “Copernicus” turnaround (when Manila is no longer the center of the universe), all powers to the states, except what is agreed by them to delegate upwards to the nation or ASEAN.

Critical will be how the budget will be broken up, the split between the states and the ratio states/nation. The tax collection by the states and the solidarity mechanism.

The break-up should be aligned with the transfer of powers to ASEAN.

We should also realize that a lot of the nation’s power is already transferred to international institutions, for example, financial institutions such as banks or rating agencies and economic powerhouses such as the top 500 companies, many with budgets exceeding that of the Philippines.


16 Responses to “Stop complaining, start dreaming”
  1. edgar lores says:

    1. Impressive.

    2. I like that the blog concentrates on an overview rather than plummets into detail.

    3. I agree with the overall strategy of decentralization given in Section 1.
    3.1. Establishing territorial boundaries and administrative levels will be tough nuts to crack.
    3.2. Selecting the correct model will be crucial.
    3.3. It might be premature to think of an EU-like ASEAN model.

    4. I also generally agree with the dynamics of power and responsibility in section 2.
    4.1. Federal oversight would be necessary to monitor interstate rivalry for business and tourism.
    4.1. Sports and talent contests can contribute to the sense of competition.

    5. The roadblocks will have to be identified in greater detail and so too their solutions.
    5.1. It is true that the link between warlordism/dynasties and development will get clearer, but these may continue to persist unless measures are set up beforehand. The link between powerhouses and development can be direct or inverse.
    5.2. As indicated in the essay, the minutiae of power-sharing and wealth-sharing will be crucial.

    6. The first step is probably a referendum (or a series) on two questions:
    – Do you want a federal government?
    – What form of federal government do you want?
    6.1. I’m sure the powerhouses will campaign for a Yes vote on the first question.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      A strong counter-argument could be that we have much less wars in the world than before because the size of the states increased dramatically. This is especially true in Europe where over the centuries we consolidated from hundreds of violent fiefdoms into a few dozen of states with one super-structure. Reducing violence in the Philippines might require less local power, not more.

      But it is my belief that it will take ages before a strong Manila centralized state will be able to control the “big men” in remote hills of the most distant provinces. Strong local powers could get control faster. (One could replace the word violence with corruption. Napoles in the Philippines was invisible, Napoles in Basilan would be on the top of the local news from day one, 15 years ago)

      6. The outcome of a referendum depends so much on how the question is framed. Careful.

      4.1 Small politics on low levels, professional politics on high levels. Experts needed for the highest level will never be elected in the current popularity contest called elections.

      But as I said, it is intended just to be a thought starter. More knowledgeable people will have to beef it up.

  2. wjarko says:

    For a country as culturally diverse and geographical fragmented as ours; I believe a very good model to adopt is South Africa’s.

    South Africa ‘literally’ decentralized major government infrastructure and processes. Parliament, Executive branch, and Supreme court were geographically dispersed away from each other. For the Philippines, we can have the executive branch in Manila, legislative in Cebu, and Supreme court in Davao.These way power is not concentrated in one area (Imperial Manila), thus capturing Manila does not mean capturing the entire country. This also encourages movement and interaction from the different cultures.

    The current Regional set-up, can be a good starting point in the push to Federalism. Culture, language, and geography were the primary considerations in the setting up the Regions of the country. We could also adopt the Senate system of the US wherein each state has two representatives in any given time. This should replace the current system wherein the popularity is the main criteria, and is dominated by movie stars from the Manila and Luzon. At lleast these ensures regional represenation at the highest legislative body.

    I also have a vision where the diffrent regions/states compete for recognition and funds(IRA). I’m a firm believer of the “Shape Up or Ship Out” philosophy. This will push the states to perform, while the central/federal government is incharge of central planning and coordination for local implementation.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      Gloria tried to disperse the different departments to different regions, but the resistance was enormous, nothing happened by my knowledge. But why distribute geographically when you can split. No more national powers only regional powers in the end. Does education have to be structured identically in Batanes and Basilan? Economies of scale versus nimble, fast, flexible, result oriented local units in competition with each other… I don’t know.

      “Shape up or ship out” comes natural if you have to deal with your own money. Regions should have their own tax system (corrected with some solidarity clauses).

      • wjarko says:

        I dont think dispersing the components of the executive department just for the sake of it would ever fly. What Im saying is dispersing key goverment institutions, Senate, Executive, and Judiciary. what is effectively dispersed is the power from the three top positions that supposedly are coequal.

        Absence of national powers will be susceptible to anarchy and lawlessness. The central powers will be the glue that holds thing together instead of the where the regions source power and legitimacy.

        “Shape up or ship out” may come natural, but not in the current system where national government is effectively doling out money to poor regions

        • Joseph-Ivo says:

          Do you mean that the balance of power in smaller units like Denmark, Switzerland, even Luxembourg is less than in big ones like Russia or China? Size doesn’t matter in this case.

          Each state will need all three powers. The reasons to disperse are explained above. It will never fly without a charismatic promoter, without being specific and without large citizen support.

          The federation will need strong national powers too, a constitutional court, a Senate type of political unit, a government of subject experts.

          If Ilocos is semi-independent they will be more responsible with the local tobacco fund I guess.

          We will have to find the optimum between solidarity and doling out. Transfers will have to have specific objectives and be limited in time.

  3. JM says:

    1. ASEAN model is a bit early. While I like the idea, I am not sure whether other south east asian countries even want to join us.

    2. Wouldn’t this give more power to the warlords (i.e. Ampatuans)? This would provide access to the people’s money to more people. Though, I must admit, it would be great for other parts of the country that really wants improvement and not under some warlord who only cares about his dynasty. However, there’s a possibility that because of this, people from other places would just go to the most successful state and crowd it, then turn it to a slum because there aren’t enough jobs (i.e. look at Manila). I am not sure how the country will deal with that.

    3. “Hiding in Manila or blaming Manila becomes impossible. Gone will be “it’s not my baby”, and “when will they learn in Manila that we are a special case?” – I like this. This would stop probinsyanos from blaming us “Tangalogs” for all their problems so that’s a plus. (I don’t understand why, since 80% of the people in Metro Manila came from the provinces). One potential problem though is that, what happens if other provinces opt to use their own dialect and no longer learn tagalog. Are we supposed to talk to each other in English instead?

    4. I prefer if we can divide the country between people who think before voting and people who vote based on popularity. But I don’t think that’s possible.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      Language. In Europe there are more than 20 official languages. In many areas the local language is mandatory in dealing with the citizens, also for private businesses. With outsiders you speak whatever you want. Translation is a big business, the European commission has thousands and thousands of translators and interpreters, but more and more is done automatically. English is the most common language, two centuries ago it was French, before that Latin. The UN has several official languages, English, French, Russian and Chinese. The Philippines English, Tagalog and Visayan? Let’s see what will be the natural “lingua franca”.

      Ampatuan. Yes, that’s possible. But Bangsomoro might be better in dealing with private armies them Manila was. Stealing from your neighbors tastes differently than stealing from “Manila”. Controlling regions from a state with much less power/money will be more independent, the national level will have more technocrats, less politicians.

      Immigration. Better or worse than today? The immigration in Europe after finally opening all borders for all nationalities is less than what was expected. Better access to the labor market is a plus for the performing industries. The central authorities will have to keep the playing field flat so that the free market can work (too optimistic?). Performing regions will have a louder voice on the national level.

      But your guess is as good as mine. All these points need thorough investigation. But a fundamental discussion on how we work together 30 years after the last constitution seems necessary as the world keeps changing faster and faster.

    • wjarko says:

      #3 What’s the problem with not learning Tagalog? Im from Mindanao, a Cebuano speaker and I currently live in Manila. I dont see any problem with not making Tagalog mandatory. It gives other languages space to develop instead of forcing us to learn another language. Imperial Manila has imposed its dominion long enough. You know why Filipino is based on Tagalog? It because Manuel Quezon happened to be Tagalog, what if the first President was Ilocano or Cebuano?

      We can adopt another linguafranca, english or bahasa or whatever; but we need to decide on which. Malaysia also had a number of languages, and they opted to adopt Bahasa from Indonesia as their national language / linguafranca.

      #4. I think we can, to some degree by requiring educational attainment (HS grad, College level, etc./ national exam score)

      • JM says:

        “What’s the problem with not learning Tagalog?” – I already placed the problem after. “Are we supposed to talk to each other in English instead?”. Maybe you don’t see that as a problem because you’d rather learn English than Tagalog. So when I go to Davao/other provinces, I have to speak in English? Whatever floats your boat i guess.

        “Imperial Manila has imposed its dominion long enough.”- Seems to me you hate us, yet you live here. You have the freedom to go back to Mindanao.

        “You know why Filipino is based on Tagalog? It because Manuel Quezon happened to be Tagalog, what if the first President was Ilocano or Cebuano?” –
        1. You can’t change the past so there’s no use dwelling on it.
        2. What dialect do most Filipinos know?

        “We can adopt another linguafranca, english or bahasa or whatever; but we need to decide on which.” – Based on your statements, even if Tagalog is most spoken, you’d never agree on it. FYI, My Mother’s side is from Cebu and Ilocos, only my Father’s side is from Manila. This pride on local dialects is counterproductive.

        Agree on your suggestion on #4.

  4. chao-wei says:

    Joseph, you’d do very well to expand on item #4, because this is the most interesting part of the whole federalization procedure. You’ve already mentioned Spain’s asymmetric federalization setup, which in my view is still incomplete, as Catalans and Basques are agitating for complete independence from Spain.

    For me, the development of regional culture is a crucial first step. This must proceed strongly for an eventual decentralization to proceed smoothly. People in Ilocos are already proceeding with the first steps, in education of children in the Ilocano language, which will lead to elevation of their cultural awareness to sophisticated levels as well as the rise of a middle class.

    With regard to the formation of the middle class, I would like to add that this is another crucial step in the federalization of the Philippines, but it has to be done region by region, ethnic group by ethnic group. With the formation of the middle class, civil society will also strengthen, and when a region has a strong civil society that does not depend on the center, it will then have more freedom of action, and the regional government will have more responsibility for the goings-on in its jurisdiction.

    The national government, for its part, is to be allowed to build and develop infrastructure nationally, on the premise that a future federation will depend on the smooth cooperation of equal members united by a Federal Constitution. It must be ensured that component states must be linked together by the opportunity to prosper with the other states.

  5. Janice says:

    Personally, the Bangsamoro template is just to empower local warlords as what ARMM has been. The biggest problem with the Bangsamaro agreement is that the PH Gov negotiated with an armed group (as is Tripoli agreement) and not voted on by the common people — people who matter the most

    Which should not be surprising as to why the Bangsamoro provinces has been fairing in the bottom especially compared to their northern “rebellious” counterpart — the Igorots. While there are still poor provinces, they are catching up. In fact, Benguet has been consistently behind Metro Manila in terms of Human Development Index.

    There is no assurance that the Philippines will fare well esp given the political culture. I think there is a need for the Philippines to strengthen the national government and then “fix” the local government units. When warlords/druglords/political dynasty no longer rule the region/provinces, then talks for federalism could be raised

    • Janice says:

      I must add that people in the Cordilleras rejected voting for autonomy THREE TIMES. The best they can do is make it an “official” region where government services will be more accessible rather than for people there going to Ilocos or Cagayan to work their documents

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      If a majority votes for despotic war lords, is that democratic? If a majority votes for incompetent movie stars is that democratic? Democracy is what it is and I will always defend it, even if the majority does not vote for my candidate. But a strong democracy should be more than then just voting, it should be a balance of powers to avoid sliding back into absolutism. Legislative, executive, judiciary, but also a free and independent press, a monopoly of violence at the state level, free organizations – religious, political, economic, cultural…, all are needed.

      Democracies work better when people can strongly “identify” with communities, families, local, regional or national. How people identify themselves in larger groups is very different in the Philippines, except for the strong family ties. Geographically by language (Ilongo, …), by “warlords” or people of power (Marcos, Ampatuan… ), just the region (Bicol, Bohol… ) and for the people in Manila “the Philippines”, for them Manila and the Philippines are identical. But people also identify by religion, profession, income, political, cultural – sports, entertainment, internet … – and other interests. The stronger people identify and the better the geographic “Communities” are integrated the better democracy functions. “I’m from Ann Arbor, I’m from Michigan, I’m from the US”…

      In the Philippines these identifications are often less pronounced and vary by region, social class and family history. E.g.: Locals identify very differently with Ipil, Zambuango Sibygay, than Cebuano immigrants. Consequently for some “the Philippines” (= “Manila”) let them down, for others “the Philippines” is more important than Ipil. The National politics does not address this, regional or “state” politics will do this much better, helping people to “identify”. As Choa-wei said above, the development of regional culture is a crucial first step. (See also “Imagined Communities” by Benedict Anderson).

      Bangsamoro will become independent as Texas is independent in the US, Bavaria in Germany, more than Flanders in Belgium but less than Belgium in the European Union. Eventually people will feel more Filipino by feeling more Moro as Bangsamoro will stay an integral part of the Philippines. But the identification will be staggered instead of direct.

      PS. Many nations are the result of actions by war lords. Empowering warlords is what the Americans did in 1906. And unfortunately you have to make peace with enemies and not with friends, often enemies were even armed and shooting at you. Peace by itself is more important than the history of war and warlords.

      • Janice says:

        It is true that more often than not, nations are built successfully when people identify with the community.

        But my point about the Bangsamoro framework is that the agreement regarding the ARMM and new Bangsamoro did not include the community, but merely “powerful warlord families” in that community. I do have a Maranao-Muslim friend who travels as a doctor around the Philippines and does really complain how there are many “ghost pay rolls” in her province. Take a look at the Cordillera-ARMM contrast. The ARMM people got what they wanted — Autonomy. had Misuari as governor of many years who did NOTHING and remains the poorest region in almost every sense. Meanwhile, the Cordilleras, who rejected autonomy but emphasized on community building and taking responsibility for their own region and are slowly catching up. Now, the government negotiated a Bangsamoro framework with the group that Misuari is not in good terms with.

        If worse comes to worse that the MILF decides to secede by arms, rest assured we would see a lot of refugees from ARMM fleeing to Luzon, Visayas and Christian parts in Mindanao. I bet they’d rather be part of a more democratic(although dysfunctional) nation rather than being caught up in a political rido in their homeland where ruling families keep them undereducated, health concerns unaddressed, hardly any job opportunities.

        The Philippines needs to fix and strengthen the local communities, not dismantle them per se. The funny thing about many of these political dynasties/warlords is that they often accuse national government of imperialism while they plunder their home provinces and when calamity strikes and they did not do the necessary preparedness, they blame the national government (ahem, Romualdez, ahem).

        You see, the poorest places in the Philippines are the ones ruled by either the NPA or warlords or inept political dynasties.

        • josephivo says:

          What struck me years ago on a tour in Basilan visiting ARC (agrarian reform communities), was that most had churches and were surrounded by Muslim populations. A community worker gave me his explanation: “No Muslim boy finishes high school, a diploma isn’t sexy, but a gun is. The easiest job to find in Basilan is as a hired gun serving a warlord. Working on a farm is for a lower cast and Cebuano immigrants don’t mind.” Generations of Manila politicians, Spanish, American and Filipino misused this to send waves and waves of Cebuano and other colonizers to try to outnumber the Muslim populations in Muslim Mindanao. Centuries of colonization and resistance has reduced the original rulers to simple warlords. So yes, if the warlords would get a military victory, they will try to turn around history and expel all immigrants.

          But if the MILF gets a peaceful settlement and more responsibility, they will be confronted with a large group of unskilled boys and men, feeling exempted of simple productive work. So let us see how the new leaders will tackle this. My fear is not independence, but the opposite, that in a few years’ time they’ll need Manila’s help fight new insurgents. My hope is that with more independence they will have less others to blame for their own shortcomings and that the Muslim Indonesian or Malaysian progress might be their example.

          The history and culture in the Cordilleras is quite different, just look at the respect for farmers and the absence of lowland Malay immigrants. But is general, I strongly believe that strengthening the regions will benefit democracy and the people.

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