A Federal Republic: An Old Idea Whose Time Has Come

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva
The Bohol Chronicle
October 6, 2013

Federal Republic of the Visayas, 1898-1901. Unknown to most Filipinos today is that federalism is an old idea in our history. We should realize “That the Spanish authorities in the archipelago had already lost control of the Visayan islands before General Emilio Aguinaldo was proclaimed President of the Republica de Filipinas at Malolos, Bulacan on January 23, 1899. That “a Tagalog military expedition sent by Malolos to Panay to assert its presence was met with hostility. That the Luzon force led by Generals Ananias Diocno and Leandro Fullon was regarded by the Visayan revolutionaries, led by the Visayan supremo, Gen. Martin Delgado, as an ”invasion” force….” (Amando Doronila, Inquirer, June 13, 1999) General Aguinaldo did try to persuade the Moro leaders to join the Malolos Republc but failed.

Dr. Luis C. Dery explains that the Moro people’s in Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan, and the people in the Visayan islands never fell under Aguinaldo’s politico-military control and sovereignty. “That the 1898 Treaty of Paris should not have included territories of the sovereign Visayan Nation”—the confederation of Panay (including Romblon), Negros, Cebu, and Bohol cantonal governments, because Spain had no more legal right to sell what she did not control.

The Federalist Party and the Lanao Sultanates opted to be part of the United States. Very early under U.S. colonial rule the Federalista Party wanted for the Philippine Islands to be made part of the United States but the U.S. government disapproved the idea. “Then in 1920, 120 Sultans and 80 Datus belonging to the Pat Pangampong Ranao (the Confederation of Sultanates of Lanao) wrote the United States President requesting that should the U.S. government eventually make the Philippines a Commonwealth and then a Republic, Lanao as a Province  chose not to be part of it.

“They still would like to be part of the U.S.—perhaps as a State or a Protectorate. The reason behind this strange request was very simple: the Pat Pangampong Ranao is fully aware that the eventual Philippine Republic to be formed at that time would be a Unitary set-up, something which the Confederation did not like, since the Confederation was a Federal set-up; and only a Federal Government like the United State of America could understand another Federal government, hence the request.”  As history … show[ed] such a request was denied.  Much to the frustration of the Lanao Confederation.” (Email of Arnold A. Garbanzos, CDP-Lanao).

In 1935 Delegate Tomas L. Cabili opted for a Federal Republic of the Philippines.

He was the only one among the 222 delegates to the 1935 Constitution who refused to sign the 1935 Constitution because it provided for a Unitary Republic while he wanted a Federal Republic of the Philippines. He believed that a Unitary set-up would dissipate the economic advantages of Iligan and the Lanao provinces—the source of abundant water and power; and that the 1935 Constitution would protect only the rights of the Christian majority but not of the Muslims and the Lumads; showing no respect for their culture and values as a people.

He argued passionately for almost half a day for a Federal republic and other concerns but was turned down by the overwhelming majority. He opposed the proposed constitution and a Unitary Republic on several grounds, namely: (1) that it carried no provision to promote the progress of the non-Christians  as provided  in Article XII, Section 5 of the proposed draft; (2) that it placed too much power in the Executive Department, which might inspire the establishment of a dictatorial government; (3) that it carried no provision for municipal and provincial autonomy; (4) that it might encourage communism because of the allowance given to the government to appropriate and substitute landed estates; (5) that the safeguards provided against the acquisition of agricultural lands by the foreigners were not sufficient; (6) that there was no provision made for the nationalization of the retail trade; and (7) that there was too much intervention from outside, especially from President Quezon in the drafting of the Constitution.

Indeed, Tomas L. Cabili was right and prophetic in his fears of a highly centralized Unitary Republic. He had warned against the disregard of the legitimate rights of the Moro people that could lead to their unrest and rebellion.

In his Filipinas Dientro de Cien Años (The Philippines a Century Hence) Jose P. Rizal predicted that Filipinas might become a federal state. 

“Bangsamoro” as a model of genuine regional autonomy in a future Federal Republic.  After four decades of Moro unrest and rebellions, causing incalculable loss of lives and treasure and painful displacements of peoples, the government is forging with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front a new political entity called “Bangsamoro.”  The painstaking effort has now been challenged by Nur Misuari’s secessionist “Bangsamoro Republic” and the crisis in Zamboanga City fomented by rebels of Misuari’s MNLF faction.    

The emerging “Bangsamoro” has all the marks of a very carefully and sensitively crafted peace-making endeavor and political reinvention of regional autonomy. It seeks to fully assert, respect and protect the legitimate and historic rights of our largest ethnic and cultural minority, the Moros, as well as the lumads and other people in the proposed “Bangsamoro” geographic area.

We look forward to the completion of the draft basic law by the Transition Commission and its passage by Congress by 2014 with the full endorsement of the President. A vigorous nationwide campaign is in order to fully explain the great advantages to be gained by the establishment of the “Bangsamoro” political entity.

But what is good for the people in “Bangsamoro” is good for all other Filipinos.  So President Aquino and our other leaders and the people should realize that genuine regional and local autonomy proposed for the people in Bangsamoro in the new basic law should also be granted to all other Filipinos. This calls for an amendment of our 1987 Constitution!

In fact, amending the Constitution would better ensure the adoption of the proposed Bangsamoro political entity in place of the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or ARRM.

Otherwise, there could be widespread opposition to favoring only the people in Bangsamoro and discriminating against the great majority of Filipino citizens in all the other  ethno-cultural and political-administrative regions in Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. And for sure, some critics are bound to challenge the constitutionality of the proposed “Bangsamoro” political entity before the Supreme Court.

Liberate our people from corrupt and unaccountable leaders and dysfunctional institutions. It is also high time that we seriously consider replacing our corrupt, ineffective and unaccountable Presidential Government that we have had since 1946, with a superior Parliamentary Government that we have never tried—because of the vested interests of our political leaders in the old political system. In fact most parliamentary governments have proved to be superior to presidential governments, as shown in the United Kingdom, The Federal Republic of Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, India, Malaysia, and other countries.

Let’s avoid nation-wide civil unrest. Given the nationwide political crisis being created by the large-scale corruption of congressional pork barrel and the perceived abuse of the president’s discretionary funding, we might very well have civil unrest and a political upheaval sooner than we realize.

The President’s bosses in ever larger numbers, and in various parts of the country, are demanding basic reforms in politics and governance from their tarnished and now distrusted leaders. The people want more than the abolition of the massive congressional pork barrel and the curtailment of the even larger presidential discretionary funds that have been gravely abused and corrupted.

Let’s not provoke our enraged citizens into launching our largest “people power revolt” ever, this time —against  President Aquino himself and the Congress—for betraying the people’s trust.  





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