“Philippine Federalism: More National-Level Politicians” by Malcolm Cook

2018/79, 6 July 2018
On Monday, the Consultative Committee to review the 1987 Constitution is scheduled to submit a draft constitution to President Duterte that would transform the Philippines from a unitary to a federal system. The next two steps on the road to a federal Philippines are for the President (who appointed the Committee) to approve the draft constitution and then submit it to Congress for their consideration. The final step is a plebiscite to vote on the new constitution.

Advocates for a federal Philippines argue that a federal system will reduce the power of the national government and lead to a more efficient government system overall. Critics of constitutional change argue that the politicians of the day, particularly those in Congress and the president, will use any move to amend the 1987 Constitution to benefit their own political interests.

A leaked copy of the Committee’s draft constitution provides ample ammunition for these critics on two counts:

(i) Counter-intuitively, it would significantly increase the number of national-level politicians. The Senate under the 1987 Constitution has 24 senatorial positions. The draft constitution calls for each of the 18 federated regions to have at least 2 senators each. So a 50% increase at least. The draft constitution calls for a House of Representatives of no more than 400 seats. The current House has 292 seats. In total, the draft constitution would boost the number of politicians serving in Congress from 316 to 436.

(ii) Under the 1987 constitution, President Duterte is limited to a single six-year term ending in June 2022. Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto’s second and final consecutive term will also end in 2022. According to members of the Consultative Committee, President Duterte would be free to run again for president (and Sotto for the Senate) in 2022 under the new federal constitution. As this constitution would allow presidents (and senators and representatives) to serve two consecutive four-year terms, President Duterte could be the president of the Philippines until 2030.

It is easier to see how these provisions of the leaked draft constitution benefit the political interests of the current national-level politicians than to see how they contribute to a more efficient and devolved political system.

Dr Malcolm Cook is Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.