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"Philippine Federalism: Not by Popular Demand" by Malcolm Cook

2018/90, 1 October 2018

The most recent Pulse Asia opinion poll suggests, again, that President Duterte should desist in his push for a federal Philippines through constitutional revision (called charter change in the Philippines).

Charter change finished last among the list of 15 “urgent national concerns” his administration should address. Only 1% of respondents chose it as the most urgent concern while 96% failed to choose it among their three most urgent concerns. In sharp contrast, 31% opted for controlling inflation as the most urgent concern and 63% included this in their list of three.  

These latest poll results are not surprising. Rather, they are perfectly consistent with the previous six quarterly Pulse Asia polls asking the same question. In all seven polls, which together cover the entire term of the Duterte administration, charter change has finished bottom of the list of urgent concerns. Controlling inflation has topped the list in four of these and improving workers’ pay in the other three. The population’s focus on countering inflation and comparative disregard for charter change well predates the current inflationary problems besetting the Philippines.

What is sobering for the small band of federalism advocates is that the lack of importance given to charter change by the electorate has remained so steady and so overwhelming. The Duterte administration, led by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, started an advocacy campaign for federalism twenty-five months ago with tens of millions of pesos allocated for the campaign so far; hundreds of local and provincial politicians (who stand to benefit from a shift to federalism) have pledged their support; and the very popular president has repeatedly commented on the urgent need for this very disruptive change. Yet, the needle of popular opinion refuses to budge.

While President Duterte clearly believes that the shift to federalism is an urgent concern his government must address, very few of the people he represents agree.

Dr Malcolm Cook is Senior Fellow at the 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.