Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 17 August 2016


Last week, in the column entitled “States of the proposed Philippine federal republic”, the idea of four self-governing states was broached.

Further arguments are made today.

Four autonomous states: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and Bangsamoro. Aside from the three famous “Luz-Vi-Min” – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – division of the country that Filipinos were taught when we became politically independent in 1946 – a fourth autonomous state will be carved out of Mindanao, the Bangsamoro entity.

As islands, Luzon and Mindanao are not as big as the Indonesian islands of Java or Sumatra. But Luzon and Mindanao, separately, compare favorably with the island of Taiwan or with the contiguous territorial boundaries of South Korea, though each island is smaller in area.

But the islands (including the disparate Visayan islands) are themselves rich in natural resources. Also, all regions are well-endowed in terms of population.

These island groupings – all three of them, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – represent a more logical basis for creating new federal states, with the Bangsamoro entity sliced out from Mindanao as a separate state. Georgraphically, each grouping represents a compact group of regions that could serve as bastions for new political entitiers.

The 12 state proposal: Based on wrong criteria. Current sponsors of the federal constitutional change are proposing a new state that initially comprise 12 self-governing states.

Such a proposal would rest on slicing parts of each of the two big islands into smaller components. In such proposals, the islands of Luzon and of Mindanao will each have a number of separate states.

The 12 state proposal relies on the use of administrative regions as the staging point for dividing up the country into their relevant subdivisions.

Such a procedure would not provide a sound basis for creating the new states. These administrative regions were never intended as founding nucleus for the birth of autonomous states.

Instead, they were meant to help strengthen the economic planning process among similarly situated provinces and cities within a unitary state. These administrative regions, or their Regional Development Councils, have been set up as specific groupings of provinces and cities to strengthen their claim on national government economic resources .

If we have the choice to start the state creation process, it is more sensible to use geographic as factors of more economic importance in determining regions for state formation.

Recent instances demonstrate the instability of regional groupings as basis for the establishment of new states of federation.

In the island of Luzon, rearrangements of regional groupings due to political exigencies or new priorities had immediate consequences on the regrouping of provinces.

When the Cordillera Autonomous Region was created, the consequences for the grouping of Regions 1 (Ilocos Region) and Region 2 (Cagayan) were drastic changes in administrative groupings. Even Central Luzon (Region 3) was affected, with the regrouping of Pangasinan into the Region 1.

Another situation was the realignment of Region 4 (southern Luzon). When the outlying islands that were considered part of Region 4 complained they were getting marginalized in terms of support and attention from the national government and among the component parts of the region, Region 4 was split into Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) and Mimaropa (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan).

In the Visayas, the island of Negros was recently integrated into one island region, taken out from two separate regions. Negros Occidental was part of Region 6 (Western Visayas) and Negros Oriental, of Region 7 (Eastern Visayas).

Mindanao itself has had myriad rearrangements in view of the creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which affected much of Region 9. Also, Region 10 (which comprised the original northeastern Mindanao centered in the Cagayan de Oro region) was divided so that the Caraga Region, centered in Butuan City, comprising the southern and northern provinces of both Surigao and Agusan). Davao Region itself has undergone changes in composition, in part because of the changes in the provincial composition of the area.

Many of the regional rearrangements are artificial creatures involving divisions and groupings of provinces and cities, mainly for administrative reasons: To plan, to cooperate among themselves, and to strengthen their position with respect toward securing resources from the national government.

Cost of running government. A four state federal union would be cheaper to run and would achieve as much decentralization of political power compared to the 12-state federation.

The replication of local governments is fewer with only four member states. With fewer states, there are likely to be fewer agencies and institutions to set up and operate. Hence, this means fewer agencies and institutions to establish and to repeat in other states of the federation.

Moreover, a four state federation has greater potential to produce economic synergy in terms of its economic operations. Take the case of investments in infrastructure like roads, ports, and telecommunications, and all forms of land improvements.

With economic size, there is greater potential to achieve coordinated planning, consolidation of investments, and in effect, lower costs of undertaking these activities.

In terms of achieving improved autonomy, a four state federal union can achieve this through a two-tiered activity.

The first tier consists of independence and autonomy gained from operations its relationship with the federal authority.

The second tier of autonomy is achieved at the sub-state level of government. A state that experiences relative freedom of action from the national government would likely permit the same autonomous freedom to local governments under its own control.

Political dynasties and competition within big self-governing states. Political dynasties are more likely to thrive in small sized self-governing states than in the big state.

A big state would be more conducive toward attracting competition for leadership among political groups in the country.

Within a large autonomous state, there are likely to be more political groups that would vie for political control and supremacy. Such a situation invites greater competition among such groups including political dynasties.

When there is competition, the chance of good governance is good. Thus, it is preferable to have a federal union with few member states but which have relatively good economic size.