Philippine Federalism is currently a debate whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing. Meanwhile, let us weigh in the current failures of a unitary government and why federalism would be necessary.

The Philippines is currently structured to a unitary form of government. The central government is the main authority in policy making and the center of power in the archipelago. Other countries similarly structured in this form like Japan, United Kingdom or China have homogeneous culture and ethnicity. This allows uniform solutions to issues in the national and the local level. But the Philippines has quite a different scenario. It is composed of diverse cultures and have different sets of necessities and circumstances. The unitary form of government has its advantages but there is an underlying question. “Was the government able to provide substantial growth and reduced the effects of poverty in most of the regions?

While others argue that shifting to federalism is a bad thing, let us use facts through data visualization to present the flaws of a strongly centered Philippine government structure.

Hover map to view details per region.

Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP)

Source: Philippine Statistics Authority, 2016 Gross Regional Domestic Product

Poverty Index

Source: Philippine Statistics Authority, 2015 Poverty Statistics for Basic Sectors – Summary Tables


High Economic Disparity Between The Capital And The Outskirt Regions

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one of the main indicator of a developed state or region. If you look closely, almost half of the total national GDP is contributed alone by the NCR and the surrounding regions. The rest of the regions only contributes to only about 1-5% of the total national GDP.

The high GDP disparity between the National Capital Region and the other regions imply that investments and developments are channeled concentratedly to the capital. It monopolyzed growth that other regions could have benefited.

Poverty and Rebellion

Based on the 2015 data, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) suffers the highest poverty rate at 53.70%, which is more than half of the region’s population. ARMM is the only region in the Philippines that has majority of its population are Muslims, contrary to the other regions where the vast majority of the population are Catholics. Differences in religious views have been pointed out as the cause of political instabilities in the region. Are they poor because of the never ending clashes between the rebel Muslims and the government which halters their economic growth? Do the people in this region rebel because of their differing religious views as what we heard? Or do they rebel because of their unresolved issues and unprovided specialized needs caused by incompatible policies implemented from the capital? The question is a matter of identifying which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Another observation is that, the more distant the region from the capital city, the more likely that the population is poor. Meanwhile, poverty rate at NCR is only at 3.91%. The difference between the poverty rates of the richest region (NCR) and the poorest region (ARMM) in the Philippines is at 50%!? This is outrageously high!

Shift to Federalism

The plan for a federal form of government has never materialized for a very long time. But after the presidential win by Rodrigo Duterte, one of his major agenda is to shift the government structure from unitary to federalism. He pushes for the shift and to have it fasttracked within the next 2-3 years. It may be too fast for a government transition but it seems that his goals are well-aligned to the current issues of economic disparity in growth and unresolved issues of political strains and poverty in the remote regions.

Subconscious Meaning Behind The National Flag

Trivia: Symbolic meaning was embedded in the design of the Philippine national flag. The stars represent the 3 major island groups namely Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The sun’s rays represent the 8 heroic provinces surrounding Metro Manila. These 8 heroic areas currently have the richest, most-industrialized and most-developed provinces in the Philippines. Is this another coincidence?

Have you noticed the incongruent symbolism of our national flag? The sun (NCR and neighbor provinces) is bigger than the stars (Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao). Technically, the sun is basically is a star itself so why not make it look like equal? As a graphic designer myself, it will not greatly bother the design. Even the national flag subconsciously tells us the inequality and discrepancy in the distribution of economic development among the regions.

Equality among regions need to be represented in the flag design as well. If federalism would take effect, would you agree that the stars should be represented with the same size as the sun to represent equality among regions?

Here’s a link to the LaSallian’s take on Unitary and Federal form of Government.

Summary: An Equal Opportunity For All Regions

One can relate the unitary government scenario in the Philippines to a fictional state in the movie ‘The Hunger Games’. It has a strong centralized government called ‘The Capitol’ having the power over the other 12 poorer districts. The 12 districts, where each has specialized production, deliver all their produce to the Capitol. While the central metropolitan city enjoys the glamorous and luxurious living, the rest of the population from the remote districts suffer from hunger. This may be a fictional movie but we could learn from its significant relevance about the relationship between centralized power, poverty and rebellion.

The central government may turn a blind eye to the economic disparity issues fearing of losing their power and economic strength. Federalism may not be able to solve all the current problems the country is facing but it is the key to decentralize the power and provide opportunity of growth and resolution to the major issues in the local regions in the Philippines.