IN a forum on federalism sponsored by the Provincial Information Office (PIO), guest speaker Secretary Peter Tiu Lavinia brought up the interesting fact that our former colonizers, Spain and the U.S., have federal forms of government.

The U.S. has always been federal. But Spain, at the time of its conquest of the Philippines, had just become Espana through the marriage of Queen Isabella of Castille to King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Spain shifted to federalism after rejecting the rule of its hereditary oligarchy or royalty/nobility. Federalism, as in many other European countries, was Spain’s way of institutionalizing the sharing between regions of political, economic and cultural resources. It turned out to be a path to inclusive progress.

Thus, Spain, could not have given us federalism. As a monarchy it had to exercise central control over its regions and colonies. What is intriguing is why the U.S. taught us democracy yet did not institutionalize it through federalism which, as a form of government, was more conducive to democratic sharing of economic and political power between culturally defined regions (Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Visayans, etc).

It is not important that we argue about the answer to this question. What is more important is that we recognize the effect on our political and economic life of the U.S. failure to dismantle the oligarchy. The unitary (or non-federal) presidential form of government the U.S. left us with allowed the few rich and educated landholding families to take over from former colonial masters the monopoly control of the country’s political, economic and cultural resources. This mainly but not solely negated any inclusive growth.

I see federalism as our way out of the de facto exclusive and centralized control by the oligarchy of the country’s resources. Federalism lends itself more to the development of provincial, rural and cultural peripheries of a country where the ruling oligarchy is bent on attending only to the dominant political, economic and cultural center, in our case MetroManila.

This is why we have to expect the oligarchy to oppose federalism as they stand to lose everything and gain nothing except perhaps the appreciation of fellow Filipinos. But this is also why the rest of us should support federalism as we have everything to gain and cannot lose anymore what we have already lost.

A colleague sized up the importance of federalism this way… even if Duterte succeeded with his “pagbabago” program but federalism fails to pass, we can be sure our economic, political and cultural clocks will all be set back to zero. We will revert back to being poor and powerless because money and power would be back in the hands of a privileged few.