Federalism in our past


IT might be interesting to glimpse at the Federal State of the Visayas and the slope of events that led to its creation.  Yes, there were Filipinos who had cut their teeth on federalism long before it occurred to our sitting President to do the same thing.

Shortly after Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo returned to the Philippines in 1898 (on board that dreadful American ship), he learned that the revolution was still in full swing not only in Luzon, but also in the Visayas – in Panay, Jaro, Iloilo, and Molo – where Filipino revolutionaries had surrounded and besieged Spanish forts and installations.  In Panay, a Provisional Revolutionary Government was created after which elections were convened to select a president (Roque Lopez), vice president, and heads of civilian and military departments. In Jaro, a Revolutionary Junta was formed, followed by elections. What cyclonic energy the Visayans must have had; they did all that while in the throes of two wars, the tail end of the anti-colonial struggle to expel Spain which segued into the anti-imperialist war against the USA.

Early on, the Visayans must have already envisioned a Federal Republic composed of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao; but, I find it strange that their eminent representative at the Malolos Congress, Francisco Villanueva, did not push federalism more forcefully. I think there were more urgent issues to address. Perhaps, the Visayas perceived that it was time for unified action, so instead of carrying on autonomously, by the end of 1898, they pledged allegiance to the Republic and rallied behind  President Emilio Aguinaldo. The Revolutionary Government of the Visayas was transformed into the Federal State of the Visayas.

Among the documents collected by historian Teodoro M. Kalaw when he was director of the National Library of the Philippines was a letter of Apolinario Mabini to the president of the Federal Council of Iloilo (Severino Arguelles?). Mabini acknowledged receipt of letters and documents about the establishment of the council and asserted that a federal council was “the most perfect among the republican forms, is best suited to the topography of our country“ so he expected it to become the predominant form (of governance, I suppose), “because the different interests of the islands that make up the archipelago can be consolidated under a central government… it is the strongest defense against the ambitions of the powerful….”

He conveyed the orders of President Aguinaldo (he wrote them) which were: In accordance with the Organic Law of June 18, each province should elect their representatives and send them to Malolos to take part in the national assembly. The Federal Council and the military chiefs of the provinces should take care of the defense and security of the Visayan Islands and “should not, at any cost, allow any foreign invasion, with the assurance that the National Government will not tolerate any attempt against any part of its territory.” That they obeyed quite strictly.

When General Marcus P. Miller, upon orders of Gen. Elwell Otis, came to take possession of Iloilo on a Christmas Eve, Gen. Martin Delgado told the American that it would be impossible for him to allow that  without first consulting President Emilio Aguinaldo. In fact, the Spanish Army had already left and Filipino revolutionaries hoisted our flag over the abandoned forts and public edifices.  An incensed Gen. Miller was about to bomb Iloilo when a delegation of foreign business people implored him not to land his forces until the Filipino revolutionaries had spoken to Aguinaldo. The Malolos Government held the Federation of the Visayas in high esteem because of that profound gesture of loyalty.

In Mabini’s letter, the Federal State with its civil and military officers, were instructed to “suppress any form of abuse and see to it that the vices and defects of the Old Spanish administration do not recur.” It was also enjoined to continue collecting taxes imposed during Spanish colonial times and to administer these, “in a manner satisfactory to contributors because these are the only resources available for the support of the State until an economic plan can be adopted.” The same instructions had to be transmitted to the “Cantonal Government of the Island of Negros” for immediate implementation.  Mabini signed the letter, dated January 24, 1899.

At the turn of the 20th century when federalism had a “cameo role” in our history, it was never presented as a panacea for all our socio-political afflictions.

([email protected])