Federalism, capitalism, liberalism, conservatism – chances are that if you pick up a newspaper or tune in to the latest news on television or radio that these are the words that you will come across. Thrown around by political experts and journalists alike, these words have become as common as irritated LRT (Light Rail Transit) passengers during rush hour in Manila.

Most people will already have a rough idea about what these terms mean, but how sure are you really? We asked around in our own office, and here are the results:

So as it turns out, some of our staff members seem to have a decent understanding of how political systems work. But if you find yourself unsure or totally lost on what these words mean and how they relate to your day to day life, then by all means, read on.

Let’s start with something simple.


What does it mean? We probably hear it the most and often not in the most positive way. The word seems to evoke images of corruption and bribery, cigar-chomping executives meeting in darkened rooms, and long-delayed infrastructure projects collecting dust inside old rusty filing cabinets.

At its most basic meaning though, politics is just a word that refers to the process of making decisions which apply to members of a particular group. It can be as innocent as deciding what flavor of pizza to get between a group of friends out on lunch. Of course, it could also refer to achieving and wielding a position of leadership over a community, especially so in a larger setting such as a state or a country.


A term that has gained quite the momentum ever since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last year. In fact, he made his proposal of federalism the main focus of his election campaign in 2016.

According to him, the problem with the current unitary form of government in the country is the unfair distribution of funds between the local government and the national government. In the current set-up, LGUs (Local Government Units; such as barrios, towns, and cities) remit all of their income to the national government and receive an IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) in exchange. The IRA, which is 40% of the taxes collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, is a meager amount compared to how much funds a shift to federalism will make available to region. This in turn would ensure that these regions can take the lead in developing their economy instead of depending on the national government based in Metro Manila.

Federalism as a modern concept originated in the United States in the 18th century. At the time, the revolutionary war had just ended and the newly independent states of their country acted like quarrelling siblings. Each one of these states had their distinctive history, geography, population, economy, and politics.

To this end, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington (three of the founding fathers) advocated the implementation of a new system of leadership, a federalist government. On September 17, 1787, the new constitution of the United States of America was approved which created a federal system in which power was shared between and among the individual states and the national government.

Ever since the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, the Philippines have always been ruled from the national capital, Manila. The US occupation of the country saw the proclamation of a number of policies that promoted local autonomy (that is, the exercise of basic ruling powers by LGUs), but in truth, the Americans maintained a highly centralized government structure. Because of security considerations, even local affairs were under the direct control of the Americans.

The truth of the matter though is that autonomy among local units and institutions was the norm during the pre-Hispanic period in the country. Local villages called barangay (from the Malay word balangay, meaning sailboat) were, for all intents and purposes, autonomous regions headed by a monarchical chieftain called the Datu (also Lakan, Apo, Sultan, and Rajah, depending on the region). It was these barangays and tribal communities that were adapted by Spanish colonizers to become administrative units, each headed by a cabeza de barangay (barangay head).

Indeed, the revolutionary Apolinario Mabini and the first President of the Country Emilio Aguinaldo suggested the division of the Philippines into three federal states (Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. While this did not obviously come into fruition, the concept has a lot of merits.

Under a federalist government, power will be decentralized, shifting it from the seat of national government in Manila into what would become state capitals. LGUs will become responsible for the delivery of basic services that were formerly undertaken by the national government. These basic services include:

  • Health (clinical and hospital services)
  • Social Services (social welfare)
  • Environment (community-based forestry projects)
  • Agriculture (agricultural extension and on-site research)
  • Public Works (funded by local funds)
  • Education (school building programs)
  • Tourism (facilities, promotion and development)
  • Telecommunications Services
  • Housing Projects
  • Investment Support

In addition, the enforcement of the following regulatory powers is transferred from the national governments to the LGUs:

  • Reclassification of agricultural lands
  • Enforcement of environmental laws
  • Inspection of food products and quarantine
  • Enforcement of the National Building Code
  • Operation of Tricycles
  • Processing and approving of subdivision plans

Most importantly, a federal system will broaden the LGUs taxing power increasing the financial resources available to them. The hope is that with local autonomy, LGUs would be less reliant on the national government and will instead be dependent on internally generated resources, encouraging them to be more aggressive and entrepreneurial.

With the proposed federal system, the Philippines’ current administrative regions would be abolished and regrouped under the following designations:

Proposed State Name Current Existing Region(s) Proposed Capital
National Capital National Capital Region (NCR) City of Manila
Northern Luzon Region 1, Region 2 Tuguegarao City
Cordillera Mountains Cordillera Autonomous Region Baguio City
Central Luzon Region 3 Angeles City
Southern Luzon Region 4, Region 5 Batangas City
Western Visayas Region 6, MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, & Palawan) City of Puerto Prinsesa
Negros Island Region Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental City of Bacolod
Central Visayas Region 7 Cebu City
Eastern Visayas Region 8 Tacloban City
Northern Mindanao Region 10, Region 13 Cagayan de Oro
Western Mindanao Region 9 Zamboanga City
Southern Mindanao Region 11, Region 12 Davao City
Muslim Mindanao ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) Islamic City of Marawi

Ultimately, the challenge in a federalist type of government is finding and maintaining the balance between the federal and state government. Too much power on either side can and will be problematic. Over-centralization of powers to the national government (which is similar to what we have in the Philippines in the present) stifles the development of states and makes the implementation of policies cumbersome and ineffective. On the other hand, un-moderated decentralization (too much power allotted to the state government) will only serve to encourage nepotism and corruption and perpetuate political dynasties (another unresolved issue in the Philippines, to be sure).

Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism

Frequently heard chanted by activists on the streets and often in a very harsh manner (“ibagsak ang kapitalismo!”). It is almost impossible to talk about this topic without mentioning “socialism” in the same breath. The key difference between the two economic system is how they address the role of the government and the distribution of wealth and resources in a given region.

Capitalism is characterized by an open market-based economy composed of buyers (people) and sellers (businesses / companies). The goods and services in the market are intended to make a profit, and this profit is re-invested into the economy, creating a cycle.

Under this system, individuals get to choose what products to consume, and this choice leads to competition among sellers which in turn results in better products and services. And since the market demand dictates the products and services offered by sellers, there is an incentive for them to be efficient to minimize cost and avoid waste.

However, capitalist economies also tend to lead to a monopoly in power. That is, when business or a company becomes the only supplier of a particular commodity, there is a risk that they can abuse their position by charging higher prices. It also becomes problematic when wealth becomes too concentrated to a certain group of people. Since wealth can be passed down to future generations, eventually that wealth will continue to be passed down the same group of people leading to inequality and social division.

On the other hand, Socialism is differentiated by its more controlled market environment. A socialist economy advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. Economic activity and production are both planned by a central planning authority which bases ins decisions on human consumption needs and economic demands. Individuals are compensated based on the principle of individual contribution

Because of its nature, there is practically no risk of a monopolistic entity existing in the market. Moreover, there is less inequality of income because of the absence of private ownerships of the means of production. Since poverty is practically eliminated, everyone has equal access to health care and education.

However, Socialism is not without its own set of challenges. For it to be a stable system, socialism relies on the cooperative nature of people. As such, it does not incentivize competition and creative thinking which results in lack of innovation especially when compared to its counterpart. Because of the lack of incentives in general, businesses and individuals are unmotivated which lead to very little economic growth.

A more maligned, especially in the west, school of thought that is closely related to socialism is communism. Both communism and socialism are umbrella terms that refer to schools of thought that oppose capitalism. The two ideologies adhere to the principle that the resources of the economy should be collectively owned by the public and controlled by a single central organization. Where they differ is in the management and and control of the economy.

In socialism, the citizens themselves decide through cooperatives or popularly elected councils on how the economy should work. In communist regimes however, the control of the economy rests on a few in a single authoritarian party. The distribution of wealth produced by the economy is also treated differently between the two. Socialism holds the view that the goods and services produced should be given out based on the productivity f the individual while communism believes that the wealth should be shared by the masses based on the need of the individual.

Another difference is the manner in which the two ideologies treat properties. In socialism, there are generally two classifications of properties. The first type is personal properties, which are goods that an individual can own and enjoy. The second is industrial property, which is dedicated to the production of goods and services for the whole community. For example, citizens in a socialist country can own and keep a smart phone without any issue. However, the private ownership of a factory that produces smart phones is plainly forbidden. In communism, all goods and services are treated as public property to be used and enjoyed by the entire populace. As such, citizens in a communist country cannot and are banned from having any personal possessions.

Nonetheless, the biggest difference between the two is how they perceive capitalism. While socialism views capitalism as a threat to the societal equality that it adheres to, it recognizes that capitalistic methods can be a useful aid in the transition to socialism as long as it is properly regulated. The socialist belief that both socialism and capitalism can exist in harmony also applies to capitalists. In fact, there are socialist institutions in our generally capitalistic country. The Philippine healthcare and social security system are just among the socialist organizations we have in the country.

On the other end, communism treats capitalism with a lot of hostility (and vice versa). From their point of view, communists are of the belief that capitalists must be rid from the world in order to achieve a truly classless society.

Liberalism & Conservatism

These two political ideologies, at their most basic, are statements on the role of government, economics, human rights, social issues, liberty, and equality.

Liberalism is the ideology that promotes liberty (free will; that is, the power of choosing, thinking, and acting for oneself) and equality (stipulation that all people should be treated similarly regardless of race, gender, religious belief, nationality, etc.). It supports ideas and systems such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments (separation of church and state), gender equality, and international cooperation.

Meanwhile, conservatism is a philosophy that favors traditional values and the concepts of authority and order. Conservatives seek to preserve institutions, emphasizing stability and continuity. It has its roots in the French revolution in the 18th century, when there was a real fear that the revolt would turn into terror and tyranny. British statesman Edmund Burke stated that the revolutionaries were destroying time-tested institutions without any other viable system to replace it with. Burke put forth that is is the responsibility of citizens to inherit their country’s culture which not only includes mere properties but also language, manners, and morals.

In the United States’ political landscape, both liberalism and conservatism are closely associated with each of the two major contemporary political parties in their country: liberalism with the democratic party (represented by their donkey mascot) and conservatism with the Republican Party (symbolized by their elephant mascot).

The Democratic Party advocates social and economic equality along with the establishment of a welfare state (a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the social and economic well being of its citizens).

The Republican Party (commonly called the GOP, short for Grand Old Party) conservative ideals contrasts directly with the Democrats’ progressive platform. Their belief is that there should be greater focus on free market capitalism, deregulation (removing or reducing rules and regulations), and a strong national defense.

Since the system of government in the Philippines was patterned so closely after that of the United States’, it is only natural that we have the same philosophical divide. However, instead of a republican and a democratic party, what we have is the government and the church. Generally, the country exhibits the markings of a liberal democracy but in a lot of ways, the Philippines still remains quite conservative when it comes to issues like our culture and religious belief (particularly so).

Centuries of Spanish influence has made our country into the foremost center of Christianity in the Asian Continent, and as such, the catholic church represents conservatism in the country’s political spectrum (while the government mostly represents liberal views. Although the separation of church and state is declared in our constitution, there are still multiple instances when the church meddles with the affairs of the government. Conversely though, our liberal democratic government remains quite accepting and/or tolerant of the opinions of the conservative sector.

Quick definitions

These are just some among the numerous types of government out there. To round up the information intake, here’s a bunch more terms that are used extensively by the local media, particularly so in the Philippines:

  1. Banana republic – A small country that is economically dependent on a single agricultural export commodity (traditionally a banana exporting, maritime state of the West Indies or Central America), with a corrupt government. Term derived by author O. Henry for a short story involving the fictional Republic of Anchuria.
  2. Bicameral – a system of government in which the legislature, the group in charge of writing laws, is divided into two chambers: the upper house and the lower house.
  3. Habeas Corpus – A latin phrase that translates directly to: “You must have the body”. It is the right that safeguards a person against illegal imprisonment. Particularly, it refers to the fact that a person has to be brought before a court to establish whether he is being detained legally or otherwise.
  4. Impeachment – an accusation of misconduct brought against a person holding public office. Conviction results in the person being removed from their position. In the
  5. Ombudsman – a public official who is appointed to investigate complaints by individuals about the activities of government agencies.
  6. Pork Barrel – Traditionally, it referred to the use of government fund for projects designed to please voters or legislature in order to win votes.
  7. Recession – a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in two successive quarters.
  8. Right-leaning / Left-leaning – Right leaning, or sometimes called right wing, refers to the conservative section of a political party or system. Left leaning, or left wing for some, describes the liberal, socialist, or radical section of a political party or system.
  9. LGBTQ / LGBTTTQQIAA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer / Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Transsexual Two-Spirited Queer Questionaing Intersex Asexual Ally) – of the two, LGBTQ is the more commonly used term in the community. As the name implies, it refers to the sector of society comprised of citizens who identify themselves as such. The group also includes pansexuals, agenders, gender queers, bigenders, pangenders, and gender variants.
  10. SJW (Social Justice Warrior) – A derogatory term for individuals who repeatedly and intensely engages in arguments regarding social justice (racial equality, gender fairness, etc.) on the Internet, often in a not well thought out way, for the purpose of raising their own reputation.
  11. Upper House / Lower House – More commonly known as the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Philippines’ lower house (House of Representatives, also called Congress) is modeled after the US House of Representatives. The upper house (Senate) has the responsibility of concurring any bills from the lower house before it can be passed for the president’s signature.
  12. Trapo (Traditional Politician) – A seemingly inoffensive word that has gained quite a nasty reputation. It refers to government officials who are prone to making false promises, utilizing money to buy votes, and using underhanded means to keep themselves in power.
  13. Barangay – Aside from being the Malay word for boat, it refers to the communal settlements established by migrants who came from the Indonesian archipelago.
  14. Crony – Originally means companions, it is now used almost exclusively to describe individuals who were able to exploit their connections with former President Ferdinand Marcos in order to gain wealth and economic positions.
  15. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – GDP is the total monetary measure of the market value of all goods and services produced in a certain period (usually annually) domestically.
  16. GNP (Gross National Product) – GNP also refers to and measures the levels of production of any person or corporation of a country – that is, regardless of where the actual production takes place.
  17. IMF (International Monetary Fund) – The IMF is an organization whose purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system (the system of exchange rates and international payments that enable countries and their citizens to transact with each other).
  18. Mestizo – The offspring of Filipino and non-Filipino marriages; includes those of Spanish-Filipino parentage (Spanish mestizos) and Chinese-Filipino parentage (Chinese mestizos).
  19. Moro – Spanish word for Moor; name given by Spanish to Muslim Filipinos and still used
  20. Activism – the undertaking of actions using vigorous campaigning in order to bring about political and/or social change.

Hopefully with that, a better understanding of these terms have been reached. To leave on a lighter note, here is an excerpt of a political satire which first appeared in an American academic journal in 1944:

  • Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
  • Communism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then gives you some milk.
  • Fascism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then sells you some milk.
  • Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
  • Nazism: You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.

What do you think? Do you agree with President Duterte that the Philippines should shift to a different type of government? And if so, do you think that federalism is the way to go? Do you think the benefits outweigh any possible risk? Leave your comments below and join in on the discussion.

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