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Random Thoughts: Federalism and subsidiarity, Attention: Catholic Filipinos

“Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the (Catholic) Church’s social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical. It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations local territorial realities; in short, for the aggregate of economic, social cultural, sports-oriented, recreation, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth. This is the realm of civil society, understood as the sum of the relationship between individual and intermediate social groupings which are the first relationships to arise and which come about thanks to the creative subjectivity of the citizen.  This network of relationship strengthens the social fabric and constitutes the basis of a true community of persons, making possible the recognition of higher forms of social activity.” (Compendium of the social doctrine of the church, 2004).


In the Catholic Church’s Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, The Principle of Subsidiarity “Is indicated as a most important principle of “social philosophy!”. It states,’ just as it is a gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. (Underlining mine) for every social activity ought, of its very nature, to furnish help to the members of the body social and never destroy and absorb them.”

Furthermore, let it be known that the Principle of Subsidiary “is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization and welfare assistance and to unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms.”

Simply put, subsidiarity means that if a task can be done effectively and efficiency at the barangay level, then that task should be assigned to the barangay together with the power(s) and resource(s) needed to do that task well. If another task can be done effectively and efficiently at the municipal or city level, then that task should be assigned to the municipality or city together with the power(s) and resource(s) needed to do that task well. Same should be done up to the provincial, regional and national levels. Obviously, if the Principle of Subsidiarity is applied in a governmental system better governance will result.

Our current system of government is Unitary. It is characterized by a highly centralized government which is opposed to the Principle of Subsidiarity. On the other hand, the Federal System which the Duterte administration is now pushing follows the Principle of Subsidiarity. It is characterized by a highly decentralized government. Clearly, a Unitary System is an immoral system while a Federal System a moral system.

In his 2016 book titled “The Light of Christ in Philippine Politics, Jose Maria de Nazareno wrote: “Opinions have been expressed that the (1986) draft Constitution (of President Corazon C. Aquino) is a Catholic Constitution, meaning it was in favor of the Catholic Church.” Well, based on the “Pastoral Exhortation on the Constitution Commission and its Work” by Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal of May 6-8, 2016 and the strong influence of then Cardinal Sin on the Cory Administration, “the CBCP had really exercised influence over the drafting of the 1986 Constitution.”

Per Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, “it is apparent that the (Catholic) Church cannot fail to make her voice heard concerning the “new things” (res novae) typical of modern age, because it belongs to her to invite the people to do all they can to bring about an authentic civilization oriented ever more towards integral human development in solidarity.”

Now enters President Rodrigo R. Duterte in the picture. President Duterte is moving to establish a moral and inclusive Federal System of government which is in accord with all the Catholic Church Social Doctrine of the Principles of Subsidiary, Common Good, Solidarity, Participation and Universal Distribution of Goods. CBCP should be very happy and supportive of this development to heal our sick society as long as this Constitutional Reform is done appropriately with people’s support and mandate. Presently CBCP is still relatively silent on this issue. In due time, let’s see what CBCP will do regarding this very important matter.

In my previous article titled “Addressing our sick society”, I wrote “We Filipinos must not allow our country’s sick society to continue this way which could ultimately lead to a “failed state” that will worsen the misery of our people. Can we hear from our government, media people, religious institutions, academe, business sectors, civil societies, non-government organisations, and people’s organizations, their suggestions as to how to heal our nagging sick society.”

I ended that article with a quotation from our national hero Apolinario Mabini known as the “Sublime Paralytic”: “Upang maitinding natin ang bantayog ng ating lipunan, kailangan radikal nating baguhin hindi lamang ang ating mga institution kundi maging ang ating pag-iisip at pamumuhay kailangan ang rebolusyon hindi lamang sa panlabas kundi lalo na sa panloob.”

In the Philippines, there is no absolute separation of the Church and the State. In many areas, there are overlapping responsibilities between these two institutions. This is the reality of our society. Constitutional Reform is one where the light of the Gospel is imperative. Of course, this must be done objectively with the end in view of the common good.

President Cory ousted a Filipino dictator and drafted our 1987 Unitary – Presidential Constitution that gave us Partial Democracy. President Digong wants to oust Filipino imperialists (oligarchs, extravagant elites greedy big business people, corrupt and/or narco politicians, and other enemies of the people) and shift to a more moral Federal – Presidential Constitution that will give us Full Democracy. As a saying goes: “What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.”



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