Philippines Project

Historical Context:

The Philippines is an archipelagic nation in Southeast Asia that is made up of more than 7,000 islands, with a total population of 108 million. The country was under Spanish colonial rule for 333 years before proclaiming independence in 1898 following the United States’ defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War. This independence was not recognized by Spain or the United States, resulting in Philippines being ceded to the United States in the 1898 Treaty of Paris and creating the First Philippine Republic, making Philippines a colony of the United States for 48 years. Following the end of the Second World War in 1946 the country was granted full independence through the ratification of the Treaty of Manila.

The numerous ethnic and religious groups across the Philippines have resulted in significant societal cleavages that have led to ongoing conflicts. The Muslim minority, the Bangsamoro people, who live predominantly in the more remote southern Mindanao and Sulu Archipelagos have expressed marginalisation and alienation by the dominant Christian population in the country. This has resulted in a decades-long conflict with separatist groups clashing with state actors in the quest for self-determination and autonomy. This led to a 1990 law signed by President Corazon Aquino which gave the Muslim regions a degree of self-rule, creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. This has evolved over the decades as the conflict persisted, and in February 2019 the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was officially formed. With a population of approximately four million, the region has developed its own distinct culture and identity throughout the country’s history and struggles as one of the most impoverished regions of the Philippines, scoring poorly on social development indicators.

Governance Structure

The Philippines has a democratic, unitary government with a presidential system where the president of the country is the head of state as well as the head of government. The constitution of the Philippines establishes an equal separation of powers between the three different branches of government. The executive branch is led by the president who is elected by popular vote every six years and consists of the vice president and cabinet and the executive branch is responsible for carrying out and enforcing laws in the country. The judicial branch is composed of the Supreme Court and lower courts and is responsible for interpreting, applying, and evaluating laws. Finally, the legislative branch is authorized to make, alter, and repeal laws and is made up of the Congress of the Philippines, which contains the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In the BARMM, there is an interim parliamentary structure that is currently headed by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority as the region develops its governmental structures. This transitional parliament is made up of 80 members that have been appointed by the national government, and with the transition period set to end in 2022 the region looks toward elections. As set out in the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the region will use a mixed electoral system of Proportional Representation (PR) and Majoritarian. This system results in 50% of parliament members being elected through PR, 40% elected through majoritarian voting, and the final 10% of the seats are reserved for sectoral representatives, with two seats for each non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities and seats for traditional leaders along with representatives of youth, women, and the Ulama. The party system in the BARMM is a hybrid of traditional local and clientelistic parties, and parties in the region are affected by clan structure.

Gender Equality in the Philippines

The Philippines is considered one of the top countries in East Asia and the Pacific for closing the gender gap, second only to New Zealand, as the World Economic Forum reports that the country currently ranks 17th out of 153 countries with the smallest gap between men and women. These results measure across four dimensions, including economic participation, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment. While this is a significant achievement, the Philippines ranking has decreased from prior years, dropping the country out of the top 10 in 2020. The decline in ranking is attributed to the issue of political empowerment, as female representation in the cabinet and Congress has declined. Women in the Philippines also trail behind in economic participation and opportunity, with gains to be made in labour force participation and in closing income and wage gaps.

Despite the successes of policies and laws in Philippines for the protection and promotion of women’s rights, over ten million Filipino women live in poverty. Unequal power dynamics between women and men have prevented the full participation of women socially and politically in the country and contribute to the issue of gender-based violence in Philippines. The underlying issues of economic, political, and social gender prejudices that exist across the country are particularly prevalent in the BARMM.

Current Work

Program Title: Supporting Decentralised and Inclusive Governance in the Philippines

Program length: 12 months

Funder: Global Affairs Canada

Partners: Governments of Philippines, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), as well as other Government departments and entities.


The primary purpose of the program is to support the increased capacity of Philippine government entities (BARMM, National and local government units) to develop and implement intergovernmental practices and policies to better facilitate a cooperative, coordinated, collaborative, and inclusive governance system. Through the focus of the program, the Forum supports a strengthened decentralised governance system that advances the rights and participation of marginalised groups, including women, in decision-making processes, therefore supporting a governance system that is better able to determine policy options that best represent the diverse needs of Philippine society. 


The program provides technical support and knowledge sharing to officials in the Government of Philippines, the intergovernmental relations bodies of the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, as well as civil society. The program works with these groups to develop key practices in decentralised governance and advance inclusive practices that increase and enhance the participation of women in these processes, establishing cooperative coordinate practices that address technical components as well as the interpersonal management dynamics that are critical to the successful implementation of autonomous governance.

The two key areas that this program provides support to the Philippine Governments on are intergovernmental relations (IGR) and fiscal decentralisation. As a partner, the Forum of Federations hosts workshops to provide technical information on a variety of practices and experiences of multilevel governance systems, providing insight and assistance on decentralised governance for key stakeholders to aid in the successful implementation of an inclusive governance system in the country. Some of the topics addressed through this program include support in areas such as:

  • Local and Regional Government Coordination
  • Fiscal Autonomy and Co-ordination
  • Natural Resource Management – Water Resources and Demarcation
  • BARMM IGR Capability Building
  • Police Powers and Coordination in Decentralised Systems

Past Work

In recent years, the Forum has published a number of knowledge products which discuss the Philippines. These have been published alongside Forum participation in events and workshops in the Philippines, with focus on topics such as the accommodation of minority rights, rule of law, judicial reform, and intergovernmental relations.

The Forum of Federations has also completed programs in Philippines working with government and civil society actors to provide training and education about the governance options for the country. These trainings focused on discussing multi-level and federal governance options as potential solutions to the conflict within Philippines. 

In October 2016, the Forum of Federations’ Director of Programs in Asia and Australia, Phillip Gonzalez, spoke at the Global Autonomy and Governance Forum in Manila. Mr. Gonzalez spoke about the experience of intergovernmental coordination in the creation and implementation of Australia’s ‘Closing the Gap’ policy to address the disadvantages experienced by Indigenous Australians.

In May 2018 the Forum of Federations worked in collaboration with the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Centre for Federalism and Constitutional Reform, and the Asia Foundation to host a two-day intervention on intergovernmental relations in Manila. The event focused on the interactions between different levels of government and was held to support the work of the Consultative Committee in Philippines, a group appointed to review Philippines’ 1987 Constitution.

In October 2019 a delegation from Philippines took part in a study tour with the Forum of Federations in Berlin and Brussels to discuss German federalism and the dynamics between civil society groups and elected officials.


About the Philippines. (n.d.). UNDP in Philippines. Retrieved June 25, 2021, from

Access Bangsamoro | Navigating the Transition, Weaving Solutions. (n.d.). Access Bangsamoro. Retrieved June 28, 2021, from

Almoite, C.B.(2021, May 4). The Future of Women’s Representation in the Bangsamoro Parliament. Access Bangsamoro.

Cullinane, M., Hernandez, Carolina, G. and Borlaza, G.C. (2021, June 25). Philippines. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Kamlian, J. A. (2011). Ethnic and Religious Conflict in Southern Philippines: A Discourse on Self-Determination, Political Autonomy, and Conflict Resolution. 1, 13.

Philippines Archives. (n.d.). Forum of Federations. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from

World Economic Forum. (2021). Global gender gap report 2021.