Decentralization in Indonesia and the Philippines

A Comparative Case Study

Term Paper, 2011

20 Pages, Grade: A




In developing countries, devolution of government services—the handing over of all authority to local governments—or decentralization—the reassignment of some authority for selected functions—has become increasingly common in the past few decades. In Asia, particular the cases of Indonesia and the Philippines show great analogies. In these two cases, decentralization is usually closely associated with the move away from highly centralized systems of government, with reform movements marked by demands for greater popular participation in government and - perhaps most notably in Indonesia - a demand for a fairer local share of the bounty of natural resources. A decade earlier, forceful moves to decentralize government in the Philippines has taken all by surprise1.

This paper solely focuses on the issue of decentralization. As this administrative reform theme is arguably the most influencing in both countries, this special focus seems well fitting. To do so in the course of this paper, the historical developments in both countries will firstly be examined to highlight its common grounds. In a second step the Indonesian and Filipino problems and challenges in the path of decentralization will be collected and comparatively assessed. Thirdly, the reform efforts in both cases will be outlined to set the stage for the last conclusive step in addressing the similarities and differences in decentralization implementation in both countries.


The post-Cold War period has witnessed major shifts in the quest for more democratic and more decentralized governance structures in Southeast Asia 2. With its decentralization program launched in 1991, the Philippines spearheaded these changes. A decade later, in 2001, Indonesia embarked upon an even more ambitious decentralization and democratization process and has now become one of the biggest democracies in the world. It turns out that Indonesia and the Philippines have a lot in common considering their specific roads to decentralization. A brief outline of five historical topics will try to deliver a background, which will enable us to better understand the countries’ roots and self-perceptions. These topics cover the European colonization, the shifts from democracy to authoritarian regimes, the quest for national unity and economic growth and the more recent reform eras. But let’s start from the beginning:


Some of the shared similarities most arguably have their origin in the European colonization of all almost all Southeast Asia. This colonial rule had a profound effect on the Philippines, mostly ruled by the Spanish, and the Indonesians, ruled by the Dutch. Unlike the evolution of public administration in Western nations in line with their own societal conditions, the formations of administrative systems in these two countries have been based on the imitation of Western models3. Whether in the Indonesian case, the hierarchical bureaucratic model left by the Dutch, or in the Filipino case, the Spanish civil service methods. These imported colonial institutions according to European standards like a state bureaucracy, courts of law and print media and to a smaller extent, modern education, then proved to be the seed of fledgling independence movements in the Indonesian and Filipino territories. In both countries, these notions grew, which inevitably led to clashes with the colonial authorities when they demanded self-determination. After suffering under the Japanese occupation during World War II, both countries finally declared independence. In Indonesia Sukarno - the influential nationalist leader and then appointed president of Indonesia - declared independence in August 19454. Accordingly, the Philippines attained its independence in July 19465.


Since its independence from colonial rule, Indonesia has seen a constant dialogue between forces pushing for, and mostly achieving, a centralized State and those seeking greater local autonomy. Set up as a unitary State under the 1945 Constitution, which gave the central Government strong executive powers, Indonesia between 1945 and 1965 undertook a number of experiments to give greater autonomy to its provinces. These included an attempt in 1948 to set up three levels of autonomous regions, consisting of the province, the district, and the village; the plan was never implemented. At different times in the 1950s, fairly extensive powers were delegated to lower levels of government, but regional rebellions and the near disintegration of the country had led by 1959 to a greater concentration of authority than before6. President Sukarno gradually moved from democracy towards authoritarianism. This tendency was accelerated with the advent of the New Order period in 1965, which saw the establishment of a strong centralized Government and the establishment of firm political and administrative control. During the New Order period, little to none real administrative and financial decentralization occurred7. The strong central government apparatus consisted of central sectorial ministries, centrally appointed governors in the country’s 27 provinces and centrally approved district heads. Development under the “New Order administration” was given first priority and used as a political tool to stabilize and then to develop the country. However, it was widely accused of corruption and suppression of political opposition8. The considerable inflow of funds devoted to development from the late 1970s onwards helped establish a pervasive patronage system, using project funds as additional wages to the country’s large civil service.

The same “democracy-turns-authoritarian” pattern can be found in the Philippines9. Initially the Philippines saw some progress in decentralization between 1946 and 1972. Moves in this direction included the granting of fiscal and regulatory powers in to municipal and city governments, the granting of legal status to the barangays (local government units) under an elective council, and the increase of the financial resources and powers of the local governments. A Presidential Decree in 1972 also set up a system of regional offices for national government agencies. But all this ended with the advent of the authoritarian dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 and the introduction of a highly centralized Government. His administration was marred by massive authoritarian corruption, despotism, nepotism, political repression, and human rights violations. Marcos had a vision of a Bagong Lipunan (“New Society”) similar to Indonesian president Suharto's "New Order administration”. Marcos confiscated businesses owned by the oligarchy. More often than not, they were taken over by Marcos's family members and close personal friends, who used them for personal corruptive benefits. His policy was intended to redistribute monopolies traditionally owned by Chinese oligarchs to Filipino businessmen though in practice, it led to graft and corruption via bribery and racketeering10. Some roots of the Indonesian as well as the Filipino culture of corruption can be found in these decades, as a strong central government with a weakened judiciary system and non-existent accountability methods proved to be a nutrient medium for flourishing corruption and patronage.


1 This introduction is somewhat similar to the short introductory given in: MacAndrews, C, Brillantes, A., Siamwalla, A.: Devolution and Decentralization, In: Siamwalla, A. (2002): The Evolving Roles of the State, Private, and Local Actors in Rural Asia, Study of Rural Asia: Volume 5, pp. 83-122.

2 Lingle, C. (1998): The Rise and Decline of the Asian Century. Hong Kong: Asia 2000 Limited.

3 Lingle, C. (1998): The Rise and Decline of the Asian Century. Hong Kong: Asia 2000 Limited.

4 All given information about colonialism in Indonesia see: “A Country Study: Indonesia”, In: The Library of Congress, Federal Research Papers 2004, Washington, DC: Government Print.

5 All given information about colonialism in the Philippines see: "East & Southeast Asia: Philippines", In: The World Factbook 2010, Washington, DC: Government Print.

6 Presidential Decree No. 1 of 1959 markedly reduced the powers and autonomy of the provinces that had been provided in earlier legislation. It remained in effect until superseded in 1974 by Law No. 5 on Basic Principles of Regional Administration.

7 Blondel, J.: Parties and Party Systems in East and Southeast Asia”, In: Marsh, I. (2006): Democratisation, Governance and Regionalism in East and Southeast Asia, London: Routledge, pp. 49-87.

8 Alagappa, M. (2005): Civil Society and Political Change in Asia, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

9 Compare: MacAndrews, C, Brillantes, A., Siamwalla, A.: Devolution and Decentralization, In: Siamwalla, A. (2002): The Evolving Roles of the State, Private, and Local Actors in Rural Asia, Study of Rural Asia: Volume 5, pp. 83-122.

10 MacAndrews, C, Brillantes, A., Siamwalla, A.: Devolution and Decentralization, In: Siamwalla, A. (2002): The Evolving Roles of the State, Private, and Local Actors in Rural Asia, Study of Rural Asia: Volume 5, pp. 83-122.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Decentralization in Indonesia and the Philippines
A Comparative Case Study
Thammasat University, Bangkok  (Faculty of Political Science)
Comparative Public Administration
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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550 KB
Arbeit mit ausführlichen Fußnoten, ohne Quellenverzeichnis (Anm. der Red.)
Decentralization, Decentralisation, Philippines, Indonesia, Administrative Reforms
Quote paper
Andreas Bruckner (Author), 2011, Decentralization in Indonesia and the Philippines, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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