Review powers of gov't branches: ex-CJ Puno

By Jonathan Mayuga, Business Mirror

Posted at Feb 22 2011 10:06 AM | Updated as of Feb 22 2011 08:48 PM

A shift to the parliamentary form of government should lead to the restoration of the voice of the sovereign people, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said on Monday.

Speaking before the Kapihan ng Bayan sa UP organized by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA) at the Bahay ng Alumni at the UP Diliman Campus in Quezon City, Puno said: “If we cannot restore or revive the voice of the sovereign people, then we can agree that we have democracy on paper, but not in reality.”                 

The ultimate question, he said, is the timing of making such change happen.

“We cannot persist on this stagnant status quo.”

Puno cited the recent development in the Middle East, where people are now demanding for democracy.

“They demand for the voice of the sovereign people to be the sovereign voice. They are fed up with elitism—of the royal or the blue blood,” he said.

Puno said the situation in the Philippines is basically the same.

“We fought against a different kind of elitism. It may not be elitism coming from the royal blood but elitism nonetheless. The rule of the few over the majority of the people. People power changed that kind of elitism,” he said.

Somehow, he said the Filipino people were able to put in reality that dream for democracy but the expectations, he said, are too much.  Expectations have to be fulfilled, he said.

“If the present Charter does not fulfill that kind of expectations, I think the danger to the Philippines will be greater. It will be a second time, a third time around and I do not know what will be the consequences of that kind of happening,” he said.

While saying that Charter change is a very difficult endeavor, the idea is really not new in the Philippines, as calls to junk the presidential form were raised before, citing for instance the concept of federalism introduced by people from Mindanao as early as the 1970s.

Puno said the concept of federalism was, in fact, first brought up by no less than the national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, in his essay, “The Philippines: A Century Hence.”

“After so many centuries, I think we have so much experience to say that a unitary government does not work in any country that is composed of so many islands, so many dialects and so many cultures.  It does not work in other countries of similar circumstances and it does not work in the Philippines,” he said.

In a unitary form of government, Puno said, Filipinos have tried many different approaches in serving the people, especially the indigenous people. “We have tried such approaches as integration, assimilation, decentralization, formation of autonomous regions, but I think that these have not worked,” he said.

Puno said the continuing conflict in Mindanao is a manifestation that the approaches under the present form of government has failed.

He warned that failing to find the correct solution this time around can be the tipping point of the future of the Philippines.

“This is one country suffering from multiple tipping points. To my mind, the consensus is to junk the unitary form of government and shift to federalism,” he said.

The Philippines, Puno said, should adopt “the most appropriate model of federalism and customize that model according to the shapes of the country’s peculiar needs.”

However, he said ticklish issues should first be threshed out, such as the composition of the federal state, the division of powers, the composition of the legislature and the delineation of power.

He said there’s always a political factor when Congress discusses the composition of the unicameral congress. For instance, he said members of the Senate will not allow the chamber to be abolished when the shift to a parliamentary form of government takes shape.

He also said in rewriting the Constitution and making the shift to a parliamentary form of government, there is a need to review the powers of the Supreme Court.

“In the past, the problem was the ‘politicalization’ of the judiciary. That has changed. Now the problem is the ‘judicialization’ of politics.”

Judicialization of politics, he said, crossed over from the United States to the Philippines, where the judiciary is allowed to interpret the Constitution.

The radical transformation started in the Philippines, he said, when the 1987 Constitution was written. The Constitutional Commission formed in 1986, after the fall of former President Ferdinand Marcos, rebalanced the power of the government, which was tilted in favor of the judiciary.

“The judicial power was given a new definition. The Supreme Court was given an extended power. It can set aside and annul acts of Presidents, laws of Congress and instrumentalities of agencies of the government on the ground of grave abuse of discretion,” he said.

Under a democratic setting, such is only good when exercised wisely.

“But if it is not? We all understand, we all concede that the judiciary is composed of unelected people. They do not have the same responsibility as the elected representatives of the people. Their accountability belongs to a different sphere. And there maybe instances when a too strong a judiciary can be ‘anti-majoritarian.’”    

“Majoritarianism is a pilar of democracy. The danger of the expanded definition of powers is that we are trusting the Supreme Court to enter into the political jungle. And you enter the political jungle, you do not know the kind of animals you will meet there.  Instead of strengthening the Supreme Court, it can weaken the Supreme Court,” he explained.

“At the time when the new administration was still rebuilding the executive and the legislature after the People Power Revolt, there was justification of the redefinition of judicial power. But after many years, do we still adapt? Or is it time to review the lines of power between and among the branches of government?” he asked.

 “I would like to stress that as I read history, I think the need for change is conceded. So many Congresses have examined the old issues. And these past Congresses are almost one in the view about the changes,” he said.