MANILA—Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno warned against rushing the shift to federalism, saying it could turn out to be a “lethal experiment” unless political dynasties were “neutralized” beforehand.
Puno, who has long been advocating for “non-centralization” under a federal system, said the new constitution should not be written in haste.
Congressional leaders have floated deadlines for the plebiscite for a new charter within the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, who is mandated to step down in 2022.
“Two things when you write a constitution—you shouldn’t write (it) when you are angry, you shouldn’t write (it) when you are in a hurry,” Puno told ANC’s Early Edition, alluding to the context in which the 1987 Constitution was drafted.
It was seen as a reaction to the country’s bitter experience under the Marcos dictatorship, and many legal experts such as Puno believe it’s ripe for amendment or revision.
But Puno said a “necessary predicate” before shifting to federalism was to “neutralize these political dynasties because the new constitution would grant them sovereign powers.”
“That will be a very lethal experiment,” he said. “These states will be given the power to make their laws, execute their laws, interpret their laws, and that should not be in the hands of political dynasties.”
Puno proposed an “evolving” type of federalism where regions would first enjoy autonomy before graduating into full-fledged states after meeting certain criteria.
Experts believe only 3 regions — Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon — are wealthy enough to become states at this point.
A proposed “equalization fund” is intended to assist poor regions, but Puno said this would put “a lot of burden and pressure” on other states.
Puno cautioned against dividing the country into several states right away — a congressional draft is eyeing 5 regions while a PDP-Laban model proposes 11.
“That is, to me, putting the cart before the horse. Why should you make regions as states when they are not ready for it? That would be an experiment in failure,” he said.
Puno said new Bangasamoro region envisioned in the 2014 peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front could be realized in his proposed “evolving federalism.”
The retired chief justice said the Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted by an MILF-led commission could not be passed unless the constitution was amended.
Among the concerns raised against the BBL was the establishment of a ministerial government in the Bangsamoro under the present presidential system.
“It should not take us a long time to really shift to federalism and at the same time, we can already address the problem of our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Puno said.
Asked if the Bangsamoro could be among the first to become states under a federal Philippines, he said: “Yes, but I’m not saying all these demands that they are demanding today should be given.”
“Just the demands that are legitimate, that are in conformity with a federal form of government,” he said.