With 'misgivings,' Ex-Chief Justice Puno takes on charter change role

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 26 2018 11:21 AM | Updated as of Jan 27 2018 12:00 AM

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MANILA (UPDATED) - Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno admitted Friday he would take on his new job with his own “misgivings” about congressmen’s preferred mode of changing the constitution and how a federal set-up could only empower political dynasties even more.

Puno, 77, is coming out of retirement to head a committee of experts formed by President Rodrigo Duterte to study changes in the 31-year-old Constitution.

“Even if I have misgivings on the (constituent assembly), still you cannot close your eyes to the fact that (it) is one mode that is allowed by the Constitution,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“We shall proceed on the basis of good faith on the part of everybody... that if we are revising the Constitution, it is for the good of the country.”

Puno said he would prefer weekly en banc meetings of the consultative committee and exhaust all 6 months given to it to draft a new federal constitution that would “empower the people directly.”

Malacañang announced Thursday the names of 19 of the 25-member committee, which include former justices, local government experts, academicians, and former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr.

Puno said the group would be broken into committees to focus on specific provisions of the Constitution, he said.

“This is not just an effort to amend the Constitution but to revise it. So we’ll need all the time to do the work,” he said.

BANGSAMORO

Puno said the committee would begin work as soon as members paid a courtesy call on Duterte, and leaders of both houses “to align all our efforts.”

The former chief justice acknowledged the President would “have a lot of inputs,” but the committee would be given a “free hand” to rewrite the Constitution.

Puno said the priority would be to shift to a federal system and, in the process, address the decades-old problem of the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.

“You give them the powers that are due them based on a lot of their identify-based demands,” he said.

Duterte promised to deliver on a new law creating a new autonomous region and government for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.

But whether the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law will be passed before a new federal constitution remains to be seen.

PERSONAL VIEW

Puno prefers a “hybrid” constitutional convention where appointed experts will join elected members.

The proposal will address concerns over conflicts of interest if sitting legislators—many of them from political dynasties—will rewrite the Constitution as a constituent assembly. 

“That is a fear that is real,” Puno told ANC in a previous interview, warning federalism would be “lethal” unless political dynasties where “neutralized” first.

“That’s my personal view and I hope that is shared by the other members of the committee,” he said Friday.