MANILA - Failing to shift to a federal system can lead to the "disintegration of the republic" given the "threat of secession" by Muslim rebel groups frustrated over the implementation of their separate peace deals with the government, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno warned Tuesday.
A federal system can accommodate "substantive demands" contained in the agreement signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014.
The deal called for an enabling law creating a new Bangsamoro government in Mindanao.
A Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction led by founder Nur Misuari is also seeking the full implementation of the group's 1996 peace agreement.
"You have this national security problem posed by the rebellion of the communists in the countryside and more importantly, the threat of secession by the MILF and the MNLF -- these are ticking time bombs," Puno told ABS-CBN News.
"Unless we are able to somehow satisfy their demands, we can be looking at the possible disintegration of the republic."
The government seeks to "converge" the MILF and MNLF agendas into a single enabling law to be submitted to Congress by July this year.
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law under the MILF agreement hit a wall in Congress over questions on the constitutionality of certain provisions.
The sincerity of the MILF was also put in question following the killing of 44 police commandos hunting down terrorists in the group's stronghold in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the group's Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, signed with the Arroyo administration, was unconstitutional.
Puno said the current administration offers the "best opportunity" to successfully move toward federalism, and address constitutional issues raised over the MILF agreement.
But he said the government should act soon.
PUNO TO HEAD CONSULATIVE BODY?
Puno is being eyed to head a 25-man committee that will study changes in the constitution, sources told ABS-CBN News.
The retired justice said some of Duterte's advisers had brought up the matter, but not the president. He also clarified he was not applying for the job.
"Of course, it's a great service to the country to be able to help participate in the revision of our constitution, especially if the revision would call for a paradigm shift, from a unicameral government to a federal form of government," he said.
"But again, I would like to see the parameters of the powers and duties that will be given to this expert group as well as the time table."
The consultative body will be given six months to propose changes in the constitution. But Duterte has yet to name its members since signing an executive order last December.
SLOTS FOR MILF, MNLF?
Sources said representatives from the MILF, MNLF, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines were being considered to join the consultative committee.
Other slots will be reserved for experts from the academe and the legal profession
Puno said a "better way to radically revise" the constitution would be through a "hybrid" type of constitutional convention composed of elected and appointed delegates.
"I have my misgivings about the constitution being revised by a constituent assembly," he said, citing "conflicts of interest" by sitting legislators who will deliberate on the changes.