MANILA - A constitution framer on Thursday said government should focus on addressing the basic needs of the Filipino people before prioritizing its push for federalism.
"The government is fighting a wrong war, if it indeed should fight a war. The basic war we should deal with is war on poverty and inequality and all resources of government should focus on that," Ed Garcia, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, told ANC's Early Edition.
"We have an imperfect Constitution, I’ll be the first one to admit. But at this moment in our country, the needs are so great regarding the poverty of our people. This will derail further the efforts to address the most important aspects of our daily lives."
Garcia said he favored federalism during debates in the 1986 Constitution and that there were "laudable" provisions in the House Resolution No. 1 filed by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, which seeks to amend parts of the Constitution.
"It’s not the system itself that I object to, it’s the timing, the context, priority, the process. Especially now when we need to have a strong sense of what it means to be Filipino," he said.
"In the challenge we face in West Philippine Sea before the giant China, we need to strengthen our resolve, our sense of common purpose."
Garcia expressed concern for Palawan, which is closest to the disputed sea and maritime territories.
"It's much easier to subvert the sovereignty of particular fiefdoms rather than facing a common resolve of a strong nation," he said.
The constitutional framer added that the poor are not even aware of what federalism is.
"They say to me 'di po namin alam kung ano ang federalism, di naman po yun ang problema namin, di naman po 'yun ang hinihingi namin eh. Ang kailangan namin pagkain, trabaho, bahay, edukasyon,'" he said.
Lawmakers should meantime focus on electoral and political dynasty reforms before proposing a shift to federalism, Garcia said.
"What this (federalism) might actually provoke is parochialism, factionalism, the strengthening of warlords in those regions, where there is no checks and balances," he said. "Why don’t we prepare the ground, deal with those issues now. "
He also urged lawmakers to improve what they could as of the moment, like revising the local government code which is supposed to be done every 5 years.
"If you’re truly serious about strengthening local autonomy, our local governance then do it, revise it where it is actually possible even now, before you convene another con-ass (constitutional assembly)," he said.
"In politics you win some, you lose some. You need to have the patience to have a marathon mentality. It’s a struggle of generations. We need to have the urgency that at the same time is patient and bold."