FORMER Chief Justice Reynato Puno on Tuesday called for the junking of the unitary form of government, saying it is time to shift to a federal system which is “citizen-friendly.”
Speaking at a forum on federalism in Manila, Puno noted that a presidential form of government has not brought progress to the country.
“Too much power has been given to our national government and even within the national government there is an imbalance of power between and among executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Too little power has been given to the local governments and this insufficient power has stunted their growth,” he said.
“In sum, I respectfully submit that our unitary form of government, Imperialist Manila, has failed us,” Puno added, drawing thunderous applause.
“Our unitary government is bad enough for its wrong allocation of the powers of government but what is worse is that our unitary government has been captured by vested interests. We are ruled by dynasties. We are run by economic elite. And we are threatened by criminal syndicates. It is far more difficult to capture powers of government in a federal state than a unitary state,” he said.
According to the former chief justice, the biggest abuse of power in a tripartite government has been committed by the executive department.
“That’s why almost all of our Presidents are being impeached. Why? [They have] all the powers,” he said.
“Federalism challenges the political norm that power is best when centralized, that sovereignty is indivisible and cannot be shared and posits the thesis that states can be bound together on the basis of responsible power-sharing, where the will of the majority of the people will reign but where the rights of the minority will be allowed to flourish,” Puno explained.
He noted that even the judiciary is affected by the “political virus.”
“Reality will reveal that the independence of the judiciary is sufficiently insulated in our Constitution. The appointment process in the judiciary is still infected by political virus.
Why is this happening? Wrong allocation of powers! In [a]federal government, we will correct this,” Puno told his audience.
Alex Brillantes, former University of the Philippines’ Dean of the College of Public Administration and Governance, however, said there is a need to change the people’s mindset before the country can make the shift from presidential to federal form of government.
Brillantes also noted that it is not easy to give up powers.
“That is why we need to change values,” he said at the same forum.
Eduardo Araral, vice dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said changing the system will take time.
He advised the PDP-Laban, the political party of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, to start campaigning for federalism among millennials
Araral reminded the audience that the basic principle in federalism is that local public goods must be managed locally.
The PDP-Laban held a series of conferences on federalism and Charter change and invited experts as speakers.
Puno and Brillantes were the speakers on Tuesday.
Araral was the guest speaker on Monday.
The other speakers were Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Dr. Jose Abueva, former president of the University of the Philippines.
All of them favor a presidential-federal system except for Abueva, who supports a parliamentary-federal form of government.
Duterte has planned to form a committee that will accept and document proposals for the shift to a federal form of government after which a Constitutional Convention will be called.
He said he wants to hold a plebiscite or referendum two years after the committee is formed.