FORMER Chief Justice Reynato Puno is spearheading a new campaign that aims to rewrite the entire 1987 Constitution which, he said, “has already served its purpose” but failed to empower the masses and instead only enriched the “elite.”
“I am for changing the system of government to federal/parliamentary, suited to our needs,” Puno told The Manila Times. “Time depends on the will of the people. The sooner the better.”
Puno expressed his misgivings on the Charter in a speech before members of the Bicol Autonomy Movement (BAM) over the weekend, where he claimed that the Constitution is no longer attuned with the times.
“Our Constitution is circa 1987. It is a Constitution that has served its purpose, which is to purge the previous Constitution of its autocratic features that came from an authoritarian regime. After 26 years of enforcement, 13 years after the country crossed the 21st century, there is an obvious need to fine-tune our Constitution to accelerate the velocity of our progress,” he pointed out.
Puno said that the need for progress is more pronounced in the countryside and that “the key to this much needed change is the grant of real autonomy to our local governments.”
“Given the structures and restrictions of our present Constitution, this desire for real autonomy may remain forever but just a dream. It is not bad to dream but it is best to put a deadline to our dreams,” he said.
Puno took a swipe at what he called the “exclusivity of the elite” in power, saying that oligarchs and a few affluent families control the country’s politics and economy.
“I maintain that a government of the few, for the few and by the few will result in the poverty of the many and the oppression of the multitude. The tragedy is, under our present constitution, this sad state of affairs has little chance of ending.”
Puno sees “no end to its endlessness because our elections are tilted in favor of the rich. The poor cannot win an election in our country even as a dog catcher. The wealthy political dynasties now reigning in our land can never be dislodged by the moneyless masses. We need a constitutional change to level the playing field.”
He was invited as guest of honor and speaker in the event that was organized by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) Chairman Dante Jimenez, among others.
Jimenez, the regional lead convenor of BAM, said Puno is the titular head and icon of the Conscha movement.
“It is now Conscha or constitutional change and no longer cha-cha [charter change]. CJ Puno is our leader,” Jimenez told The Times.
BAM is moving toward the establishment of an autonomous region in Bicol, which is patterned after the Cordillera Administrative Region and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“It is only through federalism that we can attain real progress. We must truly devolve power from the central government,’ the VACC head explained.
For Puno, the “exclusivity of the elite” is what “seriously bedevils” the country’s democracy.
“To my mind, the exclusivity of this elite is a key reason for our status as a second rate democracy. Reliable statistics say that only 100 political families rule the Philippines, a country of 92 million people. Democracy has been defined in various ways but certainly, it has never been understood as a government by the few,” he said.
In fact, he claimed that the democracy being practiced here is so skewed that the Philippine President has even greater power than the president of the United States.
According to Puno, the autonomy given to local government units was “bogus.”
He criticized the Local Government Code as a “regrettable’ law that “has not brought the boons of peace, progress and prosperity to filter down to our municipalities, cities and provinces.”
“We can never unlock the potential of our people unless we grant our local governments genuine autonomy through constitutional change. I say genuine autonomy because the kind of economy allowed to our local governments leaves much to be desired. There is no need to present irrefutable evidence to prove that this submission carries the ring of truth,” Puno said.
“Under our Constitution, legislative power is given to Congress and allows too little a power to local governments to enact their own laws. The judicial power is given to our Supreme Court and again, allows too little a power to local governments to interpret local laws. The end result is the over centralization of powers in the national government. The powers niggardly given to local governments are few, if not insignificant,” he said.