Ex CJ Puno: Federalism to balance gov’t powers, resolve unrest

By on September 28, 2017

FILE: Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno speaking at 2007 U.P. Law alumni homecoming (Photo by  Anyo Niminus - Own work, Public Domain)
FILE: Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno speaking at 2007 U.P. Law alumni homecoming (Photo by Anyo Niminus – Own work, Public Domain)

MANILA — Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno on Thursday, September 28, said shifting to federalism would allow power to be distributed more equally to the different branches of the government.

In a press briefing in Malacañan, Puno reiterated his call for the country’s shift to a federal form of government, saying there are compelling reasons to adopt a new political system in the country.

The former Chief Justice noted that there is a strong call for the re-examination of the country’s unitary government, as the current system of governance has resulted in a lot of conflict.

Puno described as “outdated” the present allocation of powers among the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary, and stressed the need to strike a more appropriate balance of power among these three branches.

“Indeed, this outdated, if not erroneous, allocation of powers has earned us a lot of democratic deficits. And this has resulted in the continuing categorization of the Philippines as a failing democracy,” Puno said.

Puno particularly cited the challenges faced by the judicial branch under the present unitary form of government.

“There are many areas in our present judiciary that can stand improvement,” he said, adding that shifting to federalism would also require a stronger judiciary.

Among the challenges he mentioned is the judiciary’s failure to immediately resolve issues of “transcendental importance,” since the Supreme Court can only act on disputes after cases are filed.

“Given our present Constitution and our existing jurisprudence, the Supreme Court has to wait for a proper case to be filed before it — before it can exercise its jurisdiction and decide [on] the case,” Puno explained.

“This requirement of a proper case has prevented our Supreme Court from deciding disputes that should be settled immediately in view of the case significance to our people,” he added.

Puno proposed that the Philippines adopts the German form of federalism, which emphasizes an interdependence among the government branches.

“In Germany, the constitutionality of a law before its enforcement, or before its violation, can already be brought to the Constitutional Court for opinion, whether it is unconstitutional or not,” he noted.

Puno said the Supreme Court’s inability to issue these advisory opinions is the reason why it is sometimes assailed for having a “laid-back posture” on particular cases.

“I would commend that we adopt this system and depart from the American model, where there is too much emphasis on the independence of the three branches of government, instead of interdependence on certain areas of governance,” Puno said.

Meanwhile, the former Chief Justice also sees the shift to federalism as a remedy to the decades-long unrest among Muslims in Mindanao.

He said federalism will “enable the country to deal with the demands of our Muslim brothers to have their own homeland, which they can govern according to their culture, religion, language, and history.”

“This aspiration of our Muslim brothers cannot be substantially granted unless we change our unitary government,” he added.

Puno said the unaddressed frustration of Muslim Filipinos for self-determination resulted in an open rebellion, which is further triggered by foreign elements threatening to wreck the Republic.

He particularly cited the situation in Marawi, where ISIS-inspired Maute terrorists took hold of the city and caused destruction in the lives of innocent Maranaos.

“There is only one way to deal with them and that is to respect their identity and to live with them under a cooperative form of a federal government,” Puno said.

“The sooner there is a shift to federalism, the better,” he added, saying the shift would require a transition period wherein significant adjustments are to be made. (PND/PNA)