Prioritize fiscal decentralization, reform before federalism - expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — The government should prioritize fiscal decentralization, or making sure each region is financially stable on its own, before shifting to federalism, a constitutional expert said Monday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, Atty. Christian Monsod pointed out only three out of the country's 17 regions are ready to be independent.

"Empower them, strengthen them, and when they can stand alone, then you consider federalism because that's the best way to do it -- strong regions uniting together for a strong union," said Monsod.

"Kasi kung uunahin mo yung [If you first revise] structure with uncertain outcomes, it could lead to the ruin of our democracy," he added.

His comments come amid a move by President Rodrigo Duterte's administration to shift to federalism, a form of government that promises more autonomy for local governments. However, critics of the system point out it could empower political dynasties, or be worse for poorer regions.

Amid debates between the mode of charter change between the House and Senate, Duterte appointed a 19-member consultative committee led by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno to review the 1987 Constitution in late January.

Related: Senators welcome consultative committee to review Constitution

Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, was also present during the Senate hearings on charter change.

He previously called out Congress for not fully implementing the Constitution in the past 30 years.

Related: Retired SC Justice: Think twice before shifting to federalism

He noted that some programs accommodated by the law, such as agrarian reform, were not given proper resources. He added that the Local Government Code also allowed for stronger local autonomy, but it had to be amended.

"In fact they put loopholes in many if not all of the social reform programs and then they underfunded those programs," said Monsod.

"When you ask even the PDP-Laban, why are you changing the structure first? Will that help the poor and also address inequality? They said well, indirectly. Why don't you do [so] directly?" he added.