Manila, January 17, 2003 (Star) - President Arroyo said yesterday she favors amending the Constitution through a constitutional convention (Con-con), whose delegates will be elected in the May 2004 elections.

It was the President's first categorical statement in support of Charter change (Cha-cha), strongly pushed by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

"Considering the divisiveness in our country, this issue is bringing about even more divisiveness. Perhaps the constitutional convention will be the least divisive way of bringing about fundamental changes in the political system," Mrs. Arroyo said in an interview with Japanese journalists on the eve of the second anniversary of EDSA II.

She said she wanted delegates to the constitutional convention to be elected at the same time as political candidates in the general elections on May 14, 2004.

This way, the President said, she would not be suspected of pushing for Charter amendments that would enable her to lead the country in another form of government.

Mrs. Arroyo said a constitutional convention allows greater and wider participation of various sectors and stakeholders.

"This is the reason why I am saying that it's better to have a constitutional convention, because I don't want my intention to be suspect," she said, adding that voters could elect the Con-con delegates during the 2004 polls.

Though Mrs. Arroyo has repeatedly said she will no longer seek a full six-year term as President, a shift to the parliamentary system could allow her to lead the country as prime minister in case she is elected as a member of parliament.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the constitutional convention is a better process of amending the Constitution "instead of other modes being pushed by Congress."

De Venecia has been pushing to convene the Senate and the House into a constituent assembly to effect changes in the Charter.

Amendments to the Constitution may also be directly proposed by the people through a petition signed by at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters.

The last constitutional convention was in 1971. The 1987 Constitution was drafted by a constitutional commission.

Foreign diplomats say the current Charter contains many protectionist provisions that bar the entry of foreign capital that would help the 32 million poor Filipinos, who make up 40 percent of the rapidly growing population.

The Constitution provides for amendments through a constitutional convention or by Congress itself with the approval of at least 75 percent of its members.

A two-thirds majority in Congress may call a constitutional convention, or alternatively a congressional majority can put the issue of calling a constitutional convention to a popular vote in a nationwide plebiscite.

The Senate has remained steadfast in its decision that any amendment to the Constitution should be done through a constitutional convention, to be convened after the 2004 elections.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said a majority of the senators are for the election of the convention's delegates held simultaneously with the presidential elections.

But De Venecia claims up to nine senators, led by Edgardo Angara of the opposition and Robert Barbers of the administration bloc, support the House initiative to amend the Constitution. He refused to name the other senators who he claimed are pro-Charter change.

Lakas Representatives Juan Miguel Zubiri of Bukidnon and Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte said they would lobby with the Senate for more Charter change supporters.

"We will try to talk to those opposed to constitutional reforms at this time. After all, we supported many of them in the last elections," Zubiri said.

He added that the House-advocated reforms aim to remove the "gridlock points" in the present system that hinder economic growth.

Barbers, a son of Senator Barbers, said they would need seven more senators to get Charter change moving in the Senate.

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