Manila, Jan. 17, 2003 (Tribune) - In an act of defiance at the House of Representatives insistence to immediately tinker with the 1987 Constitution, the Senate will make formal its position closing the doors for such an undertaking before the 2004 presidential elections.

Senate President Franklin Drilon yesterday announced to reporters the filing on Monday of a resolution, expected to be signed by majority of the current 23 members of the chamber, calling for a constitutional convention in 2004 even as he lashed anew against congressmen for threatening to boycott them should they refuse to take action on their resolution approving Charter change or Cha-cha.

"The senators cannot be threatened by such political blackmail. We will stand on what we believe is right for our people and threats such as these have no place in our system of government.

"It has no place in a free debate of ideas in a democratic society. It is regrettable that these statements are made," Drilon said in a press conference as he practically waged war against the House on the Cha-cha debates.

Drilon's initiative, currently being routed for senators' signatures and now sealed with support from President Pro Tempore Juan Flavier, Majority Leader Loren Legarda, Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senators John Osmeņa and Robert Jaworski Sr. is in pursuance of their stand preferring the constitutional convention (Concon) as a mode of amending the Charter.

"This proposed resolution has already bipartisan support. We have already five signatures and we will continue to seek the signatures of other members of the Senate... I have talked to a number of our colleagues and I am confident that by Monday, we should have more than a majority of the senators supporting this call for a constitutional convention," he said.

Drilon reiterated that as early as Jan. 6, a week before the House approved its resolution on cha-cha, the Senate leadership had already resolved to block any move to tinker with the Charter before the scheduled national elections next year.

Senators, except for few, are of the opinion that delegates for Concon should be elected in May 2004 together with the other officials up for election.

"When the Senate leadership first announced publicly its decision on Jan. 6, there was no House resolution yet,' he emphasized.

Nonetheless, Drilon made it clear that the House counterparts' initiatives would prove futile even as rules would allow the 'resolution to be taken up in the Senate because the chamber "will have majority support" on his undertaking.

"The resolution that we will file on Monday will be referred to the committee on constitutional amendments (chaired by Sen. Edgardo Angara). Similarly, the resolution of the House, once it reaches us, will be referred to the same committee. Public hearings will be conducted and presumably if the call for Concon will have the majority support as I expect, then that would be the report from the committee," he said.

Drilon also belied claims made by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. that he has the support of senators.

"I don't believe that has any basis. I think he misread the senators," he said in chiding De Venecia.

The Senate chief likewise contradicted claims by congressmen that their resistance to Cha-cha has something to do with the possibility of the upper chamber being resolved once Constituent Assembly, the mode to amend the Constitution proposed by the lower house, would be effected.

"If the Concon would adopt a unicameral legislature, which would result in the abolition of the Senate and the same is ratified by our people, we will accept it, certainly. We have no qualms about that.

"The people gave you the mandate, the people can also cut it short. In our Republican system of government, that's a reality that you have to face. In the same manner, a recall election is allowed, then also would cut the term of an elected official. So there's nothing new to that," he said.

President Arroyo yesterday said she is in favor for the formation of an elected Concon that would determine revisions of the Philippine Constitution and the possible change in the form of government.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, said members of the Concon must be elected during the 2004 national polls to erase doubts and speculations she is pushing the extension of her presidential term.

She made the revelation in an interview with the Japanese media the other night.

Mrs. Arroyo said that favoring the formation of Concon would stop divisiveness concerning the issue of Charter change and drag the administration in the controversy on suspicions that she is behind it to push her political ambitions.

"Considering the divisiveness in our country, this issue is coming up with great... bringing about even more divisiveness, perhaps the constitutional convention will be the least divisive way of bringing about fundamental changes in the political system through the constitutional convention," she said.

"This is the reason I am saying that it's better to have a constitutional convention. Because I don't want my intention to be suspect. If it is a constitutional convention, then they will be elected in 2004 together with the other new members of the constitutional convention."

Three members from the opposition bloc in the House yesterday vowed to block the moves to change the Charter.

According to Representatives Rolex Suplico, Ted Failon and Gilbert Remulla, they will join calls to block attempts to change the Charter and would convince their colleagues to do the same.

"I think President Arroyo's words do not reflect her actions. If she is really against Cha-cha, she would assert her stand to her partymates and lead the call to set aside the Cha-cha initiative," Suplicao said.

The lawmakers explained the new Cha-cha move could be a ploy by politicians who have no chance of being elected in 2004.

"It is intended to boost the stock the political stock of some politicians who have apparently lost their charisma with the people," Remulla said.

De Venecia presided over a caucus Wednesday and congressmen voted 126-3 in favor of changing the Charter.

Some administration lawmakers said they deliberately missed the caucus as they are against it.

On Wednesday some lawmakers, including Remulla, Suplico and Ronaldo Zamora, who had endorsed the Cha-cha resolution had withdrawn their signatures.

The Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), meantime, reportedly agreed to support the charter amendments moves being pushed by De Venecia but only if the 2004 elections are not suspended.

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