2004 CHA-CHA REFERENDUM PUSHED

Manila, Jan. 23, 2003 - Three political parties belonging to President Arroyo's ruling coalition announced yesterday that they support a proposal to hold a referendum to determine once and for all if Filipinos want the Constitution amended.

"In so doing, the people can study and discuss and familiarize (themselves) with constitutional issues. That educational process will be beneficial to the rule of law," Aksyon Demokratiko, Probinsiya Muna Development Initiative (Promdi) and Reporma said in a brief joint statement. "It's the people's Constitution. Let the people speak."

The three parties pointed out that the Constitution has a provision that Congress "may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its members, call a constitutional convention or, by a majority vote of all its members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention."

To save on costs, Aksyon Demokratiko, Promdi and Reporma suggested that the referendum be held simultaneously with the May 2004 general elections. Questions may be printed on the ballot asking voters if they want the Constitution amended or not and, if so, by what method.

Meanwhile, business and labor groups yesterday weighed in on the issue and called on Charter change advocates to shelve their plan. They said Filipinos could face massive unemployment unless lawmakers pay more attention to the country's problems.

"The issue here is survival. Legislators and the whole government should focus on how to preserve and generate jobs, putting in place a sound and favorable investment climate, and address peace and order," Bangon Pilipino Movement said in a statement.

Bangon Pilipino is composed of the influential Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and the country's largest labor organization, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

ECOP president Donald Dee said lawmakers should heed Mrs. Arroyo's call for support for her efforts to revitalize the country's poverty-stricken economy.

Mrs. Arroyo's Lakas-NUCD partymates in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., want to make amendments via a constituent assembly before the 2004 polls. However, the Senate wants the amendments done through a constitutional convention held after next year's scheduled elections. Mrs. Arroyo agrees with the Senate.

Former President Corazon Aquino who also favors the Senate's position had supported Negros Oriental Rep. Herminio Teves' proposal for a referendum.

Charter change proponents claim there is a public clamor for constitutional amendments although independent opinion polls repeatedly showed that most Filipinos consistently opposed amending the Constitution.

A recent opinion survey conducted by veteran pollster Social Weather Stations said it "did not find significant grassroots interest" in amending the country's basic law.

"In the first place, four out of five people polled said there is no constitutional provision which needs changing," SWS said, adding that "few Filipinos are familiar with the Constitution," citing survey results.


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