CONGRESS-SENATE WAR OVER CHARTER CHANGE

Manila, March 23, 2003 -- Two senior members of the House of
Representatives yesterday poured scorn on Senate President Franklin Drilon
in what they described as "political hypocrisy" after having barred a
resolution that moved to convene both chambers of Congress as a Constituent
Assembly.

According to Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano and Davao City Rep. Prospero
Nograles, the Senate chief's position to block the congressional move would
show "his ambition to run either for president or vice president in the
2004 national elections."

"Look who's talking. We, in the House of Representatives, have long decided
against term extensions because it is immoral, and we have announced there
will be elections next year," Albano and Nograles said yesterday.

"It is Drilon who suffers from real conflict. He does not want Charter
amendments because of his personal ambition to run for president or vice
president next year," the two legislators claimed.

Drilon reacted strongly to the congressional resolution, saying the Senate
would not entertain or calendar the move when it resumes session after the
Holy Week hiatus.

Albano and Nograles challenged Drilon to respond to the clamor for Charter
change and stop assigning motives to congressmen who voted for the approval
of the resolution.

House (concurrent) Resolution 16, which the lower house adopted by a vote
of 134 to 13 last Wednesday, sought the restructuring of the political
system from the current bicameral to a unicameral parliamentary system
leading to a federal system in a period of 10 years.

The resolution also sought the amendment of certain constitutional
provisions, which the proponents say restrict economic growth.

Earlier, Speaker Jose de Venecia, expressing optimism that the approval
would trigger a "major groundswell of support from the religious, the
academe and the youth and professional sectors," said the campaign for
Charter amendments would now shift to the Senate.

"There are signs of a breakthrough for concurrence by a simple majority of
23 senators to convene both houses of Congress into a Constituent Assembly."

Moslem legislators, including Representatives Faysah Maniri Dumarpa (Lanao
del Sur, first district), Didagen Dilangalen (Maguindanao) and Benasing
Macarambon (Lanao del Sur, second district) are pinning their hopes on
Charter change as a way through a federal system of government.

The lawmakers expressed optimism the decades-old conflict in the southern
Philippine region of Mindanao, predominantly Moslem area, would be solved
once the region is given a certain degree of autonomy under a federal
system of government.

Both Dumarpa and Macarambon said a shift to a federal system is a major
solution to the conflict in South.

Macarambon said Drilon's public remarks unfairly blocking Charter
amendments "have made for the Senate president a major hurdle in seeking a
lasting solution to the Mindanao problem."

De Venecia said Charter change gained the support of some religious and
local government groups, including the League of Provinces, League of
Cities and League of Municipalities, the Jesus is Lord Movement and the
Council of Christian Bishops.

While Malacaņang welcomed the congressional move adopting Resolution 16,
former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile cast doubt on the upper chamber's approval of
the measure since most of the senators are opposed to Constituent Assembly.

"There are already 16 senators opposed to a Constituent Assembly. Even if
the Senate approves the resolution, it is still a remote possibility that
our Constitution would be amended because at least 18 senatorial votes are
needed in every proposed amendment of our Charter. So, they would have a
hard time getting the senators' votes," he said.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye explained President Arroyo had made
her position on the Charter change issue.

"Although Mrs. Arroyo is not opposed to it, changing the Constitution is
not her priority at this time."

Bunye, however, lauded the lower house' move to pass Resolution 16. (Tribune)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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