Manila, April 30, 2003 -- Senators and congressmen are working out a 
consensus on amending the 1987 Constitution through a Constituent Assembly 
even as charter change proponents agreed yesterday to push ahead with the 
2004 elections and reject any proposal for term extension.

"We agreed that definitely we will have elections in 2004, and we shut down 
any suggestion for term extension," Speaker Jose de Venecia said yesterday 
after a three-hour meeting of legislators supporting charter changes.

The meeting, five weeks away from the sine die adjournment of Congress on 
June 5, was attended by four leading senators and three House leaders in a 
major breakthrough for proposed constitutional amendments through Congress 
sitting as a Constituent Assembly.

De Venecia did not specify the number of senators supporting a Constituent 
Assembly but said the "magic number is about to be reached."

Twelve senators are needed to approve a Senate resolution convening 
Congress into a Constituent Assembly. The House approved last March by an 
overwhelming majority a similar resolution.

Attending the meeting were Senate minority leader Vicente Sotto III and 
Sen. Edgardo Angara of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Sen. Aquilino 
Pimentel of PDP-Laban, Sen. Robert Barbers of the Lakas-CMD, De Venecia, 
Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez, Western Samar Rep. Antonio Eduardo Nachura, 
chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, and Isabela 
Rep. Rodolfo Albano.

Venecia said senators and congressmen who favor amending the charter were 
moving towards a unicameral parliamentary government with a committed 
10-year transition period towards a federal system.

De Venecia also said there is a consensus to have the amendments in place 
by the end of this year, paving the way for elections in 2004 to elect 
either a French-style or a Singapore-style president under a Constitution 
that will have "strong Philippine characteristics."

While no final decision was reached on Constituent Assembly as the mode of 
charter amendments, Angara said more senators are seeing the assembly as a 
"more economical and less costly mode of constitutional amendments."

De Venecia also said he talked with Senate President Franklin Drilon over 
lunch Monday in what he called a "conflict-resolution meeting" following 
Drilon's repeated public statements opposing the Constituent Assembly mode.

De Venecia said Drilon is proposing a "conscience vote" in the Senate on 
whether the amendments should be through a Constitutional Convention or a 
Constituent Assembly.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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