MANILA, OCTOBER 23, 2003  (STAR) By Sammy Santos  - Speaker Jose de Venecia has asked Vice President Teofisto Guingona to run for the Senate next year, which legislative chamber the House leader wants abolished through Charter change.

But Guingona took it all with a grain of salt, and cautioned his audience at the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) Tuesday night that "this could be a joke."

"I told him: ‘Ikaw naman, Joe. You want me to run for the Senate but you also want to abolish the Senate," he said.

The vice president was referring to the much-ballyhooed proposal of De Venecia and the majority in the House of Representatives to amend the 1987 Constitution to pave the way for the shift to a unicameral parliamentary system.

He said De Venecia at the same time asked him to rejoin the pro-administration Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party, which he quit on Oct. 3, a day after Senate Majority Leader Loren Legarda also resigned from Lakas-CMD.

Guingona said he was not sure if the offer was serious because De Venecia, who eventually replaced him as party president, is his bitter opponent in the Charter change controversy.

"Speaker De Venecia asked me that I should return to the party. He suggested that since I would not prefer to run as the vice presidential candidate of President Macapagal-Arroyo, perhaps I should lead the senatorial ticket of Lakas-CMD in the May 2004 elections," he said.

If De Venecia will have his way, the Constitution could be amended through Congress convening as a constituent assembly before the May 2004 elections and the shift to a parliamentary system can be implemented by a transition president by 2007. By then, the Senate would have been abolished in favor of a unicameral legislature.

But Guingona, in a separate interview with The STAR, said he was confident that De Venecia’s plan to amend the Charter through a constituent assembly will not materialize because of the opposition from senators who prefer the constitutional convention mode of doing the job.

He also made light of De Venecia’s offer for him to return to Lakas-CMD.

It will be recalled that last week, Legarda revealed that President Arroyo had asked her to return to Lakas-CMD after she resigned from it last Oct. 2. She said the offer was made during a brief talk with Mrs. Arroyo at the state dinner at Malacañang for visiting US President George W. Bush.

During the MOPC night open forum, Guingona also ruled out a possible "political reconciliation" between him and Mrs. Arroyo, saying that they apparently have "a difference in perspective" in several issues.

He said he disagreed with Mrs. Arroyo’s foreign policy formulation process. "For me, the national interest should determine the shape of our foreign policy, not the other way around. Apparently we differ in our views," he said.

Guingona also dismissed suggestions that Philippine action movie king Fernando Poe Jr. should be discouraged from seeking the presidency because he has no experience in government service.

Like any Filipino citizen, Poe has the right to aspire for any public office, Guingona said. He refused to equate the entry of Poe into politics with that of the disgraced presidency of fellow actor Joseph Estrada, who is now detained on graft charges after being ousted from office.

"I know that are good friends. They have similarities but they also have differences. It is difficult to judge a person," Guingona said. "It will be unfair if I asked him not to run."

Guingona said that if the Filipino electorate will again "go by popularity" in the May polls, the candidacy of Poe and Legarda, as president and vice president respectively, would be a formidable tandem.

He refused to say whether he was accepting the offer for him to join Reporma, saying he was still in the process of consulting his advisers and political leaders.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved