GMA BEHIND CHA-CHA MOVES, SAYS JOKER

Manila, May 8, 2003 -- President Arroyo is behind the insistent move of the 
House of Representatives and several senators to amend the Constitution, 
maverick Sen. Joker Arroyo said yesterday.

"She's behind Cha-cha (Charter change). If she says she's neutral, it means 
she's for it," Arroyo told dzBB's Mike Enriquez in an interview.

He said the President cannot be a mere bystander in an important issue, 
like amending the Constitution.

"And since few people believe she's neutral, she might as well tell the 
nation that she is supporting Cha-cha," he said.

At the House, a senior lawmaker said senators fighting Charter change are 
raising "ghost issues" and resorting to diversionary tactics to sway 
attention from the major substantial amendments that proponents argue 
should be introduced this year through a constituent assembly.

"They have trivialized the campaign for reforms. They are raising ghost 
issues and phantom events to divert public attention from the substance of 
the campaign," said Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano.

Charter change advocates are sharing Arroyo's interpretation of the 
President's "neutrality" and his call for her to shed such a stance.

Senator Arroyo has another reason to believe that the President is for 
Charter change.

"It would benefit her since her term will be extended by three years up to 
2007," he said.

His assertion conflicts with the assurance given by Senate and House 
leaders, who are laying the groundwork for convening Congress into a 
constituent assembly to propose constitutional amendments, that there would 
be no term extension for elective officials and that the plan is to hold 
elections for parliament next year.

Arroyo vowed to oppose Cha-cha since "it would deprive our people of the 
right to directly elect their president and prime minister."

Under the parliamentary system envisioned by Cha-cha proponents, there 
would be a president elected directly by the people and a prime minister 
elected by parliament.

Parliament would be a unicameral legislature but with more members than the 
present Congress.

The timetable agreed upon by the Senate and House constitutional amendment 
committees calls for convening Congress into a constituent assembly in 
August or September, a plebiscite to ratify the proposed Charter changes in 
December or early next year and parliamentary elections middle of 2004. (By 
Jess Diaz, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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