MANILA, September 23, 2003  (MALAYA) By REGINA BENGCO  - It's official although hardly surprising: President Arroyo is re-thinking her pledge made on Dec. 30 last year that she would not run next May.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday Arroyo is seeking divine guidance on her decision, a departure from the previous Palace line that she was so busy performing her job that she had no time to think about politics.

Bunye added he could not re-affirm the Dec. 30 declaration.

Asked for the reason in the shift in stance, Bunye said, "Ang masasabi natin ang laging iniisip ng ating Pangulo ang kapakanan ng ating bayan."

Bunye said it is an open secret that Arroyo is under pressure to run.

"The partymates are very insistent that the President reconsider her decision and there are many other well-meaning leaders, mga members ng business sector, that are also making the same suggestion," he said.

"Siguro ang magagawa na lang natin ipagdasal na lang natin ang Pangulo na kapag siya ay magdesisyon ay iyung desisyun niya ay para sa kapakanan ng ating bayan," he said.

Asked if Arroyo is willing to become a "transition president" if charter changes are implemented, Bunye said Arroyo is leaving the issue of constitutional amendments to Congress.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, chief of the opposition Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, said whatever is Arroyo's decision, she should make it public soon.

"The ambiguity of her position is causing uncertainty in the people," he said. "Anyway, the people would understand (if she changes her mind and decides to run)...she has been in the campaign mode."

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon of the LDP said he was not surprised that the President is now keeping her options open.

"That is not a surprise to me... Long before, as early as February, her body language showed that she was keeping her options open... Now she is softening the grounds to her final announcement that she is running."

Sen. Joker Arroyo (Lakas) said it is "statistically improbable" that the 1987 Constitution could be amended before the 2004 elections.

"An amendment, when proposed through a constituent assembly requires a three-fourth vote. That means that the proponents must have 18 votes in the Senate. Since the Senate has 22 members at present, only five senators are needed to block an amendment," Sen. Arroyo said.

"Going by the mood of the Senate, there are a lot more than five senators who will block any amendment at this time," he added.

The senator said there is no more time to amend the Constitution.

He said there appears no way of resolving the impasse on the mode of changing the charter. The Senate insists charter changes should be done through a convention while the House favors an assembly.

"The Senate and the House are worlds apart," he said.

Norberto Gonzales, Malacaņang's proponent for charter changes, the other day said Arroyo was the ideal choice for a president during the proposed transition from presidential to parliamentary form of government.

The proposal for a transition presidency has renewed interest in the House-initiated campaign to amend the Constitution before the elections of 2004.

Senate President Franklin Drilon chided House members for pressuring the Senate into agreeing to a constituent assembly.

"We cannot just be stampeded into it just because of the opinion of certain officials from the House of Representatives or from the Executive branch of government," he said.

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments, chaired by Angara, has submitted its report recommending a convention.

Drilon said the 14 senators who signed the resolution have not changed their minds. He said the committee vote for a convention was unanimous. (With JP Lopez)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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