MANILA, October 10, 2003  (STAR) The Philippines would be better off switching to a parliamentary form of government to speed up political and economic reforms, President Arroyo said yesterday.

It was Mrs. Arroyo’s most categorical statement so far in support of proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution. Several lawmakers have been calling for constitutional change, but the Senate and the House are divided over how it should be done.

"In my experience, given the needs of the 21st century, especially now that our Asian neighbors are beginning to accelerate their recovery again, I believe we should have a parliamentary form of government," Mrs. Arroyo told reporters in Cebu City. "It makes fundamental reforms move faster."

Mrs. Arroyo has said in the past she favors moves to amend the Constitution, and believes that a constitutional convention — with elected delegates — is the least divisive way to bring about change.

But she also wants the issue handled after the May 2004 elections.

The President returned home Wednesday night via Cebu from Bali, Indonesia where she attended the ninth informal leaders’ summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

In a multisectoral assembly held in Cebu City yesterday, the President rendered her report on the key results of her participation in the just concluded ASEAN summit.

Along with other heads of state of the 10 member-nations of the ASEAN plus the respective leaders of Japan, South Korea, China and India, Mrs. Arroyo signed the ASEAN Concord II, which spelled out the directions for the economic future of the region.

"We committed ourselves to push economic integration, increase trade and consolidate our vigilance against terrorism," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"This is important to our people because it will bring more jobs, more knowledge and skills, and more stability to our country," she pointed out.

Last weekend, Mrs. Arroyo declared her intention to run, despite her pledge in December last year that she would quit after her term ends June 30.

She said yesterday she made the election announcement to ease concern among investors about political instability.

Despite her insistence that she wasn’t campaigning yet, Mrs. Arroyo’s visit to Cebu, the second-largest urban area outside Manila, bore the marks of a campaign trail.

Before the news conference, Mrs. Arroyo, a 56-year-old US-educated economist, distributed land titles to squatter families, then addressed a cheering crowd of thousands of supporters waving pro-Arroyo streamers.

She also distributed 2,000 Philippine Health Insurance cards, P1.3 million worth of livelihood loans to 117 small borrowers described as "urban poor retailers" and unspecified worth of Pag-IBIG checks from Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman Michael Defensor.

Defensor’s participation in yesterday’s activities in Cebu put forward political questions regarding Mrs. Arroyo’s distribution of government checks as the HUDCC had figured prominently in last Saturday’s launching of Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential bid.

But before opposition leaders could cry foul on the alleged early campaign of the President, deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo reassured yesterday that the President’s Cebu visit has nothing to do with any preconceived plans to win votes for her in next year’s polls.

In his press briefing at the Palace yesterday, Saludo explained that Mrs. Arroyo has been conducting her provincial sorties even before and after her Dec. 30 declaration not to run for president.

"The President has a job to perform. And she would continue making provincial visits but these are not for her campaign but are part of her job," Saludo pointed out.

Saludo reassured the public that the President would continue to separate her work for good governance from her campaign activities. — AP, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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