[PHOTO AT LEFT COURTESY OF PHILSTAR- President Arroyo boards the presidential helicopter in Air Force City at Clark Field in Pampanga for Rosales, Pangasinan yesterday. With her is Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman. -Photo by Revoli Cortez FOR STAR]

MANILA,  July 1, 2004 (MANILA TIMES) By Niel Villegas Mugas and Maricel V. Cruz , Reporters -  President Arroyo said on Thursday that a shift to a federal govern­ment is a priority of her new administration and is included in her 10-point plan of action.

Mrs. Arroyo told cheering supporters in Butuan City that she wants federalism to be one of her legacies when her term ends in 2010.

Her allies in the House assured her that measures paving the way for federalism would be speedily passed.

The President said that in 2003 she openly endorsed amending the Constitution to have the presidential government replaced with a federal system. Congress, however, was divided on whether to carry out the shift through a constitutional convention or a constitutional assembly.

Mrs. Arroyo said that under a federal government, uprisings such as the EDSA revolts would be “a thing of the past,” but the values of courage and unity they fostered should be retained.

She said that although she did not specifically mention federalism in her inaugural address Wednesday, she lumped it under the “divisive issues” generated by the People Power revolutions.

The President challenged members of the Thirteenth Congress to “take advantage of this special moment” when she has a clear mandate to clean up the bureaucracy and the judiciary, and pass laws that would attract foreign investments and create more jobs.

The President’s deputy spokesman, Ricardo Saludo, was optimistic that the bills she endorsed would face little opposition in Congress.

Saludo said that since Mrs. Arroyo enjoys the support of the majority in the House and the Senate, the passage of Malacañang-sponsored measures would be speedier.

“We now have a direct mandate from the people and, hopefully, this would remove all impediments to carrying out development programs, particularly those that require some amount of sacrifice from certain sectors, if only to attain progress,” Saludo said.

An Arroyo ally in the House, Lakas Rep. Prospero Nograles of Davao City, said the President’s proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution “has better prospects of materializing in this Thirteenth Congress. Proponents [of Charter change] have the President on their side, and the people now have a higher degree of consciousness on the need for reforms. This initiative was scuttled in the past only because of the constant fear for the unknown.”

“We’ve been debating about Charter change since 1996, and presumably all issues have been articulated exhaustively. We should now proceed toward the substantive work of making our Constitution more responsive to the challenges of the times,” Nograles said.

Speaker Jose de Venecia has said efforts to amend the Constitution will remain alive in the next Congress, and that Charter change is among the major challenges it will face in pushing for reforms and national unity.

Nograles sees weaker resistance from opponents of Charter change, because they do not dispute that many provisions in the Constitution need updating.

“There is now a greater degree of public understanding that the benefits of a constitutional reform far outweigh unseen fears on what Charter change may bring,” he said.

Even proposals to shift from the presidential to the parliamentary system are gaining wider public acceptance, he said. “The lessons of the past have shown us that most of the things that should have been done were repeatedly snagged by a very fragmented Congress. Too much politics has blurred our vision for the future of our country.”

Lakas Rep. Antonio Cuenco of Cebu City said Charter change will finally have its way in the Thirteenth Congress, which opens on July 26.

Cuenco said having a unicameral legislature would speed up economic development and remove the chokepoints between the Senate and the House as well as the executive and the legislative.

Nograles said that although Charter change will be a legislative priority of the Thirteenth Congress, other important laws on antipoverty, revenue generation, peace and order and other items on Mrs. Arroyo’s Top 10 agenda will not be left behind.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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