GMA  BACK  ON  CAMPAIGN  TRAIL  FOR  CHA-CHA

MANILA
, July 27, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica and Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is ready to hit the campaign trail again — this time to seek the people’s support for her proposal to change the Charter through a constituent assembly.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said yesterday that Mrs. Arroyo would take every opportunity to help the public understand the issue, including making appearances in the countryside.

Bunye also clarified the President was not seeking a "graceful exit" but was just being faithful to her word that she would support Charter change (Cha-cha) after putting the country’s economy and fiscal house in order.

"This is not a matter of a graceful exit but... a matter of pushing through with political reforms," Bunye stressed. "She is prepared to take this directly to the people."

The President had done the same in pushing for the passage of the expanded value-added tax, an unpopular revenue measure, he said.

During her State of the Nation Address on Monday, Mrs. Arroyo called for the start of the "great debate" on constitutional amendments.

She is pushing for a change in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary, a move that observers said could cut her term but would also spell her political survival since it has the support of the House of Representatives and local government officials.

The President is facing an impeachment case before the House aside from persistent calls for her to step down. Other critics said she was being coached by former President Fidel Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., who could stand to benefit from the proposed shift to a parliamentary government.

Bunye, however, brushed aside these speculations.

In advocating Cha-cha, Mrs. Arroyo pointed out that the country’s political system had degenerated and was now a hindrance as the country was ready to take off and achieve progress.

"What the President said is it’s time for us to talk about this proposed Charter change more seriously and more earnestly. She’s leaving it to the two houses of Congress to determine the appropriate timeline," Bunye said.

Media blitz

Meanwhile, emerging from "crisis mode," the President is now making herself more accessible to journalists and plans to go on a media blitz to push her latest political and economic initiatives.

The President, who declined interviews even at the height of attempts to oust her early this month, will hold a press conference with regular Malacañang reporters, the first to be scheduled in nearly nine weeks.

She is also slated to give interviews to various media outfits in the coming weeks. The last time Mrs. Arroyo held a brief question-and-answer session with journalists was last June 6, when calls for her to resign started. It was also on that day that Bunye bared the "Hello, Garci" CDs to the Malacañang Press Corps.

Since then, Mrs. Arroyo has confined herself to Palace meetings with her close allies and family, issuing her major statements through government television and radio.

Bunye justified the action, saying that facing the media before the State of the Nation Address might result in premature disclosure of the President’s speech.

At the height of the political crisis, though, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita issued a memorandum urging Cabinet officials to be more accessible to media and to defend the President from attacks. Bunye said this directive had compensated somewhat for the lack of media interviews with Mrs. Arroyo.

But this time, the President will no longer micromanage the affairs of government, leaving the manner of implementing specific programs to Cabinet officials while she focuses on fundamental reforms.

"The President is pleased with the turn of events, let’s put it that way," Bunye said. "But we have to do a lot of work to push through with the reforms that the President has promised."

Moreover, the Office of the Communications Director (OCD), formerly headed by chief government negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Silvestre Afable Jr., will not be abolished as earlier reported. Bunye disclosed that the Palace was currently scouting for a new director.

"I am glad to hear that the OCD is not being abolished but I have stopped performing my duties and responsibilities as Communications Director. I have asked Undersecretary Claro Fernandez to take care of the office in the meantime and until an officer-in-charge is designated or a fulltime communications director is appointed," Afable said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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