, November 3, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang wants amendments to the 1987 Constitution ready for ratification in a plebiscite by early next year to pave the way for a change in the country’s form of government.

President Arroyo is serious about changing the country’s US-style presidential form of government to a federal, parliamentary system even if it means cutting her term short, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told a press briefing yesterday.

Mrs. Arroyo had agreed in a meeting with Speaker Jose de Venecia and former President Fidel Ramos last Monday that parliamentary elections should be held in 2007.

"Yes, there was a meeting… He’s (De Venecia) confirming that there’s no objection," Ermita said. "The President is not averse to having that election for members of parliament in 2007."

Ermita said the swift moves for Charter change should end speculation that Mrs. Arroyo was not sincere in her call to change the country’s present form of government, which she had repeatedly described as a "degenerated political system" that is hampering the country’s economic recovery efforts.

"Hopefully, sometime in the first or second quarter of next year, we should be seeing something in the future about the plebiscite for such a Constitution," Ermita said.

The consultative commission on constitutional amendments, formed by Mrs. Arroyo last September to assist Congress in drafting amendments, would finish work by the end of the year while the House of Representatives is set to begin discussions on proposed amendments this month.

Amendments should be ready for ratification early next year, Ermita explained.

Shortly after the political crisis broke, Ramos suggested that the Constitution be amended and the country’s form of government changed to minimize political bickering.

He said Mrs. Arroyo should cut her term short to pave the way for charter change, which Ramos said would also give Mrs. Arroyo a "graceful exit" amid opposition-led calls for her resignation over allegations that she cheated in last year’s presidential election.

However, Mrs. Arroyo’s seeming hesitation to cut her term put the Charter change drive into question. Administration officials said she would shorten her term if the constitutional amendments called for it.

There are no exact details yet on how the change to a parliamentary form of government would affect Mrs. Arroyo’s term, Ermita said.

"I think what we should be on the lookout how... the draft of the revised Constitution, when it is submitted to the people for plebiscite, provide for the terms of the president and vice president because their term is up to 2010," Ermita said. "Such cannot be anticipated right now because consultations (of the con-com) are still ongoing. We cannot anticipate economic provisions, provisions on structure of government and transitory provisions. Let’s wait for that."

In her State of the Nation Address in July, Mrs. Arroyo called on Congress to consider shifting to a parliamentary form of government, which she said would help stop gridlocks caused by quarrels between the president and the legislature, as well as make the government more efficient.

A federal system has gained favor among provincial governments who have long been dissatisfied over the dominance of "Imperial Manila."

Lito Monico Lorenzana, secretary-general of the constitutional commission, said it’s possible for Mrs. Arroyo to stay as president until her term ends in 2010 or run for prime minister in the parliamentary elections.

These scenarios will depend on the constitutional amendments that the panel will draft.

"If we follow the classic parliamentary government, we could have a strong prime minister and a ceremonial president. The twist is that, she could also run for parliament in 2007 and could be elected as prime minister," Lorenzana said.

He, however, doubts that the amendments would be ready for ratification by early next year at the rate things are going even if Congress sits down as a constituent assembly, one of three modes of introducing constitutional amendments.

"First they have to pass a law forming the constituent assembly and then they will have to deal with the Senate which is not cooperating," Lorenzana explained. "It will take time. Amending the Constitution by a constituent assembly will be faster but the Senate must agree."

Most of the Senate disagrees with the House on how to amend the Constitution as well as the timing, saying there are more urgent problems that need attention.

Senators prefer amendments made by a constitutional convention, which would be made of delegates elected by the people.

"A broader consensus inclusive of more interest groups, one that is representative, is necessary. Their approach, which is perceived by many to be self-serving, will not get very far," said Senate Majority Floor Leader Francis Pangilinan. — With Marvin Sy, Mike Frialde

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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