, November 4, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo will serve her full term until 2010 unless the people decide to cut it short through legal means, Malacañang asserted yesterday.

Unless the 1987 Constitution is amended, Mrs. Arroyo, having been elected on May 10, 2004 to serve as president for six years, must finish her term under the basic law, Malacañang said.

"President Arroyo will lead the country forward under a full term unless the people say otherwise in a process ordained by law," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye Jr. said.

He stressed that even if a plebiscite is held on a new Constitution that is being hammered out in Congress for a shift to the parliamentary system of government, Mrs. Arroyo is mandated to serve out her term until 2010.

But if the people decide to approve a new constitution that would effectively cut the President’s term of office, Bunye said they have no other choice.

"If the (new) Constitution says that her term would be cut short, then so be it. But as of now, without the constitutional amendments or without the constitutional change, the President has a mandate that expires on 2010," he said.

Bunye issued the statement amid reports that Mrs. Arroyo has agreed to hold parliamentary elections in 2007 that would result in the election of a new prime minister, triggering talks that her term would be cut short or her powers reduced.

It also came after Malacañang pushed on Wednesday for the conduct of a plebiscite and ratification of the draft constitution within the first six months of 2006.

Bunye warned the nation against what he called "idle speculations" on Mrs. Arroyo’s term in relation to the proposed shift to a parliamentary system.

"Instead, let everyone who is interested in fundamental political and economic reforms help in the spadework in Charter change," Bunye said.

He urged the people to participate in the discussions initiated by the consultative commission (con-com) on constitutional amendments which the President formed last September to assist Congress in drafting the new Charter.

The con-com began its nationwide consultations last month as Mrs. Arroyo said she will appoint more commissioners, to bring the number from 49 to 55 to hasten its work. The consultative body is expected to come up with its recommendations by the end of year.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said on Wednesday Malacañang wants amendments to the 1987 Constitution ready for ratification in a plebiscite by early next year for a change in the country’s form of government.

Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo is serious about changing the country’s presidential form of government to a federal parliamentary system, even if it means cutting short her term.

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

Ermita said the swift moves for Charter change should end speculations that Mrs. Arroyo is not sincere in her call for change.

Ermita pointed out that Mrs. Arroyo herself had repeatedly described the current presidential type of government 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," he said.

Some sectors, however, called on Mrs. Arroyo to take the initiative of resigning immediately.

A group called La Salle - Ateneo Concerned Alumni at Lahat Na (LACALN) said Mrs. Arroyo should cut her term of office amid accusations of graft and corruption in her government and other "faults."

LACALN enumerated other "crimes" Mrs. Arroyo had committed since assuming the presidency in January 2001.

The con-com, on the other hand, is now on a high gear in carrying out its task.

In an effort to get more sectors involved in the discussions on how to rewrite the Constitution, the commission had invited more resource persons to secure better inputs and proposals.

Among those invited as resource speakers are Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Generoso Senga, Philippine National Police chief Arturo Lomibao, Civil Service Commission chief Karina David, Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos, Commission on Audit chairman Guillermo Carague and Commission on Human Rights chairman Purificacion Quisumbing.

"We felt that we need to hear the views of all the sectors. We want to reach out to people. That is the real consultation. We also felt that the PNP and the AFP should be heard," Con-Com committee chairman Jose Leviste Jr. said.

Leviste said they have already sent invitations to the invited resource persons to submit their written inputs and proposals on amendments in the Constitution.

Also invited to share their inputs with the committee are former senator Gregorio Honasan and retired general Romeo Dominguez.

"We would also want to hear from the opposition. We hope that they respond," Leviste said.

According to Leviste, the committee is looking to amend provisions in the Constitution affecting the functions of constitutional bodies.

"There is now a lot of controversy in Civil Service and Comelec," Leviste pointed out.

The 55-member Con-Com had just recently finished its workshops and consultations in strategic areas in the Visayas and Mindanao. Consultations for Luzon, Southern Tagalog and the Bicol regions are scheduled at the end of this month. - With Mike Frialde, Michael Punongbayan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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