January 12, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang officials dismissed the possibility of a showdown between President Arroyo and former President Fidel Ramos over his call for her to step down next year and his push for a shift to a parliamentary form of government.

Mrs. Arroyo and Ramos will meet tomorrow night at Malacañang to thresh out their differences ahead of a high-level meeting of the ruling party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats on Saturday, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Presidential Political Affairs Adviser Gabriel Claudio said.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye also brushed aside the possibility of a clash at the Lakas party meeting over Ramos’ call.

Ermita and Claudio said they "sort of floated" the idea of a meeting between the two leaders when they visited Mr. Ramos at his office in Makati City on Dec. 27 shortly after he voiced his strong opposition to a proposal to postpone next year’s mid-term elections.

"Quite obviously, we heard so many things and it came out in the newspapers so in order that there would be understanding and a meeting of the minds, they need to thresh out issues. Many issues are solved when two people talk, so we thought of that," Ermita told a press conference.

"Of course, you could expect the position of President Ramos would really not drastically change considering that there would be a meeting between the two leaders and for that matter, they will be meeting again during the Lakas (national) directorate meeting, so you can imagine that the issues at hand would be discussed at the higher party level and very intelligently," Ermita said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo welcomed the meeting. It was not clear, however, whether the talks were scheduled before Mr. Ramos called on Mrs. Arroyo to make the "sacrifice" of stepping down next year.

When asked when the meeting would take place, Ermita said: "I don’t know, it could be today." Sources from Ramos’ camp said the meeting would take place tomorrow night at Malacañang.

Mrs. Arroyo has rejected Ramos’ call for her to quit next year and push for a shift in government from a presidential to a parliamentary system.

Ramos, who has stood by Mrs. Arroyo’s side through the political crisis, urged her Monday to end her term next year, then run for parliament under a new Constitution that would scrap the present form of government.

He opposes the proposal of the presidential consultative commission (con-com) calling for a five-year transition to a parliamentary system, with the terms of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives automatically extended beyond 2007 to enable them to constitute an interim unicameral parliament.

Ramos will present his proposal at the meeting of Lakas’ national directorate. He is Lakas’ chairman emeritus of the party while Mrs. Arroyo and Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., a close Ramos ally, are co-chairmen of the party.

Bunye dismissed reports of a possible confrontation between Ramos and Mrs. Arroyo.

He said Mrs. Arroyo and Ramos are both "party stalwarts who will go with the enlightened consensus of the group."

"All issues will be resolved democratically and transparently and we expect the voice of the majority to prevail," he said.

The Lakas party discussion "will be geared to national unity and the people’s welfare," Bunye emphasized, and each party member, "to the last man and woman, are united behind one Philippines."

Claudio said the national directorate meeting would tackle the latest developments on the moves to amend the Constitution as well as the party’s sponsorship of a three-day inter-faith dialogue meeting in Manila organized by its affiliate, Christian Democrats International.

He said there would also be various presentations of members of the con-com, members of the House committee on constitutional amendments and the leaders of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines on their respective efforts to push for Charter change.

Claudio said the party is also coming up with a position on the "no election" proposal.

Opposition leaders expect the Lakas meeting to result in a clash of ideas.

Most local government officials, from governors down, are party members and are pushing for an extension of their terms, currently limited by the Constitution. They are also backing Mrs. Arroyo’s continued stay in office.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos said "infighting within Ramos’ party is advantageous to the opposition since many Lakas members have already expressed their desire to jump over to the opposition should Lakas break up."

Marcos added: "Lakas is presently in crisis because of him. Is he sabotaging his own party or just being absent-minded? What is FVR’s real agenda?"

Ramos, a former general who was president from 1992 to 1998, remains influential with the armed forces and his withdrawal of support for Mrs. Arroyo could tip the balance of power. — With Delon Porcalla

Palace finalizing new appointments to end lobbying for posts The Star 01/12/2006

Malacañang is finalizing new appointments to spare President Arroyo from intense lobbying for the remaining vacant positions in government.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday the list of new appointees had been completed and that their names would be announced in a "matter of days."

"I know there are a few already signed by the President, in the next few days hopefully there may be some announcements," he said.

The standard operating procedures would have to be followed before any announcement could be made, he added.

Ermita said some lobbying could work one way or the other, making an appointment unofficial unless announced formally and accompanied by the necessary paperwork.

"As far as the appointments are concerned, the President as a matter of fact as much as possible would like to announce it immediately para nga ang mga lobbying eh tumigil na (so that lobbying would stop), but the President exercises her prerogative to choose the most competent, loyal and the best that can do the job," he said.

"Let us just wait for them. It’s just a matter of days, soon you will get it, but I am not at liberty to announce now."

Ermita said the process would involve the submission of names to Mrs. Arroyo, which she would review after the search committee has studied them.

"It (an appointment) passes my office... Actually, even those that are signed by the President, we double-check (if) they (will) be announced already," he said.

Ermita said even the appointment of Environment Secretary Mike Defensor as Mrs. Arroyo’s chief of staff has not been formalized because his official functions have yet to be defined.

Defensor will reportedly be named concurrent secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Lobbying for the post of DENR secretary has already begun, along with openings at other departments without permanent heads. The "vacancies" occurred after the mass resignation of the so-called "Hyatt 10" Cabinet secretaries and bureau chiefs last July.

At the time, Mrs. Arroyo had immediately named the secretaries of the departments of finance, trade and industry, and budget as she cited the importance of having a new economic team. — Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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