January 14, 2006 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - President Arroyo will have undiminished powers under a House-endorsed parliamentary system, contrary to reports that she will become a substantially weaker chief executive.

A draft revised Constitution prepared by the House committee on constitutional amendments chaired by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Constantino Jaraula allows Mrs. Arroyo to finish her term on June 30, 2010 even after the nation will have already shifted to a parliamentary form of government.

The provisions of the committee’s version of the new Charter, particularly those affecting Mrs. Arroyo, are up for discussion at the meeting of the ruling party Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats today.

The STAR obtained a copy of the draft yesterday.

A section in the proposed transitory provisions reads: "During the interim period, the incumbent President shall continue to exercise the same powers as she has now, except those she will delegate to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, conformably with the Parliamentary system."

The interim period refers to the time between the ratification of the proposed constitutional amendments, when the shift to the new form of government is envisioned to take place, and the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term in 2010.

After the interim period, the prime minister would become the more powerful official, inheriting all the powers of the president, including appointments and control of the police and the Armed Forces. The president would become a ceremonial head of state. Both the president and the prime minister would be elected by parliament, along with its speaker.

Under the draft Charter, Congress would be converted into an interim unicameral parliament. Senators and congressmen would automatically become members of parliament (MPs) until June 30, 2007 when their terms of office expire.

Vice President Noli de Castro would also automatically become MP and member of the Cabinet until June 30, 2007. After this date, the draft Charter is silent on what would happen to De Castro. There is no vice president in a parliamentary form of government.

However, reached for an explanation, Jaraula said De Castro would remain in office as vice president and become an MP and a member of the Cabinet and would be co-terminus with the President until June 30, 2010.

"There would be no term reduction for the President, Vice President De Castro and the 12 senators elected in 2004," he said.

The first election of members of the regular parliament and of local officials, who would have a five-year term, would be held on the second Monday of May 2007.

However, in the plebiscite on the proposed constitutional amendments, voters would be asked whether they would like to postpone the 2007 elections to 2010. If a majority answers yes, the interim parliament, with the present set of senators and congressmen and De Castro as its members, would be extended to June 30, 2010.

Jaraula said while one section of the transitory provisions would have the 2007 elections held as scheduled, another section gives the people the option to postpone them.

He said this is a compromise between those advocating "no-el" (no elections) in 2007 and those wanting the electoral exercise to push through, including former President Fidel Ramos.

No-el and the extension of the terms of office of senators, congressmen and local officials by three years were some of the proposals made by the presidential consultative commission (con-com) on Cha-cha (Charter change).

Ramos has criticized the proposals as a "monumental blunder" and against democratic tradition.

While congressmen already have a version of the revised Constitution, it is still not clear how they and the administration could push their Cha-cha initiative, which has been stymied in the Senate.

The House wants that Cha-cha be done through con-ass (constituent assembly), with the two chambers of Congress proposing the amendments. The larger chamber has in fact approved a con-ass resolution, which the Senate has relegated to the backburner. Most senators want Cha-cha to be done by an elected constitutional convention.

Some of those opposed to Cha-cha and con-ass like House Minority Leader Francis Escudero were willing to play along provided that Mrs. Arroyo steps down by June next year as Ramos had repeatedly proposed. But the President has turned down Ramos’ idea.

Local officials led by Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone have revealed their plans to try to push Cha-cha through the people’s initiative mode provided under the Constitution, but legal experts have said this method cannot be used in the absence of an enabling law.

The remaining option is the "wild card" that congressmen have been threatening senators with if they continue to refuse to cooperate on Cha-cha. Under this option, the House would go it alone, bypass the Senate and hope that the Supreme Court would uphold their actions

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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