APRIL 4, 2006 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Even before the Arroyo administration’s Charter change (Cha-cha) initiative has been consummated, the guessing game has begun: Who will be the country’s prime minister?

For Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, the race for the top post should be between Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., the principal Cha-cha proponent in the House, and Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno.

In a statement, the daughter of the late President Ferdinand Marcos said yesterday President Arroyo is likely to give her blessings to Puno, who is president-on-leave of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), the political party Mrs. Arroyo founded in 1997.

She said in that eventuality, De Venecia would give Puno a run for his money.

Marcos said the Speaker enjoys broad support from the ruling Lakas and other political groups in the multi-party coalition in the House.

On the other hand, Kampi and disgruntled Lakas members could elect Puno as prime minister, she added.

Marcos warned De Venecia, who is actively campaigning for Cha-cha, that he could eventually find himself being off-loaded from the Cha-cha train.

"Manong Joe should be cautious because he is considered a Malacañang outsider. He is only being used for Cha-cha to succeed," she said.

She reminded her House boss that in the past, whenever he backed the call of former President Fidel Ramos for Mrs. Arroyo to cut short her term of office to allow for an early shift to the parliamentary system, Malacañang allies in the chamber had always challenged his leadership.

Such challenges ended only when De Venecia toed the line of the Palace and its allies on the President’s term, which is that Mrs. Arroyo should be allowed to finish her term up until June 30, 2010, she said.

"Manong Joe ought to have a counter-move if he feels that Malacañang is closing in on him," she said.

Marcos’ late father experimented with the French-style parliamentary system, the same set-up that Mrs. Arroyo and De Venecia want to see replace the presidential form of government.

The late President Marcos was both head of state and head of government, the same role that Mrs. Arroyo would assume during the transition to a full parliamentary system.

The country’s first prime minister under the Marcos-style parliamentary government was Cesar Virata, who was concurrently finance minister.

Under the Charter amendments that the administration is advocating, the prime minister would be elected by members of parliament. There would be an interim prime minister who would assist Mrs. Arroyo during the transition to a full parliamentary system.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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