[PHOTO AT LEFT -  DAY OF THE GENERALS: President Arroyo chats with Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz (in barong) and top military officers (from left) Army chief Lt.Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Armed Forces chief Gen. Generoso Senga, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes and Navy chief Vice Adm. Mateo Mayuga after the oath-taking of 31 newly promoted senior military officers at Malacanang yesterday. - Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, June 1, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Former President Fidel Ramos said yesterday his call for President Arroyo to cut short her term to pave the way for a shift to a parliamentary form of government was "no longer realistic" because the deadline for her to make such a decision has lapsed.

"It is no longer realistic. The timeline that I gave is past. Can you bring back the time? Of course not," Ramos told reporters during a visit to Malacañang.

Instead, he welcomed Mrs. Arroyo’s constitutional amendment timetable that is slated to begin this month but has been derailed by Senate opposition to her initiative.

At a press conference last January, Ramos had urged Mrs. Arroyo to end her six-year term next year and run for parliament under a new constitution that would replace the country’s US-style presidential government.

Ramos, one of Mrs. Arroyo’s few remaining supporters in the midst of calls for her to resign over vote-rigging charges last year, had given her until June to make a decision. He did not say if he would withdraw political support if Mrs. Arroyo rejected his proposal.

Ramos — a strong advocate of Charter change — had warned earlier this year that clinging to power would hamper the country’s fragile economy because of the credibility crisis hounding Mrs. Arroyo since July.

But Mrs. Arroyo rejected Ramos’ call, saying she planned to complete her six-year term — which expires in mid-2010 — unless amendments made to the Constitution require her to do otherwise.

Ramos’ proposal initially threatened to split the ruling party Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats.

Ramos, who founded the party in 1992 when he ran for the presidency, is its chairman emeritus, while Mrs. Arroyo co-chairs the party along with Speaker Jose de Venecia.

Ramos did not pursue the issue after party leaders rejected his proposal in a caucus.

In a separate interview over ANC television yesterday, Ramos said there was no point in asking Mrs. Arroyo to step down now.

He said it was now up to the people to decide whether Mrs. Arroyo should stay in office until her six-year term expires in 2010 if her allies succeed in amending the Constitution via a people’s initiative.

Ramos also called on Filipinos for unity following months of division as debates heated up over amending the Constitution and the vote-rigging accusations against Mrs. Arroyo.

He urged the nation’s leaders to draw inspiration from mountaineers Heracleo Oracion, Erwin Emata and Romeo Garduce, who recently became the first Filipinos to climb Mount Everest.

"Whatever crisis, challenges, needs and difficulties, the people can overcome them as long as we are together and helping one another," Ramos said. "Teamwork is the most important. This must be a lesson to all of us."

Ramos accompanied the three mountaineers yesterday at a meeting with Mrs. Arroyo at Malacañang.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita welcomed Ramos’ statement. "I can imagine President Ramos is also following the developments," he said. "We can see that the objective of moving forward with Charter change could be achieved over time."

Ramos said a people’s initiative — in which the electorate may propose amendments to the Constitution through a petition — is now the best method of amending the country’s Charter and that the Supreme Court must soon decide on its legality.

Critics argue there is no law enabling a people’s initiative, citing a 1997 Supreme Court ruling on a previous people’s initiative that had sought to extend Ramos’ term. The Constitution limits the president to a single six-year term.

Constitutional amendment proponents are hoping for a reversal by the High Tribunal.

Proponents of the people’s initiative said they have more than the required number of signatures and are set to file their petition before the Commission on Elections.

They are also bracing for legal challenges that might be filed before the Supreme Court seeking to stop them.

The people’s initiative could surmount the impasse between the Senate and the House of Representatives, which are oceans apart on how to amend the Constitution.

Last year, the House sent to the Senate a joint concurrent resolution urging Congress to convene itself into a constituent assembly to propose amendments.

Impatient over the senators’ decision on the constituent assembly measure, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Constantino Jaraula, chairman of the House constitutional amendments committee, introduced another resolution that seeks to bypass the Senate on Charter change.

The Senate contends that any effort to amend the Constitution without its participation and without the two chambers voting separately on amendments would be unconstitutional.

Most senators also prefer a constitutional convention in making amendments, arguing that the constituent assembly method preferred by the House might be seen as self-serving because the amendments would be written by lawmakers.

In 1973, the Philippines shifted to a parliamentary system shortly after dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law the previous year and put in place a new constitution to cement his iron-fisted rule.

Marcos initially ruled by decree as president and prime minister until Cesar Virata was appointed prime minister in the 1980s. Marcos lifted martial law in 1981 but retained his power to rule by decree.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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