MANILA, AUGUST 14, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang said yesterday it’s “all systems go for Charter change” as it declared its support for a pending Senate resolution calling for the creation of 11 federal states in the country.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza made the announcement at a news briefing after attending a Cabinet security cluster meeting presided over by President Arroyo during which the decision to revive efforts to amend the Constitution was reached.

He said it was agreed during the meeting that the Arroyo administration will support Senate Joint Resolution No. 10 on the creation of federal states filed in May by Senate President Manuel Villar, and a mix of opposition and administration lawmakers including Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

“The Palace is supporting fully this particular resolution,” Dureza said.

The resolution envisions the creation of 11 federal states, namely the states of Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Minparom (Mindoro, Palawan and Romblon), Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao, and Bangsamoro, through the convening of Congress into a constituent assembly.

Metro Manila will be constituted as the Federal Administration Region under the resolution.

“The federalization of the Republic would speed up the development of the entire nation and help dissipate the causes of insurgency throughout the land, particularly centuries-old Moro rebellion,” the resolution said.

Dureza said the move to revive Charter change is also in response to “Bangsamoro aspirations” for an autonomous federal state in Mindanao as envisioned in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The SC issued a temporary restraining order on the signing of the MOA in Malaysia early last week.

Mrs. Arroyo on Monday, in her speech during a luncheon in honor of visiting Switzerland President Pascal Couchepin, pushed for a federal system of government in Mindanao to help end the conflict and create a climate of lasting peace.

Dureza said full support for the Senate resolution would provide a “bigger opportunity for the country to avail of the federal set up” than a “surgical” amendment to the Constitution.

“She strongly believes there must be reform in the Constitution (to) downscale the authority of the central government and dissipating it in local set up and this is one of reform agenda we have been saying before,” Dureza said.

“She had been saying she is looking at federal setup and a constitutional amendment so it’s not correct that the cat is out of bag right now,” he said.

Skeptical Senate

Senators however are wary about President Arroyo’s declaration of support for Senate Joint Resolution 10.

Villar lamented that the peace process has been derailed by confusion caused by the Arroyo administration’s pronouncement that Cha-cha is needed for the peace process in Mindanao to succeed.

“That is why there is so much confusion. (Resolution 10) is pending at the upper house and this issue on federal system will have to be debated upon. We have yet to start the debates but if Malacañang will push for (Cha-cha) we should know for sure what are the real reasons and motives for it,” Villar said in an interview.

“What’s the real score here? This is serious. Nobody should ride on the issue of federal system. I don’t believe that the issue on peace process in Mindanao should be used as a reason to push for Charter change,” Villar added.

Pimentel, the proponent of the resolution, said he is keen on pursuing a federal system despite President Arroyo’s announcement. “Yes, not to back her agenda but only that of Resolution No. 10 to federalize RP for two things: to speed up economic development of the country and to dissipate causes of RP unrest especially in Mindanao,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the government has no moral ascendancy to push for Cha-cha while Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the Senate will “vigorously oppose Cha-cha if the same is to be undertaken before 2010.”

The Senate tackled yesterday the issue of federalism during plenary.

“They’re really pushing for an independent state within that, so I think I will back off and oppose the move to change our Charter now because the motives are suspect,” Sen. Loren Legarda, for her part, said.

“The Senate and the House (will meet separately) because the danger really is if we have a united deliberation in voting they will overwhelm us. Mas marami sila eh (they’re more in number),” Pimentel said.

“Considering the reality of the situation that they can run through what they want to do, if we are voting jointly. That’s why I put in my resolution voting separately,” Pimentel explained, adding, “GMA is not in my equation.”

Pimentel also argued that there is no extension provision on the President’s term in his proposal.

“What I’m saying is that it cannot happen in my resolution. Maybe in their resolution, but not in mine. I want the people to be a little more perceptive and discerning, not just reacting on a knee-jerk,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada does not find the timing appropriate for Cha-cha.

“I don’t think this is the proper time because of the conflict in Mindanao, the recent conflict with regard to the aborted signing of the MOA. I don’t think this is the proper time to talk about federalism,” Estrada said.

Estrada said he is supportive of Pimentel’s resolution but will have to rethink his position because Malacañang is riding on the issue.

Sen. Joker Arroyo also echoed his colleagues’ apprehension over the Palace’s plans, while Sen. Pia Cayetano said she is “totally shocked that the administration is using the war as a vehicle to push its agenda on Cha-cha.”

“I don’t mind that we discuss federalism by way of having the pros and cons out, but the timing is not good because obviously the administration has an agenda here,” Cayetano said.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said there is a need for senators to reach a consensus on the issue because the timing is suspect.

“We are all in favor of amending the Constitution but the timing is suspect. I think we have to wait for the perfect time. And I feel the perfect time will be after the elections of 2010,” Zubiri said.

Mixed reactions

Some House allies of the Arroyo administration have expressed misgivings about its latest pitch for Charter change but others have claimed widespread support for the initiative based on an “informal survey.”

Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, were generally not in favor of Charter change as a step toward federalism.

“Even in a federal set-up, the MOA is unacceptable. A country cannot be half-slave and half-free, a democracy in a sultanate. That’s why Malaysia is not a real democracy. A federal system of government cannot just be limited in Mindanao,” Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. said. Locsin heads the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms.

Rep. Joel Villanueva of the Citizens Battle Against Corruption warned Mrs. Arroyo that history is replete with stories of ignoble ends of political dynasties and dictatorships, like those of Ferdinand Marcos and Suharto of Indonesia.

Even some senior House members have expressed caution.

“I think pushing for Cha-cha at this time when the country and our people are facing so many urgent problems is divisive and counterproductive. We should talk Cha-cha when there are no more hungry and jobless people,” said Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara.

“So far, I’m not convinced of the timing and the purpose. This matter needs to be thoroughly discussed,” said Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, whose Liberal Party is allied with the opposition bloc.

“We have seen the problem in Mindanao for more than 40 years. During martial law, not even Marcos was able to solve the Mindanao conflict although he was instrumental in forging the Tripoli agreement,” Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said.

“GMA was not the one who started proposing Charter change for federalism especially in Mindanao. Remember, it was Sen. Nene Pimentel who started the ball rolling and asking that we convert to federalism through Charter change,” Speaker Prospero Nograles said.

Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron said he is in favor of Charter amendments, but “only through constitutional convention.”

“Definitely, I will strongly oppose any move to amend the Constitution at this time as the motive will be suspect in the eyes of the public,” Rep. Niel Tupas stressed.

Anak Mindanao Rep. Mujiv Hataman said he is in favor of Charter change but only if the main objective is to secure peace in Mindanao.

“I oppose Cha-cha because I fear that it will only perpetuate GMA’s rule and will open our Constitution to amendments that will further open our economy and patrimony to foreign interests,” said Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza.

“The US and GMA are using the peace talks with the MILF to pursue their respective agenda. For GMA to perpetuate herself in power, and for the US strategic interest of re-establishing permanent military bases in the country and intensify its plunder of our natural resources,” said Rep. Rafael Mariano of party-list Anakpawis.

La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments, disclosed that 115 of the 123 lawmakers who responded to an “informal survey” were in favor of Charter change. He said eight of those surveyed opposed Charter change. A total of 238 congressmen were surveyed. – With Christina Mendez and Delon Porcalla

FVR: Gov’t shift only after 2010 By Katherine Adraneda Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Former President Fidel Ramos said moves to amend the Constitution and change to a federal form of government must come only after 2010 to dispel speculations that President Arroyo is bent on staying in power beyond her term.

Ramos shot down all initiatives to amend the Constitution, saying Charter change at this time for a federal system of government cannot readily attain peace in Mindanao.

He said the moves to amend the Charter for a federal system of government is only focused on “accommodating” the struggle of a Muslim federal state.

“If the amendment is just for that purpose, then maybe a majority of the people may accept it to define what the expanded autonomy is,” Ramos said in a lecture on peace and development at the University of the Philippines (UP).

Ramos instead called for a clear definition of the “expanded autonomy” of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) as being proposed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF is pushing for the BJE to be carved out from an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in exchange for ending the bloody insurgency.

But the Supreme Court, acting on the petition by local officials questioning the accord, stopped the agreement, which was supposed to have been signed with the government last week.

Under the agreement, the existing five-province Muslim region would be expanded to add more than 700 villages, and grant the MILF sweeping powers in running their affairs, a prospect that has prompted angry protests across Mindanao.

Ramos said the move to amend the Constitution and shift to a federal system to accommodate the BJE would be counterproductive.

“Call it what it should be and define... (Limit) it to that one topic... All other issues must come after 2010,” he said.

The former president said there are other issues that can be addressed by Charter change, including electoral reforms; improvement of party politics, specifically the definition of political dynasty and turncoat-ism; and protective economic provisions.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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