MANILA, AUGUST 16, 2008 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Opposition to the Arroyo administration’s renewed bid for Charter change is mounting, with senators warning Malacañang against linking it to the Mindanao peace process and blaming them for the possible escalation of hostilities with Muslim rebels.

Also voicing their protests were the heads of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), former President Corazon Aquino and former speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

Malacañang said it wanted Charter change as a step toward federalism and expressed support for a Senate resolution calling for the convening of Congress into a constituent assembly in preparation for talks on federalism.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Rodolfo Biazon decided to withdraw their signatures from Joint Resolution No. 10, saying they wanted no part in Mrs. Arroyo’s political agenda.

“By citing the Senate Cha-cha resolution as the basis for their next steps regarding the bungled peace agreement, either they are desperately looking for a way out of the political mess they have brought upon themselves or are pushing Cha-cha as a means to stay in power beyond 2010 or both,” Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said.

“Whatever the case may be, this appears to be governance and policy initiatives gone haywire,” Pangilinan added.

Sen. Francis Escudero said he expects the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain that was supposed to be signed last Aug. 5 by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF. The SC issued a temporary restraining order halting the signing.

“Malacañang should better present a clear road map towards peace in Mindanao rather than invent issues and divert public attention from its botched deal with the MILF,” Escudero said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said it would be up to his colleagues if they would keep their support for his resolution in the light of the latest Palace pronouncements.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments, said he is open to discussing the proposal two to three weeks from now but raised doubts if it will ever take off.

He said the debates might go beyond 2010 or after President Arroyo’s term of office.

Senate President Manuel Villar also brushed aside accusations that some senators are motivated by their own presidential ambitions in their opposition to cha-cha.

“The elections must push through in 2010. Everyone here in the Senate believes there will be elections in 2010,” Villar said.

More hostile voices

Former President Corazon Aquino, a staunch critic of the administration, said she is against Charter change under the current leadership.

“I am against Cha-cha especially at this time,” Mrs. Aquino said in a text message to The STAR through her son, Sen. Benigno Aquino III.

The senator said his mother, who is undergoing treatment for colon cancer, did not elaborate.

The senator said he couldn’t say if his mother is physically fit to actively campaign against cha-cha.

Meanwhile, CBCP president Jaro, Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo urged the public to be vigilant in the light of the administration’s latest cha-cha initiative.

“We do not know what is the hidden agenda for coming out with Cha-cha. Maybe the people should discern if this proposal of the government would be beneficial to us and they should examine the situation,” he said over Radio Veritas.

“The opinion of the CBCP even before is that people should be given a role in amending the Constitution by electing the delegates to the Con-Con. Secondly, if there will be a Con-Con it should be done in 2010 when they would leave these matters to the next administration,” he added.

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, for his part, said he wants to know if the United States played a role in crafting the aborted MOA with the MILF.

“The key to acceptability of the MOA–AD is consultation and dialogue, information and education, and building a constituency supportive of the general goals and specific objectives as well as the processes and contents of the peace negotiations,” he said in an interview with CBCPNews.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the country’s biggest business group, also wants charter change only after 2010.

“The constitutional change should be done beyond 2010 so that it will not have any affect on the elections,” Samie Lim, immediate past president of PCCI said in an interview.

“I think deferring it will be good for everyone concerned but I also do not see any harm in discussing it,” he added.

Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay said the administration’s latest cha-cha pronouncement has also unmasked Mrs. Arroyo’s “illicit and selfish motives.”

“We thank this administration for coming out at last with their true intentions. At least, now the people can clearly see their illicit and selfish motives behind the proposed Cha-cha,” Binay, who is also president of the United Opposition, said.

“With her negative approval rating at an all-time low, the people will expectedly give her proposed term extension a resounding disapproval,” Binay said.

Martial law

There is no way President Arroyo can make the people accept Charter change but to declare martial law because her critics are just as determined to block her, a political analyst said yesterday.

“The political lines are already drawn. Senators who have signed the Senate resolution had withdrawn their signature,” Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Policy and Electoral Reform said at the Weekly Usapang Daungan sa Danarra Hotel.

He said the late Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law to amend the 1935 constitution.

The resolution also calls for the convening of the Senate and the House as a constituent assembly.

Casiple said the moment Congress convenes into a constituent assembly, there will be no stopping the inclusion of term extension in its agenda.

“Everything under the sun, including the abolition of Congress can be discussed by the assembly,” he said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo might use the resulting political unrest to justify the declaration of martial law.

He said the administration considered the martial law option in 2006 to press for constitutional change but received no commitment of support from the military leadership.

“The move of President Arroyo to push for Cha-cha does not indicate she will fade away by 2010,” Casiple said.

GMA’s old friend vs cha-cha

In Dagupan City, former House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. who has been fighting for a parliamentary form of government for the last 15 years and for a federal system for the last nine years, said Charter change initiatives will always be fraught with suspicion unless done after 2010.

“It is being launched now under dark clouds and there are suspicions that it is being presented like a thief in the night with lack of importance, apparently that is the reason why there is a great deal of suspicion and anxiety and tension,” De Venecia told reporters here.

“So therefore, what I am saying is after 2010 after the presidential elections, we can call a constitutional convention and let the people elect their constitutional convention delegate and let the constitutional convention decide on the issues of federalism and parliamentary government and the lifting of economic provisions in order that we can precipitate and trigger massive flow of foreign investments in the Philippines,” he said. De Venecia claimed his rift with the administration has nothing to do with his stand.


Malacañang is resigned to the possibility that its new push for cha-cha will not be easy citing hostile reactions from senators.

Dureza said that the administration hopes to see the 16 senators who supported the resolution to “maintain their principled support to convening a constituent assembly to push for federalism.”

“With some senators, who are authors of Resolution No. 10, seemingly for reasons of their own, no longer interested to push for constitutional reforms for federalism in Mindanao, our expectation that charter change towards federalism in Mindanao will not take off soon,” Dureza said.

“We respect the senators’ current position on the matter,” he added.

He pointed out that it was the Senate and not the President who started pushing for amendments to the Constitution.

“The President is merely being consistent with her campaign platform for constitutional reforms,” Dureza said.

Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio, for his part, said that while he respects the decision of the senators to withdraw their signatures, they would have to answer questions on their stand on federalism.

“The question is: are they doing justice to their own avowal of belief in the federal system as the solution to political and social inequities that might exist in the country?” Claudio said.

Claudio emphasized that the senators could always provide safeguards against “the digression or diversion of the agenda of peace and equity of developing opportunities particularly in Mindanao into something else.” - With Marvin Sy, Michael Punongbayan, Elisa Osorio, Evelyn Macairan, Edith Regalado, Perseus Echeminada, Eva Visperas

GMA suffers from stomach ailment, limits public activities By Paolo Romero Saturday, August 16, 2008

President Arroyo has been suffering from a stomach ailment for the last couple of days and this has limited her public activities.

“President Arroyo had an upset stomach today and she’s feeling well now,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza told reporters last night. “Her doctor checked her out and she’s okay.”

Mrs. Arroyo was conspicuously absent during arrival honors for visiting Kuwait Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah at the Palace grounds yesterday afternoon. Escorting him during the inspection of the guards was Vice President Noli de Castro under a light rain.

The President just waited for Sheikh Nasser inside the Palace where they held brief talks and witnessed the signing of three agreements.

The visit was the only public engagement of the President yesterday. On Thursday, she had no public engagements, except to attend the wake for the mother of Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza in Batangas.

Reporters noticed that her personal physician, Dr. Juliet Gopez-Cervantes, was in the vicinity. The presence of Gopez-Cervantes, a gastro-enterologist based at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, could indicate that Mrs. Arroyo’s ailment was not something that could be easily treated by Palace doctors.

Palace officials said the President has not been feeling well since Wednesday.

“It must have been something that she ate,” an official said.

The First Couple’s health has been a public issue in recent years.

In June 2006, Mrs. Arroyo was confined at the SLMC for acute diarrhea and the following month she was rushed to the same hospital because of the flu.

In April last year, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo underwent risky open-heart surgery. Since then, the First Couple regularly undergoes check-ups at the SLMC.

Some of her close aides said because of her heavy workload, the President was late for some of her medical appointments.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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