(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Despite the certainty of her victory over possible rivals, President Arroyo’s congressional bid next year may be heading for a legal maelstrom, according to her senator-allies.

The senators said that while there is no legal impediment to Mrs. Arroyo’s running for a House seat and keeping her job as President at the same time, the Supreme Court may still have to decide on whether the ban on re-election covers lower elective posts.

“These are the legal conundrums that are cropping up. I think that it is precisely because of these possibilities that the Constitution said that the president is not qualified to run for any re-election – meaning, any election or any elective office after service of the term of president,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said.

“And although these are mere opinions being dished out, and there are contrary opinions, what I am pointing out is, it is good that this matter will be brought to the Supreme Court for final resolution. After all, the only one that can decide this is the Supreme Court,” Enrile said during a forum at the Senate with the Commission on Elections.

Comelec legal counsel Ferdinand Rafanan agreed and said this would be decided upon only after a complaint has been filed against the President.

Enrile, together with senators Miriam Santiago and Joker Arroyo, however, stressed that Mrs. Arroyo may serve until June of 2010, the end of her term, despite her being a candidate for congresswoman.

“I don’t think we should deprive the country of a President. There are successors but it’s only six months. Just let her be. Let the Supreme Court decide the issue – the position of the President wishing to run for Congress,” Enrile said.

“As a lawyer, I have also my own doubts because this will create a lot of problems. I think it’s good that the President, in a sense, has done what she did running for that position, so that this matter will go to the Supreme Court for final determination, because that is the system we have,” he said.

“This will be hanging over our heads for a long period of time unless this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court. This is one reason why our Constitution ought to be revisited. There are so many doubtful provisions that were imbedded in it,” Enrile said.

“Suffrage is one of the fundamentally protected rights in our Constitution. Suffrage is not only the right to vote, but the right to be voted for,” Santiago said.

FVR hit

Santiago also assailed former President Fidel Ramos for calling for President Arroyo’s resignation.

“I don’t know why he has to make such a scenario for President Arroyo. She is making history. If she fails, she is going to be punished by an entire generation of Filipinos because of their mindset,” she said.

“But if she wins, she would have made history. I have always liked people who make history, that’s why I prevented Fidel Ramos from attempting to make history,” Santiago said.

“He is not even a lawyer. What is that soldier talking about? This is a soldier that hasn’t even seen a gun, as far as I was told. He never went to fight a battle. He was always an armchair general. Why is a general attempting to direct Philippine politics? He should go to Maguindanao,” Santiago said.

“There is no law that prohibits her from running. In fact, the records of the Constitutional Commission clearly show that the delegates of the Constitutional Commission wanted to allow the president to run for any other office except the presidency,” Santiago said.

Santiago said the case was different when Ramos himself sought to extend his term as president.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, in a statement, urged Ramos to respect the President’s decision.

“We recognize the right of people to freely express their sentiments. But I must disagree with this call for the President to resign, in view of the constitutional mandate President Arroyo must fulfill and because her continued tenure violates no law,” he said.

Senator Arroyo, for his part, said he could not understand the fuss over Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to run. He also squelched speculations that she would like to become speaker, push for a shift to a parliamentary form of government through Charter change and vie for the post of prime minister.

He reminded her detractors that Mrs. Arroyo failed to push for Cha-cha as president and even with the help of former House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

Noli bogeyman

For a staunch House ally of President Arroyo, raising the prospect of Vice President Noli de Castro taking over the government should convince Ramos to change his mind about calling for her resignation.

Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez was reacting to Ramos’ call for the Mrs. Arroyo to resign to level the playing field in the congressional race in Pampanga’s second district.

“The country is facing a serious financial crisis as evidenced by the ballooning budget deficit. I am not belittling Vice President Noli, but he will have difficulty in confronting this problem,” he said.

Ramos said earlier Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation would also allow her constitutional successor to devote his attention and time to the problems of the nation.

Suarez told the Serye Café’ news forum in Quezon City that the nation would be in better hands if Mrs. Arroyo stays in office while campaigning for representative of her district.

As of last month, the budget deficit was at P266 billion, P16 billion more than the full-year target of P250 billion. Some investment banks project the budget gap would breach the P300-billion mark by the end of the year.

The country’s budget deficit has reached record levels under the Arroyo administration.

Suarez also confirmed that the President would work on Charter change (Cha-cha) if she becomes a congresswoman and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“I think she wants to push for economic amendments, like opening land ownership to foreigners. She is not after changing the form of government from presidential to parliamentary system,” he said.


Ernesto Maceda, spokesman for the United Opposition, said Ramos should apologize to the Filipinos for helping Mrs. Arroyo assume power in 2001 after the ouster of Joseph Estrada.

“I just want to remind President Ramos that he installed Gloria in 2001. He must make a public apology and say ‘I am sorry for installing Gloria in 2001,”’ Maceda said at a press briefing.

He also said it would be very difficult for Mrs. Arroyo – if she becomes congresswoman – to bag the speakership much less become prime minister under a parliamentary form of government.

“There are four steps that she has to undergo. First is to win the elections, which we concede she can. Second, she has to be elected Speaker of the House. But that would be dependent upon who will be president. Third, she still has to convince Congress and the Filipino people that there is a need to change from presidential to parliamentary. Fourth, to convince the Congress to elect her as prime minister,” Maceda said.

Not even a victory in the presidential race of her anointed candidate, Gilbert Teodoro, can guarantee her the speakership.

“No president will just willingly give the powers of the presidency on a silver platter,” he said.

At the same conference, Estrada called Mrs. Arroyo “power drunk.”

“She must be power drunk when she has already served for nine years. She had not been an effective president. What more she can do when she becomes congresswoman when she has not done anything good as president when she has all the powers,” Estrada said.

By holding on to her post despite her decision to run for congresswoman, Estrada said Mrs. Arroyo now enjoys “undue advantage” over her rivals in Pampanga’s second district.

“She can use the government resources and she can influence the result of the elections,” Estrada said.

Not worried

As condemnation of President Arroyo’s decision to run for Congress mounts, her supporters claim she’s not bothered at all.

“President Arroyo is not bothered by the statements of her critics when she filed her certificate of candidacy,” Mrs. Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said.

“President Arroyo will not be bothered or disturbed because all these criticism could be assuaged with balm of a clear conscience,” he said.

He said even before she filed her COC, she had been the subject of the same criticism and attacks by her detractors.

“While we respect their rights to air their views in a democratic society and she’ll prove to them that what she did is all intended not for personal interest but because of her sincere desire to continue her commitment to public service,” Macalintal said. With Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Delon Porcalla

GMA can run, Palace insists By Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated December 05, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang maintained yesterday that the Constitution allows President Arroyo to run for a lower elective post.

The statement was issued after senators said the Supreme Court may have to decide on the constitutionality of her candidacy for representative of the second district of Pampanga.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde read to reporters portions of the transcript of the deliberations of the members of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.

“Based on the plain language of the 1987 Constitution and the intent of the framers of the members of the Constitutional Commission, the President is only barred from seeking reelection for the same position, i.e., the presidency. The ban is perpetual. The President can run for any other elective office,” Remonde said.

Citing the article of constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, he said members of the commission were tackling three options regarding the president’s term: no immediate reelection, no reelection, and unlimited number of reelection.

During the deliberations, Florenz Regalado, a member of the commission, inquired with fellow commissioner Hilario Davide whether a president can be allowed to run for a lower elective position.

“He (president) can. He is only banned from reelection, meaning to the same office, but not from running for any office. So the wording is very clear: the president shall be ineligible for any reelection,” Remonde said quoting from the article.

“In other words, while an elected president cannot or is not eligible to run for the presidency for the second time, he or she can do so for other elective positions,” Remonde said.

Hard time

Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., meantime, believes that President Arroyo will have a hard time becoming House speaker if she plans to do so once elected as representative of Pampanga’s second district.

“It is not President Arroyo’s choice if she will become Speaker, but I do not believe she will be one,” Villar said, stressing that the Speaker of the House is chosen by his or her colleagues.

Villar, however, said he does not have any intention of meddling in the affairs of Congress if he gets elected as president.

As this developed, senators defended yesterday Vice President Noli de Castro from attacks that he will be unable to lead the country effectively if he succeeds President Arroyo once she bows to pressure to resign from office to pursue her congressional bid.

Opposition Sen. Pia Cayetano said it is unfair to cast doubt on the ability of De Castro as he is the constitutional successor to Mrs. Arroyo.

An administration ally has said that the Vice President would be incapable of leading the government if the President steps down for her congressional bid.

“Vice President Noli de Castro was elected to his post by the Filipino people. He is the constitutional successor to the President in the improbable scenario that Mrs. Arroyo suddenly decides to resign out of delicadeza after casting her candidacy for a congressional seat in Pampanga,” said Cayetano, who is running for senator under the NP.

“Many times in the past, the Vice President has been the favorite punching bag of Mrs. Arroyo’s apologists whenever calls mount for her to step down, including at the height of the Hello Garci controversy, the NBN-ZTE scandal and now, after filing her candidacy to run for a lower position,” Cayetano said.

“So why not give Noli a chance to prove his worth and run the country, even in the last days of this regime? They’ve insulted and belittled his position and capabilities too far.”

Unlike Mrs. Arroyo, Cayetano said De Castro was never involved nor linked to corruption scandals, unexplained killings and massacres.

She added that unlike Arroyo, De Castro has decided not to run for any position in next year’s elections, thus making him an ideal “transitional leader” until the reins of government are handed over to the next president.

Even Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III told a television interviewer that he would not allow Mrs. Arroyo to become Speaker if he wins the presidency.

He said even if there are only a few LP members who are seeking congressional seats and who may win, he and other party leaders would make sure that the Speaker would be an Aquino administration ally.

“We will move fast to gain a majority in the House. Having been congressman for nine years before becoming senator, I know the political dynamics (in that chamber),” he said.

Aquino did not go into specifics, but he was obviously referring to the possibility that a House run by Mrs. Arroyo and dominated by her allies could hold hostage his legislative agenda.

Worse, the President and her supporters could impeach him.

For the past four years, critics of Mrs. Arroyo have been trying to oust her through the impeachment process.

However, administration allies in the House had thrown out every impeachment complaint that had been filed against her for alleged lack of substance.

No complaint had reached the plenary consideration stage. Each impeachment case was killed in the committee on justice.

There are speculations that Mrs. Arroyo wants to be Speaker so she could push for Charter change (Cha-cha) that would shift the nation to the parliamentary system, under which she could aspire for the job of prime minister.

If she becomes prime minister, she could continue to enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution and evade plunder and other criminal charges that her critics are raring to file against her once she steps down.

As Speaker, she could also thwart or delay the filing of such charges against her, or evade arrest.

Members of Congress do not enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution.

Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, a staunch ally of Mrs. Arroyo, said if Aquino wins the presidency, he could block a possible quest by the President for the position of Speaker and No. 4 official of the land.

He recalled that when Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992, most of the congressmen elected with him were members of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) who were not allies.

“They were loyalists of the late Speaker (Ramon) Mitra. You will remember that President Ramos bolted the LDP and formed Lakas Tao and later won the presidency with the support of the late President Cory Aquino,” he said.

But Ramos and his allies moved fast to control the House and installed Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia as Speaker, Suarez said.

“The same thing happened when Erap (Joseph Estrada) was elected president in 1998. Lakas members led by Manny Villar defected to Erap’s camp and Villar became Speaker,” he said.

Less than three years later, it was Villar, as Speaker, who railroaded the transmittal of the impeachment complaint against Estrada to the Senate. Three months later, Estrada was forced from the presidency.

Asked what makes congressmen defect to the camp of the winning presidential candidates, Suarez said, “It is the President who dispenses pork barrel funds.” - With Christina Mendez, Jess Diaz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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