MANILA, JUNE 18, 2006 (STAR) By Fred P. Languido The Freeman - Speaker Jose De Venecia tagged Cebu as an emerging great economic powerhouse in Southeast Asia and has even foreseen it to be a center point in the creation of the East Asian community that former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Muhammad envisioned 10 years ago.

He said the economic growth he observed in Cebu over the past several years will make it a powerful federal state as soon as efforts to amend the Constitution and shift the present presidential-bicameral form of government to parliamentary-unicameral form under a federal system succeed.

According to De Venecia, based on statistics of tourist arrivals in the country, wherein half of the 2.5 million tourists come to Cebu, it is inevitable that Cebu will become the geo-political capital of Southeast Asia.

He urged the leaders of Cebu to start planning for more infrastructure projects to cater to the needs of the growing economic demands. De Venecia said they have initially discussed the possibility of putting up a railway system from Mactan Island to the southern towns of Cebu, in fact, he said they have already planned to commission a feasibility study for the project as well as the possibility of creating additional congressional districts in Cebu.

De Venecia said Cebu needs to expand in preparation for the possible shift of the country's present government form into a parliamentary-unicameral under a federal system.

"We can have it if we change the form of government," De Venecia said.

Charter change has long been advocated by the House speaker way back during the term of former president Fidel Ramos before. De Venecia was here yesterday upon the invitation of the Norkis Group of Companies to discuss about the much-talked Charter change and he took the time to urge the different Cebuano leaders from the business, public, academe and youth sectors and even members of the media to support the clamor for a change of the present system of government.

Among the reason he cited why the other countries in Asia have left us far behind economically is our system of government. The current situation wherein the country is operating without a budget is because the two chambers of Congress cannot agree on the final version of the budget.

De Venecia said the House of Representatives approved almost in toto the budget submitted to them by President Gloria Arroyo but the Senate "mangled" it by cutting off more than P70 billion from the P1.053-trillion proposed budget.

The Senate cut off the P8-billion pork barrel for the president to finance the local government projects and another P64 billion were trimmed down from the congressmen's pork barrel.

De Venecia criticized the Senate for this saying they are performing far better compared to the Senators, having approved 803 bills, compared to the Senate's 12.

According to De Venecia, the system infrastructure projects for the local governments through their respective congressmen are being held hostage because of the deadlock between the House and the Senate.

De Venecia said this problem will never happen if the present system of government is changed to parliamentary-unicameral and eventually federal.

He, however, admitted that they are facing a dilemma on how to synchronize the elections of the president and the members of the parliament should the form of government be changed within the year because congressmen and senators will automatically serve as members of the interim parliament.

The interim parliament will set the date of the election, which will likely be held on May 2007 in keeping with tradition. But there might be a problem synchronizing the elections because the local officials, under the proposed system, will serve a five-year term, which means they will serve until 2012.

However, the term of Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro will already expire on 2010. De Venecia said that this is something that the proponents of charter change are trying to work out.

Among the options considered in order to synchronize the elections is to extend the term of the local officials or elect a president who will agree to serve only a two-year term after 2010 to synchronize with the next parliamentary election on 2012.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved