Charter change advocates unfazed

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 12 2011 09:54 AM | Updated as of Jan 12 2011 05:54 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Proponents of Charter change (Cha-cha) at the House of Representatives are unfazed by Malacañang’s pronouncements that amending the Constitution is not a priority of the administration.

Two lawmakers believe Cha-cha would get popular support because the people trust the administration.

Reps. Loreto Leo Ocampos of Misamis Occidental and Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar said the administration’s high credibility would make moves to amend the Constitution acceptable to Filipinos.

Evardone, House committee on public information chairman, said people will not suspect that Charter change would be aimed at prolonging the term of President Aquino.

“On one hand, it’s good that the Palace is not involved in this (Charter change) initiative to avoid suspicion that we are doing it for certain vested interests,” he said.

“I firmly believe this is the most opportune time to propose amendments to the Constitution because P-Noy’s credibility is beyond question.”

Ocampos, House committee on constitutional amendments chairman, said surveys have shown that opposition to Charter change has been going down, especially after Aquino assumed office.

“We believe that Filipinos support constitutional reforms if they are better informed,” he said.

Evardone said Charter change failed during the Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo administrations because Filipinos suspected that they were aimed at extending the terms of those in power.

“I will strongly oppose, reject, object and campaign vigorously against any move to manipulate Charter change to favor certain economic and political interests,” he said.

Evardone said a constitutional convention, not Congress, would amend the Constitution.

“If we want to be distracted from our work, even if there is no distraction, we will be distracted,” he said.

Evardone said election of delegates to the constitutional convention could be held in 2013.

The amendments in the Constitution can take effect in 2016, he added.

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Charter change is not a priority of the administration this year.

“For the year, we have submitted our proposed legislation and Cha-cha is not one of them,” he said.

“Remember that if ever we decide to do one it will be by way of a Charter change commission first, to see first whether there is a need, what particular provisions should be revised or amended.

“Yes, it’s a distraction for now because there are many pressing concerns of the government, we have a number of concerns to deal with. Again our promises are twofold – we need to reduce poverty and we need to eradicate graft and corruption – both of which do not require amending the Constitution.

“This can be easily addressed by programs that we are holding right now, the conditional cash transfer and PPP (Public-Private Partnerships) and various laws we have to enforce strictly.”

However, Lacierda said Aquino had not yet decided to set up a Charter change commission to propose amendments to the Constitution.

“Some people are saying economic provisions should be changed, but as we could see the PPP is an innovative way of engaging the private sector and it seems there is a positive response,” he said.

“So whatever concerns (there are) with the economic provisions I think is proven not to be entirely a big concern because of the way the PPP is being viewed as a vehicle for the private sector to be engaged in infrastructure.

“I think the PPP is an innovative way of engaging the private sector. We realize the government sector has not enough funds for infrastructure and we have seen the response both from local and foreign investors in this regard.

“The important thing is to make sure the playing field is level and that rules are not changed midstream. And I think that is the concern of foreign and even local investors.

“That’s a promise we made and I think the PPP is a presentation we are going to live up to our promises without changing whatever rules are fixed.”

Lacierda said Aquino has promised that the government would guarantee investors that rules would not be changed.

“But we will not protect you (investors) from commercial risk, that’s something each and every investor is supposed to shoulder,” he said.

“But we are guaranteeing the rules will be leveled and it will be uniform and no changing of rules in midstream.”

Lacierda said lawmakers insisting on Cha-cha would not likely get Aquino’s cooperation this year.

“Again, there is no compelling reason right now that will convince the President to amend the Constitution,” he said.

“Lawmakers would have to impress upon the President the urgent need to amend the Constitution.

“If you want the cooperation of the executive branch, certainly you would like to have the President to be convinced imperatively to amend the Constitution.”

Lacierda said the Cha-cha issue was a matter of priority whether Aquino agreed with it or not.

“What is the urgency to amend the Constitution right now?” he said.

“We have more important problems to deal with and I think Cha-cha is not one of those pressing problems.”

Escudero: GMA can become PM

Sen. Francis Escudero said former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could become prime minister after the Constitution has been amended.

“The possibility will always be there,” he said.

“Everybody is always equal because the only qualification is that you are a member of Congress or the Parliament.”

Speaking during a radio interview, Escudero said he has doubts on Charter change being pushed by Evardone.

Arroyo can become prime minister, considering her allies at the House of Representatives, he added.

Bishop calls for consultation

Former Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Angel Lagdameo called yesterday for public consultation before making any amendments to the Constitution.

Speaking over Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas, the archbishop of Jaro, Iloilo said it would be good that Charter change be open to public discussion.

“(We) know its pros and cons, but we would not be the one that would come out with a decision, it is Congress that would decide on it,” he said.

“There should be a public discussion so we would know the sentiments of every Filipino.”

Lagdameo said it should also be made clear if the Constitution would be amended through constitutional convention or by constituent assembly.

“It is important that these laws be carefully looked into, see if they are a hindrance to the economic growth of the country,” he said.

Lagdameo said the public can be assured that the Catholic Church would always be involved in discussions on Charter change.

“We would also participate in the selection of the members of the Constitutional Convention,” he said.

“What is needed here is the meeting of all stakeholders. It is also important that these provisions subject for amendment be brought to the attention of the Filipinos.

“The people’s participation and opinion on the issue of Charter Change are important.”

Binay wants 4 years for president, VP

Vice President Jejomar Binay wants a four-year term with one re-election for the president, vice president, other national and all local officials if the Constitution is amended.

“Should it happen, I would propose the change in term limits of national and local officials,” he said.

“Make it four years with one reelection if, at all, the proposed Cha-cha happens.”

This was the case in the pre-martial law years under the 1935 Constitution.

He does not believe that the Constitution should be amended to improve the country’s economy, he added.

The Constitution should make the vice president “automatically a president” if the president becomes incapacitated, he added.

Binay said he would not back a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution.

“If it is by appointment, only the sons of popular politicians are likely to be appointed even if they are not qualified or capable to make a better change in the Constitution,” he said.

“I would prefer a Con-Com which was what happened during the time of former President Cory,” he said.

“All sectors were represented and were given the opportunity to give their inputs. And you can make sure that those who are named to the Con-Com are experts in their own field and can contribute to the debates.” — With Aurea Calica, Evelyn Macairan, Christina Mendez, Jose Rodel Clapano