MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Friday he is setting a meeting with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to discuss the progress, if any, of moves in both chambers of Congress to amend the Constitution.
“We’ll just be taking stock of what has happened since we started work on this (Charter change),” Belmonte said in a telephone interview. “We’ll still have to check our schedules.”
He said he was not aware of Enrile’s proposal for Charter amendments as means to facilitate increased military spending to check Chinese incursions in Philippine territory.
The Speaker issued the statement amid Malacañang’s declaration that Charter change is not a priority of the Aquino administration.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the administration would strive to meet its economic-development goals without having to amend the 1987 Constitution.
“If we can resolve problems or if we can resolve issues without going through amending the Charter, we will continue to do it that way,” Lacierda said.
“After laying down the foundations for good governance such as clearing land mines in procurement and bidding, we believe that the economic-development goals, subject to certain assumptions, will be within reach in the next four years,” he said.
Lacierda also said that during Thursday’s Cabinet meeting on China affairs, there was no mention of raising the budget for improving the country’s defense capability through Charter change.
In the meeting, Lacierda also said Aquino gave no order to redeploy ships to Panatag Shoal.
Lacierda declined to give details of the meeting saying the issues discussed concerned national security. He only confirmed the presence of Enrile and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV during the meeting.
Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Edmund Tan, in a text message to reporters, said they were ready to return to Panatag if given orders to redeploy.
The President earlier said the redeployment of ships to Panatag Shoal would depend on the weather. He said he had ordered a pullout because of bad weather.
He also accused China of letting the issue drag on by maintaining vessels in the area. After being accused by China of making “provocative comments” on the issue, Aquino said it was Beijing which should be careful about making hostile comments.
Lacierda said Enrile and Trillanes, who was a former Navy officer, were invited to the meeting because the Cabinet needed suggestions from members of Congress.
Lacierda said there were no heated debates among Cabinet officials – only “a healthy discussion on the issue.”
“The President wanted the views and so a lot, a number of Cabinet secretaries offered their views on the matter together with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile,” he said.
The standoff in Panatag started in April when Chinese vessels stopped Philippine Navy personnel from arresting Chinese fishermen caught poaching in the area. The Chinese poachers were allowed to leave with their illegal harvest of endangered corals, giant clams and live sharks. The standoff has already adversely affected trade and tourism relations between the two countries. With Aurea Calica