Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos called on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Tuesday to stop any moves to amend the constitution amid growing disquiet in the country over attempts by her allies to extend her term.
"It's too late now, at this time, to be talking about charter change," Ramos, a retired general who led the 1986 peaceful coup against late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and who has supported Arroyo in past attempts to unseat her, told reporters before leaving for Guam.
His comments came just as the lower chamber of Congress started voting on the fourth impeachment complaint against Arroyo in as many years on allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuse.
But the 238-member House of Representatives, stacked with an overwhelming majority of Arroyo allies, was likely to dismiss the motion against her and uphold a decision last week by a congressional panel to reject the impeachment complaint for lack of substance.
Opposition politicians and some Catholic bishops have called for demonstrations on Dec. 12 in Manila's business district, incensed by a proposal by Arroyo's supporters to change the charter and extend her six-year term beyond 2010.
But calls for protests against Arroyo over the past year have evoked only moderate responses. She continues to enjoy the support of the military, which played key roles in overthrowing two presidents in 1986 and 2001, and has put down three attempts by rogue troops to unseat her since 2003.
Ramos, who has also publicly criticized Arroyo on some issues, said the president and her allies should wait until after the 2010 presidential polls before amending the charter because of widespread distrust now among Filipinos of the proposed changes.
"That would always be interpreted by the majority among us as a ploy to get into other things that conceivably would extend the term of President Arroyo beyond June 30, 2010," he added.
The Catholic church, a powerful force in Philippine politics and at the vanguard of popular revolts that have changed regimes in the last three decades, was also divided in calls for protests against Arroyo.
"I am not seeing a critical mass," Ramos said. "That critical mass will not happen unless there's a real national outrage."
Meanwhile, a Palace official expressed appreciation for Ramos' political assessment on the lack of a "critical mass" against the Arroyo administration.
"As former President and president emeritus of Lakas, President Ramos' admonitions are always valued and respected," said Presidential Political Affairs Adviser Gabriel Claudio. "We do not doubt that it is imbued with a sincere sense of concern for both the presidency and the country."
"We appreciate his appraisal of the political situation as one where there is an absence of a critical mass of protest against the President," Claudio said.
"His views on charter change will likely be regarded by charter change advocates with respectful discernment and should help in forging an acceptable consensus on the need, substance, manner and timing of amending or revising the Constitution," he said. -- with a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News