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Palace seeks consensus on Charter change

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To consult House on substance, limits, method

By Joel Guinto, Maila Ager
First Posted 12:01:00 12/03/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2) Amid mounting criticm, Malacanang is seeking a dialogue with leaders of the House of Representatives to forge a “consensus” on charter change that is “acceptable to the people,” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s chief political adviser said Wednesday.

But the Palace will not abandon its advocacy for Constitutional reforms to ensure “economic and political stability,” Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel Claudio said in a statement.

Claudio’s statement came soon after Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, earlier in the day, dismissed calls by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s spiritual adviser to stop her allies from amending the 1987 Constitution despite his threat to mount one million-strong street protests.

The leader of the Catholic group El Shaddai, Mike Velarde, had threatened to mobilize at least one million of his followers in street protests if Arroyo’s allies insist on amending the Constitution, a move administration critics fear would pave the way for an extension of her term beyond 2010.

Claudio acknowledged these fears, saying: “Even as the Palace reiterates its assurances of the President’s sincere intent to step down in 2010, we acknowledge that Charter change moves do lead to suspicions and accusations, unfair as they may be, that her term will be extended.”

“Without abandoning the administration’s advocacy for constitutional reforms in order to secure the country’s economic and political stability, we will seek a dialog with leaders of the House to help forge a consensus on charter change that is acceptable to the people,” Claudio said.

“What is needed is a clear consensus on the substance, limits, method and timing of such change. The President has always been in favor of establishing such a consensus,” he said.

Claudio said the Palace “values and respects” Velarde’s “admonition,” and appreciates his wish for the President to continue her leadership “undisturbed” until the end of her term in 2010.

Ermita earlier said the Palace could not stop Velarde from thinking the way he does about Charter change.

“This is a free country. Anybody can plan anything. Anybody say what they want to say so it’s not for us anymore to stop [Velarde] from thinking that way. E yun ang nasa isip niya e [That is what is on his mind],” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters at the Senate on Wednesday.

He said Malacañang was not bothered at all by Velarde’s pronouncement since many groups have made similar threats in the past.

“No, no kasi sabi lang naman niya yan e [because it was merely what he said]. Ang dami na nagtatangka [A lot of them have tried],” Ermita said.

“Ang mahalaga diyan [What is important], we can’t stop anybody from talking or thinking or planning or anything. As I said, this a free country so harapin na lang natin [so let’s just face them] when they come,” he said.

Ermita also believes that Malacañang did not have to make any statement or move to stop these planned anti-Charter change protest actions.

“What do you want us to do?” he said. “The situation will present and unravel itself so we don’t say what Malacañang, what the President has to do.”

Ermita also said earlier that the House of Representatives is an independent institution and Malacañang would not interfere in its internal affairs.

“Well, moves are coming from the separate body such as Congress so it’s not for us to say, ‘hey stop it or push it.’ Otherwise, sasabihin naman niyo o ng taumbayan e kontrolado pala ng Malacañang [you or the people would say that they are controlled by the Malacañang],” he said.

“It’s an independent body so we don’t have to say or make a move about what the people in Congress are doing,” he further said.

As to speculations that the Charter change bid was meant to extend Arroyo’s term, Ermita reiterated that the President would step down in 2010 as provided for in the Constitution.

But when asked if the President would change her mind if the Charter change bid would succeed, Ermita said, “Well, lets cross the bridge when we get there. I’m not a prophet…It’s very hard to speculate.”

Palace deputy spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said that while the Palace listened to “sound advice,” the executive and lawmakers would bow only to the “will of the people.”

“Wielding power over an independent body is not good leadership, especially since they have not committed anything unlawful,” Fajardo said, when asked if Arroyo would stop lawmakers from pursuing Charter change.

“The Palace listens to each piece of sound advice and bow to the will of the people. Lawmakers, undoubtedly, do too,” she said.

“Brother Mike should call on the people to rally behind the government and help the country. Charter change is a matter for Congress to tackle on its own,” Fajardo said.

“This is not a time for anger and rash behavior. We need to think calmly and act judiciously,” she added.

Former President Fidel Ramos said Charter change should come only after Arroyo’s term ends in 2010.

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2008-12-03T09:05:06+00:00UTC12bUTCWed, 03 Dec 2008 09:05:06 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am12

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