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Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006 at 5:43 PM
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President Macapagal-Arroyo, sensing grave political fall-out from her manuverings, had instructed her political affairs adviser Gabriel Claudio on Friday to “order” the lawmakers allied with her to drop the constituent assembly (Con-ass) as a means of changing the Constitution, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday.
Dec. 8, 2006
US-Arroyo Regime Beat a Retreat : Stop Con-ass now
Manila- President Macapagal-Arroyo, sensing grave political fall-out from her manuverings, had instructed her political affairs adviser Gabriel Claudio on Friday to “order” the lawmakers allied with her to drop the constituent assembly (Con-ass) as a means of changing the Constitution, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday.
News source reported that the President’s sudden withdrawal of support for Con-ass in the face of mounting opposition from Church and local government leaders appeared to have left her Cabinet in disarray.
Michael Defensor, former student activists during Marcos time, and now the President’s chief of staff and who is touted to be her “favorite Cabinet secretary,” said Ms Arroyo’s withdrawal of support for Con-ass should give “a dose of reality” to members of the Cabinet who had been gung-ho about pushing this means of amending the Constitution.
Defensor refused to elaborate, but he was apparently referring to the Lakas clique in the Cabinet led by Ermita, Claudio, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye. The clique was believed to have forced the resignation recently of Avelino Cruz as defense secretary.
Former DND Secretary Avelino Cruz had openly shown his disdain for the people’s initiative mode of amending the Constitution that was actively being pushed by one of the leaders of the Lakas-CMD coalition, Speaker Jose de Venecia, by calling it “a hare-brained idea.”
Defensor, one of the few non-Lakas members of Ms Arroyo’s official family, had been the lone voice expressing concern over the public backlash the Con-ass strategy of the Lakas clique might cause.
The House strategy was to force the issue by convening a Con-ass even without the participation of the Senate, and turning Congress into an interim parliament that would mean postponing the midterm elections in May and extending the terms of the elected officials by six months, or up to November.
Defensor had reckoned that the President, fresh from the defeat of the people’s initiative in the Supreme Court, could not afford to lose face again by pushing for a Con-ass that, he said, was eliciting public outrage.
Beating a retreat
Forced to eat humble pie, members of the Lakas clique yesterday tried to downplay Ms Arroyo’s abandonment of Con-ass just days after she had presided over its strategic planning meet in Malacañang.
He downplayed the President’s retreat as part of “political maneuvering.” “That’s why it’s called Cha-cha—you can move forward, you can move backward,” he said.
Ermita said the President’s decision showed her “sensitivity” to the feelings of Church leaders, especially the local government officials who had met with her on Thursday and warned her that Con-ass could spark broad public outrage.
From Con-ass to Con-con
With the President’s withdrawal of support, Con-ass’ main drumbeater in the Cabinet was marching to a different beat yesterday.
“We laud and support the position of the House to push on with the elections on May 14 next year. We also join them as well as other sectors in urging the whole of Congress—the Senate and the House combined—to immediately call for a constitutional convention (Con-con),” Claudio said in a text message.
Claudio maintained “the administration has been consistent in its advocacy of Charter reform as the key to sustained economic growth and political stability.”
He pointed out that the Palace had never advocated “a cancellation or deferment of the elections or the extension of the tenure of the incumbent officials.”
He said these had “never been on the agenda and purpose of Charter change.”
Asked if Ms Arroyo would be throwing her support behind Con-con as a means of amending the Charter, Ermita said: “We can’t say our position yet because the President has not yet given us instructions. And this has never been discussed with her.”
The Lakas faction in the Cabinet was apparently caught off-guard by the President’s change of heart.
Late Friday afternoon, Bunye said Ms Arroyo was still all-out in her support of Con-ass despite opposition from the Church and her allies.
He said Ms Arroyo believed that she could still convince those opposed to Cha-cha to change their minds.
Lower House Vs the Senate
According toa close GMA subaltern, Catanduanes Gov. Leandro Verceles, the President had not abandoned Con-ass.
Verceles said that what Ms Arroyo had told members of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (Ulap) during the Thursday meeting at Malacañang was that she could not talk to her allies in the Senate to convince them to take part in the House-initiated assembly.
“She told us that she cannot and will not participate in an issue that is between the House and Senate,” he said.
Verceles said the local executives were discussing with Ms Arroyo possible ways of solving the impasse between the Senate and the House.
“It was implied that Malacañang could come in, and the President said, ‘We can’t come into that,’” Verceles said.
He said the discussion was conducted at the Palace Guest House after a dinner hosted by the President for the Ulap members.
He also said Ms Arroyo had told the Ulap members to talk with the senators about the latter’s participation in Con-ass “if you believe that that is the right thing to do.
Silent Grumblings of a GMA ally
Meanwhile, the usualy silent Vice President Noli de Castro said the people would not accept Charter change without their participation and that of the Senate.
De Castro said the House should realize that the “great debate” on Charter change should not be limited to its halls or members because, in the end, it was the people’s voice that should prevail.
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