Estrada defers Concord
- by Marichu Villanueva, with Liberty Dones, AP, Reuters, DPA () - January 9, 2000 - 12:00am

Now, he's listening.

Amid widespread opposition and a plummeting popularity, President Estrada announced yesterday that he has put on hold one of his administration's priorities, the amendment of the Constitution.

"As a leader, I must listen," the President said in his annual report to the nation.

He said his government would focus instead on more feasible short-term economic measures with less cost to national unity.

"My passion for seeing these amendments through has not cooled but it ... must for the moment yield to more urgent, more short-term and more feasible concerns, to efforts that are more likely to produce results in less time and at less cost to national unity," he said.

Mr. Estrada's plan to shelve his Constitutional Correction for Development (Concord) took many by surprise, unlike the expected Cabinet reshuffle and the formation of a high-profile team of economic advisers.

But the President vowed not to abandon his goal of removing constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of land and key industries, which he said discourage investment in the country particularly during this time of globalization and trade liberalization.

"I will never drop Concord because I believe it is one of the components of our economic program that will help our economy. That Concord will be one of the solutions to our economic problems," he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Estrada said he will ask the leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass pending Palace-certified revenue-raising bills.

"Because we are in need of that (revenues). That is the top priority. After which, perhaps, we can talk about Concord," he said.

Many Filipinos believe that opening up the Charter, ratified a year after the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, could endanger its democratic provisions. Tens of thousands of people protested against the proposed changes in demonstrations last year.

The President's popularity rating dropped to 44 percent last December from 56 percent in October, according to a Social Weather Stations survey. Analysts said the Concord was one of the main reasons for the popularity dip.

Mr. Estrada explained his decision to temporarily drop Concord: "It does not mean that the need for repairing the Constitution has passed. It only means that it needs more gestation. The Constitution must be discussed, not fought about."

He said he will allow lawmakers to first study the Charter changes proposed by the Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reforms submitted last Dec. 20, and leave it to them to decide if they should convene into a constituent assembly.

"I now leave it up to Congress to pick up their work. I look forward at some future time in which we, as a country, can turn back our attention to these important issues. After all, the demands of the moment should not make us lose sight of the imperatives of the long-term," he said. "Otherwise, we will simply jump from crisis to crisis."

`Deferment better than nothing'

But even while some analysts described the President's move as a "graceful capitulation" that would reduce tensions in the political arena, one congressman it was like suspending the execution of a death convict.

"What it amounts to is similar to suspending the execution of a convict on death row. The suspension can be lifted anytime and the execution can be carried out. All it achieves is a temporary respite, not peace and unity," said Makati Rep. Joker Arroyo.

He however noted it was "better than nothing."

Arroyo said the battle over Concord has not been declared ended, only now there is a ceasefire with the proponents calling off the truce when a favorable climate exists.

"The proponents are buying time, not peace and harmony ... it is one-sided, but better than nothing," Arroyo said.

Meanwhile, the members of the so-called "Spice Boys" expressed relief upon hearing the President's Ulat sa Bayan at Malacañang.

Reps. Michael Defensor, Rolando Andaya Jr., Federico Sandoval II, Robert Ace Barbers, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Hernani Braganza said they actually saw the opposition's imprint all over the President's report to the nation.

"All our advocacies -- including those which were said to be made by lunatic ones -- have been translated into official policies and marching orders," they said in a statement.

These measures, they said, included the relegation of the Concord to the back-burner, the revamp of the Cabinet, firing of all presidential advisers and consultants, new heads of revenue-generating agencies, and a strict admonition to presidential kin to desist from influence-peddling.

"We are likewise glad that the President concurred with our view that economic growth can be achieved without writing a new Constitution, but simply by writing new laws," the solons said.

As they expressed hope that the move signaled a new, listening presidency, the opposition lawmakers urged Mr. Estrada to continue with the Cabinet revamp and to destroy Concord altogether and not merely ground it.

Braganza warned that if the President re-launches a propaganda campaign for Concord, then he would lose all the "pogi" points he earned in yesterday's speech.

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