GMA vows to speed up constitutional reforms
- Paolo Romero () - July 15, 2005 - 12:00am
President Arroyo pledged yesterday to speed up constitutional amendments to strengthen the country’s political party system and prevent corruption during elections.

In her speech before more than 500 Philippine consuls and honorary consuls to the United States and Filipino-American investors at Malacañang, the President said there really is an urgent need to amend the Constitution because of its numerous outdated, restrictive provisions.

"What I intend to do is work with legislators, civil groups, who believe that changes in the law of the land are necessary in order to confront basic issues, such as... running for public office under a true party system with less need to raise funds," Mrs. Arroyo said.

She said other concerns that the new Constitution should address are: a shift to a unicameral parliamentary form of government, eventually moving towards a federal system; a review of the economic provisions; and reducing red tape.

"We really have to examine the Constitution," the President said. Officials said the electoral reforms in the Charter could include legislating the two-party system and the state funding of party campaigns.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, was silent on the effect of Charter change, or Cha-cha, on the remainder of her term, which ends in 2010. She and her allies in Congress are pushing for the shift to a parliamentary system either next year or on 2007.

Speaker Jose de Venecia said the other day that the President was willing to cut her term short if only to immediately change the current form of government.

De Venecia said Mrs. Arroyo was willing to "modify" her term, but only through means sanctioned by the Constitution. He added that the President preferred the faster mode of convening Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the Charter.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Wednesday that it would be up to Congress to determine the transitory provisions of the new Constitution, especially those portions that would affect the President’s remaining years in office.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has her own personal position on the issue of Charter change and her term in office, but will only disclose it at the proper time.

The President’s willingness to rethink her term of office is believed to have been triggered by the proposal of former President Fidel Ramos, who called for a shift in the form of government to give her a "graceful exit" from office. He expressed his support for the administration last week at the height of calls for her to step down.

Ramos said all officials should sacrifice their terms of office and proposed that parliamentary elections be held next year.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo announced that the national government will shoulder the payment of premiums for indigent members of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) in cities and municipalities that could not afford them.

She said the government was able to enroll nearly 80 percent of Filipinos in PhilHealth, with the national government shouldering the indigents’ premiums for the first year.

The local government units were supposed to foot the indigents’ premiums the following year, but Mrs. Arroyo said the national government will help out the cities and municipalities too poor to shoulder the premiums of their indigent constituents.

She said this was one of her projects to help "the poor more directly," along with micro-lending programs, rolling stores and emergency employment.

Mrs. Arroyo said the increased tax collection brought about by the fiscal reforms she initiated allowed the government to invest in these projects.

"We can now focus on things that will hopefully affect the poor more directly," she said. — With Aurea Calica

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