De Venecia unveils 5 options for GMA
- Paolo Romero () - September 28, 2005 - 12:00am
With moves to amend the 1987 Constitution underway, President Arroyo is faced with five options on how the remainder of her term could shake out, including the possibility of stepping down in 2007, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said.

De Venecia also warned Mrs. Arroyo not to renege on her promise to amend the 1987 Constitution, even if it means cutting short her six-year term of office.

"We don’t have any choice. Even she doesn’t have any choice (but to fulfill her promise)," De Venecia said during a forum of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) at the Manila Inter-Continental Hotel in Makati City Monday night.

"If the Filipino people see that she changes her mind on so major an issue, I don’t (think) they will forgive her," he said.

De Venecia said whichever of the five alternatives Mrs. Arroyo chooses would, in effect, dilute her powers, owing to the election of a prime minister in a parliamentary system.

He said all the options would be subject to approval of the framers of the Constitution, along with recommendations forwarded by the constitutional commission or con-com.

The first option would have Mrs. Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro finish their mandate in 2010 with powers intact but a new parliament would be formed in 2007 with a prime minister acting as "chief operating officer."

"It would be like the French model between now and 2010," De Venecia said. The French model allows for a strong president even with the election of a prime minister.

The second option would follow upon ratification of the new Constitution next year, De Venecia said.

Since a parliamentary system begins with a unicameral body, merging the Senate and the House into a single parliament, Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro would still continue their terms next year but the new prime minister would call the shots as the nation’s chief operating officer.

Under the third option, parliamentary elections would be held in May 2007 and Mrs. Arroyo would end her term. The members of the new parliament would elect the prime minister but a president would still be elected to serve as ceremonial head of state, as in Singapore, India and Malaysia.

"Largely a ceremonial figure," De Venecia said in describing the new president.

The fourth option is the "fresh start" proposal raised by Ramos wherein the President, Vice President, senators and congressmen would all resign in May next year as the country holds fresh parliamentary elections.

The fifth option would have the Senate and the House abolished and a ceremonial president elected.

Whatever option is taken, De Venecia said it would be stated in the transitory provisions of the new Constitution.

He went on to advise the President that reneging on her promises puts the political fate of the nation on the line.

"A President of the Philippines must be careful, all of us should be careful. We must do and say what we mean and mean what we say," he said.

De Venecia told the jam-packed MOPC forum that since Congress has already begun moves to amend the Constitution, Mrs. Arroyo has no choice but to proceed with the process.

He pointed out the President should keep her word since she was the one who called on Congress to convene itself into a constituent assembly and begin the "great debate" on Charter change (Cha-cha) to usher in a parliamentary system in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25.

In her 23-minute SONA, Mrs. Arroyo said it was "urgent" to amend the nation’s Charter to repair what she described as a "degenerated" political system.

Barely two months later, Mrs. Arroyo formed the Citizen’s Consultative Commission (con-com) and named the initial batch of appointees who would assist Congress in the task.

While she gave the imprimatur for Congress to begin deliberations, Mrs. Arroyo has kept silent on the possibility that any new political system could cut short her term.

De Venecia admitted that a new Constitution to create a parliamentary system might limit the President to being a ceremonial head of state.

But he also speculated that Mrs. Arroyo could be another Jacques Chirac, one of the most powerful leaders under the French parliamentary system.

De Venecia stressed, however, the need to rewrite the Constitution to make the government directly accountable to the people’s representatives and to do away with protectionist provisions that have kept the Philippines one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Moves to amend the Constitution would affect the President’s term since it would install a prime minister as head of government.

Both Malacañang and the House of Representatives are pushing for a change in the system in the next two years during which members of parliament would be elected.

The Senate has been kept on the sidelines of the initiative since a majority of senators are opposed to Charter change for various reasons.

Changing to a parliamentary system has long been a pet project of former President Fidel Ramos, whose statement of support for Mrs. Arroyo on July 8 helped save her presidency after several Cabinet members and advisers had quit and called for her resignation.

At the height of July 8 political crisis, Mrs. Arroyo told Ramos and De Venecia that she was willing to "modify" or "amend" her six-year term under the mandate of a new Constitution.

Ramos proposed that Mrs. Arroyo should stay on as caretaker until elections for a new parliament by May next year. But the President only agreed to the Cha-cha proposal in general terms.
‘House To Go It Alone’
Despite the tantrums of senators opposing Charter change, De Venecia said the House might take the initiative alone since the Constitution is quite clear that lawmakers of both Houses should vote as one in approving the amendments.

He said the Senate need not give up its powers in joining the constituent assembly and could vote as they please.

De Venecia made the statement after several congressmen noted the House has numerical superiority over the Senate when it comes to voting, and could go it alone in passing Cha-cha proposals.

"The Constitution is very clear, three-fourths of all the members of Congress (would vote). You cannot mess around with that provision," De Venecia said.

He also pointed out a provision in the Constitution (Article II, Section 3) stating the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is the "protector of the people and the State."

The House leader stressed this particular provision should be changed altogether since it is being abused by some in the military to justify coup attempts.

De Venecia said the provision is a prescription for military adventurism and "the phrase is misleading many of our soldiers and senior officers."

"Let us rewrite that provision," De Venecia told the MOPC.

"While it is normal, it can be exaggerated. Some soldiers in the AFP think they can be heroes if they implement that provision literally."

De Venecia pointed out that in many countries in South America where the presidential system is still used, instability and military takeovers are so commonplace that they have become "banana republics."

He said nine out 10 successful democracies in the world have parliamentary federal forms of government.

It is no coincidence, De Venecia said, that the Philippines and Indonesia, the only two countries in Asia left with bicameral presidential systems, are faltering economically and politically compared to their neighbors.

He pointed out that overseas Filipino workers are often found working in countries with parliamentary systems since "people there have jobs, cars and their children go to school."

Even war-torn Iraq, he noted, has opted for a parliamentary government since it is thought to be most responsive to the needs of the people.

He said the bicameral system has resulted in gridlock in legislation needed by the Executive branch in the delivery of basic services.

Moves to amend the Charter could be "the Philippines’ last hope" to save the country from the economic and political graveyard, he said.

De Venecia admitted he has been pushing for rewriting the Constitution for the past 12 years even in the face of criticisms from politicians and other sectors he described as "major stumbling blocks to political stability and economic progress."

"Unless we change our system of government, the Philippines will continue to deteriorate. If we continue with our present system, our country would maybe inch its way forward but in very small increments whereas our neighbors are moving, leaping with growth rates of seven, eight, nine and 10 percent," De Venecia stressed.

De Venecia argued that graft and corruption would be greatly reduced under a new government that does away with large-scale and expensive elections that only force candidates to "resort to indiscretion" to fund their campaign war chests.

"The presidential elections and campaigns are so expensive, so difficult, so complex. You have to campaign among 40 million people," De Venecia noted.

He said under the present system, politicians are forced to compromise their idealism by bowing to power blocs and pressure groups.

"Have you heard of cheating in parliaments in England, in Singapore, Japan and Malaysia?" he asked.

De Venecia said the impeachment raps against Mrs. Arroyo on accusations she cheated in last year’s election almost stalled government services.

He noted a parliamentary system would do away with drawn-out and contentious impeachment cases, since the prime minister could be quickly voted out of power.

Even after the impeachment proceedings are over, he noted, the political battles continue and intensify in the streets. "There is no end to political instability," he said.

The House leader claimed more than 95 percent of local government officials across the country support Charter change.

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