Aquino can’t stop Charter change moves—PalaceBy Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino, for now, can’t stop Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte from pushing through with efforts to amend the Constitution.
Despite the President’s avowed objections to tinkering with the Constitution adopted in 1987 during his mother’s watch, the present legislature could—if it so desires—unilaterally proceed with Charter change.
In a Palace briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte pointed to the independence of Congress in pursuing Charter amendments.
“(Congress) is independent. They can move as they will,” said Valte, adding that it would depend on the President’s political allies in Congress whether or not to support the Charter change initiative, or follow the President’s wishes.
When asked about Mr. Aquino’s silence on the issue in his third State of the Nation Address (Sona), Valte said: “Again, let’s not take the Sona as the end-all and the be-all of the President’s commitment to anything.”
The absence of the Charter change issue in the Sona was not an implicit endorsement of the renewed drive, she emphasized.
“On the contrary, the President has elucidated, has emphasized his position on Charter Change many times … The President has spoken a number of times on this particular issue and it’s clear that amending the Constitution is not a priority of (his administration),” she said.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives separately convened its third regular session on Monday before Mr. Aquino faced the joint session to deliver his State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.
In their opening speeches, the Senate President and House Speaker made a pitch for Charter change, with Enrile vowing to stop any proposal for term extensions for elected officials.
Valte said the Palace expected the two congressional leaders, who vowed to make Charter change a priority, to hold a dialogue with the President.
“We don’t know what will be the result (of the dialogue). What the President said is it’s part of the democratic free space that he will listen to their side of the story. So, at this point, we do not know if that can be changed or not or … the President will listen because (we’re in a) democracy. We don’t know the end result. But, again, the President has reiterated his position that it is not his priority.”
The President has reservations about any Charter amendment, fearful that once allowed, this would open up the Constitution to a slew of amendments.
However, Enrile and Belmonte claimed that they were only after the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution, particularly on the ban on total foreign ownership of certain sectors of the economy.
Senator Manuel Villar Jr. registered the lone dissenting voice following the opening session at the Senate, telling reporters that the President’s imprimatur, especially in such a monumental task of amending or overhauling the Constitution, was important.