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Arroyo resurrects Charter change

Dureza: Federalism needs constitutional amendment

By Christine Avendao
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:56:00 08/12/2008

Filed Under: Charter change, Constitution, Congress, Politics, Mindanao peace process

MANILA, Philippines?The cat is out of the bag.

?We advocate federalism as a way to ensure long-lasting peace in Mindanao,? President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Monday told visiting Swiss President Pascal Couchepin.

It was the first time Ms Arroyo talked about a shift to a federal form of government since the Supreme Court shot down a ?people?s initiative? in October 2006 to amend the Constitution in a bid to introduce a parliamentary system.

Although Ms Arroyo did not talk about Charter change in her remarks during a state luncheon for Couchepin, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza told reporters that this was ?the way forward? in carrying out a deal for an expanded Moro homeland to end four decades of a separatist war in Mindanao.

?She is calling for a constitutional amendment ? in order to bring about the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity,? Dureza said, referring to the governing authority envisioned in a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Aug. 5 signing of the MOA in Malaysia following protests over the inclusion of 700 barangays (villages) in the enlarged Moro domain. The court has scheduled a formal hearing on the case on Friday.

During Monday?s affair in Malacaang, Ms Arroyo thanked the Swiss government for ?its willingness to share in its experience of federalism.?

She said that the Institute of Federalism in Fribourg in Switzerland was helping her administration ?do our studies on this form of government.?

Ms Arroyo and Couchepin agreed that this initiative would continue between the Swiss institute and the Center for Local and Regional Governance of the University of the Philippines.

Critics of the MOA in the Senate and the House of Representatives have warned that the MOA was a vehicle to amend the Constitution and prolong the term of Ms Arroyo, which ends in two years.

?Surgical amendment?

Last week, Malacaang officials told the Senate that what was needed to carry out the MOA was a ?surgical amendment? and not a wholesale Charter change.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Dureza said then that government negotiators had sought the advice of noted constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas to implement the MOA.

But the two said much would depend on the results of a planned plebiscite to be conducted in 12 months, and on negotiations on governance and disarmament of the MILF, among other issues.

Under the plan, the Senate and the House of Representatives will pass a joint resolution adopting a one-item amendment of the Constitution.

The way forward

Monday, Dureza told reporters of the government?s plan to institute federalism.

?An opportunity should be given to the whole country to avail of the reform effects of federalism. The sentiment of many people there is to give local officials more authority in order to perform better. And the federal set-up is the way forward to this,? he said.

?The President has approved the way forward and there?s no question about it. If she has the political will to do it she has to muster political will in spite of all these noises.?

Dureza referred to opposition in Congress to moves to amend the Constitution at this time. Critics say that the introduction of the federal system will mean wholesale changes in the Constitution, not piecemeal.

Asked whether the Arroyo administration would be able to move the country toward a federal-parliamentary system over a short haul, Dureza acknowledged that the timetable had been set back because of the Supreme Court?s intervention last week.

Set up building blocks

?The timetable is come up with signing, go to Congress for enabling law, a plebiscite is held. When you discuss issue of governance, then a final compact, final peace agreement can be signed,? Dureza said.

?That is where after you sign the compact, you have to move toward amending portions of the charter to implement or carry out the terms of the MOA on AD and final peace agreement that will come,? he said.

Dureza said that the government would try its best to achieve the amendment but at least it had ?set up the building blocks.?

Asked whether this bid for Charter change would create yet another political controversy, Dureza said this cannot be avoided in a country with a ?lively democracy.?

MOA to be signed soon

During a meeting Monday at the House of Representatives, Esperon announced that the government was confident that the MOA would be signed before the end of the month, according to Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

More than 30 lawmakers, mostly from Mindanao, who attended the meeting demanded that the government scrap the MOA, citing the lack of transparency in the crafting of the document, said Rodriguez.

Also Monday, leaders of the Liberal Party and the United Opposition filed petitions urging the Supreme Court to scrap the controversial deal with the MILF.

Sen. Manuel Roxas II, LP president, echoed in his 22-page petition the concerns of the original petitioners in the case?North Cotabato and Zamboanga City executives?that the MOA was prepared and finalized without public consultations.

A product of deceit

Roxas said that the MOA was ?traitorous? and was ?a product of coercion and deceit.?

Former Sen. Franklin Drilon, LP national chair, and UNO spokesperson Adel Tamano warned the Supreme Court that to countenance the MOA would create a ?dangerous precedent.?

In Puerto Princesa City, civil society groups announced they will join a rally on Tuesday at the capitol to oppose the inclusion of the towns of Baolabac and Bataraza in southern Palawan province in the expanded Moro homeland. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Jerome Aning and Redempto Anda, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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