Amending Charter can be done before polls

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — MALACAÑANG yesterday rejected calls to postpone amendments to the Constitution until after the May 2007 elections.

Presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio said Charter Change had been put off so many times that further delay would doom efforts to create a more responsive and democratic system of government.

“It’s now or never,” Claudio said, noting that if the May elections pushed through as scheduled, winning senators and congressmen would resist efforts to shift to a parliamentary form of government to keep their term of office intact.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita added that the prevailing sentiment in the House of Representatives was to push ahead with the shift to a unicameral parliament.

“President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is for Charter Change, but she is leaving it up to Congress to work out the details,” Ermita said.

The latest call to defer Charter Change came from the Makati Business Club, which warned that the government’s insistence on amending the Constitution “greatly imperils” the country’s economic prospects.

Chief presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol rejected this view, and said it was a complete turnaround from the business group’s earlier endorsement of Charter Change.

“The appeal lacks credibility,” he said. “Besides, I think that came only from a few [members]. I don’t think they represent the whole business community.”

But Senator Richard Gordon, who heads the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, yesterday insisted that Charter Change be pushed only after the May 2007 elections.

He also said he favored removing the term limits for elected officials, a move that would require a constitutional amendment.

Also yesterday, Charter Change advocates in the House assured former President Fidel Ramos they were not planning to cancel elections next year but to postpone them until November.

Ramos, who also supports Charter Change, had earlier warned against cancelling the May 2007 elections.

Speaker Jose de Venecia, who is seeking to win the support of some senators for the shift to a parliamentary form of government, said this would not abolish the Senate but merely merge the two Chambers of Congress.