President Benigno Aquino III’s sudden change of mind and openness to constitutional amendments has caused Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., the major proponent of constitutional change in the House of Representatives, to suddenly turn cold and freeze as the controversial issue rages.
Belmonte, who is spearheading the move to amend the Constitution in a bid to push for economic reforms, is now in a quandary as to whether he and the House leadership would support Cha-Cha with the way President Aquino wants it amended.
Belmonte said he is not sure if the House leadership would pursue Charter Change on the controversial political reforms, particularly in relation to lifting the term limits of the President and other elective officials and clipping the powers of the Supreme Court which President Aquino said was ‘excessive.’
The House Speaker apparently views the recent events as serious after earlier dismissing talks of constitutional amendments to lift the term limits of the President and other elective officials as “hot air.”
But Belmonte said his position on the issue would depend after his talks with the President.
“I have no position without first discussing it with the President,” he said.
It was Belmonte himself who authored Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 seeking specific amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution to spur economic growth.
In pushing for economic reform through constitutional amendments, Belmonte said then that with or without the President’s go signal, the House was determined to push for Charter Change in the present 15th Congress – as one of its top priorities in the legislative mill.
Political observers have noted that the issue of Charter change and which provisions of the charter should be amended has created a situation where the roles of two major political leaders and allies had been reversed.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, member of the House minority, said that Belmonte’s dilemma was understandable.
“Speaker Belmonte was only seeking limited amendments focused on economic reforms in the Constitution while the President’s turn-around on constitutional change and intention to push for “controversial” political amendments in the Charter like the lifting of term limits and clipping the powers of the Supreme Court puts them on opposite directions, “ Albano said.
“This creates a new dynamic on charter change and alters the political landscape,” Albano said, noting the President Aquino’s recent openness to Charter Change for a possible second term—if the Constitution is successfully amended.
Albano said the Aquino gambit if carried out to the end is the game changer in the coming 2016 national elections.
Aquino’s sudden shift toward Charter Change was borne of the belief that the executive and the legislative had been at the receiving end of the Supreme Court’s “abuse” of powers, thereby disrupting the system of checks and balances and separation of powers as the Constitution provides.
The High Court had declared both illegal the legislators’ priority development assistance fund (PDAF) and the executive’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
In previous statements, President Aquino had adopted the famous American quote “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in stressing his strong objection to attempts to amend the Constitution being pushed by Belmonte and then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
Back then, Aquino even said that he was “taken aback” over Belmonte’s hard push for Charter Change.
He had also argued in a statement he made just two years ago (July 2012) that the 6.4-percent economic growth that his administration achieved in the first quarter of 2012 was proof enough that the country could grow without amending the Charter.
“There is a saying among Americans… don’t fix what ain’t broke,” Aquino had said. “Even with the present Constitution, I think we are capable of reaching economic heights for one, and changing the Constitution changes the rules of the game, which might delay the progress.”
House Deputy Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Bolet Banal said that House members are leaving it up with Belmonte as to how the House leadership would make a stand and resolve its quandary over Charter Change.
“We in the House, especially those in the majority, trust Speaker Belmonte’s wisdom and stewardship,” Banal, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, said.
“He has steered us through challenging times, through two impeachment complaints, and through hotly debated issues like the Reproductive Health Bill and the Sin Tax Reform Law. Tougher times lie ahead, but I am confident that the House leadership led by Speaker Belmonte is up to any task because of its track record and because of the support of our coalition partners,” Banal said.
Meanwhile, Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, member of the House Independent Bloc of Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, warned Charter Change proponents that if moves to amend the Constitution succeed, it virtually opens the door for any kind of amendments or alterations, including the total mangling of the Constitution,” de la Cruz said.
As this developed, Vice President Jejomar Binay said that in the event amending the constitution would allow Aquino to run for the same position, he (Binay) is ready and capable to face off against Aquino in 2016.
In a statement, Binay said that he had been preparing for the presidency since he was a young kid, while citing his 21-year experience as Makati Mayor as a big factor for his readiness for the job.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve been dreaming [to become a President],” he said in Tagalog.
When asked if he would be willing to compete against Aquino in the 2016 polls, Binay answered in the affirmative.
He, however, reiterated his call to the president not to be persuaded by some of his advisers who may have vested interests in wanting to amend the 27-year-old Constitution.
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