HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, both top officials of the ruling Liberal Party, are headed for a showdown over Charter change.
Shortly after President Benigno Aquino III told a TV interview that he was now open to amending the Constitution, Roxas, LP president, ordered party members to support Charter change efforts to lift term limits and allow Aquino to seek reelection.
But Belmonte, vice president of the LP, told the 116 party members in Congress and their coalition partners to support only the amendment of economic provisions of the Constitution.
“We will pursue Cha-cha to revise the economic provisions only. They thought they could control the House,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.
“Economic provisions only,” Belmonte said when pressed what he would do if the President’s allies insist on the tinkering with the Constitution’s political provisions.
Belmonte made his position clear after he learned that Roxas summoned LP leaders and party whips in the House to a party caucus without Belmonte and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.
LP sources, who requested anonymity, said Roxas called for a party caucus and gave the congressmen a dressing down for hitting the President’s pronouncements that he was open to a second term and that he wanted to clip the powers of the Supreme Court.
Roxas ordered the congressmen to support the campaign for the President’s second term, the sources added.
Despite the President’s pronouncements, Belmonte said he would pursue his own initiative to lift restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution without touching the political provisions such as term limits.
Belmonte and the House leadership had promised local and foreign business leaders that Congress will pursue the lifting of restrictive economic provisions that discouraged foreign investments.
Following the President’s statement on constitutional amendments, LP members closely identified with Roxas such as party whip Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, LP spokesmen Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone and Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Trenas, and LP secretary general Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento immediately proclaimed there was a “clamor for continuity” in President Aquino’s reforms.
They also said the “clamor” for the lifting of term limits had snowballed in the House, and called for Congress to constitute itself as a constituent assembly to immediately tackle which political provisions of the Constitution would be amended.
Belmonte earlier acknowledged that some lawmakers wanted term extensions for themselves.
Some 70 lawmakers were on their last term, he said.
Belmonte’s closest allies in the LP and the majority coalition took up the cudgels for the Speaker.
Gonzales vowed to resign his post if the LP included political provisions in the Charter change effort.
Nationalist People’s Coalition stalwart Valuenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian branded as “political suicide” President Aquino’s plan to extend his term by amending the 1987 Constitution, which was drafted and approved in a plebiscite during the presidency of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino.
Gatchalian earlier withdrew his support for the planned amendment of the Constitution’s economic provisions after leading LP members announced that they will also push for the lifting of the term limit for the President to enable him to seek another term.
Gatchalian reminded the President to learn from history, particularly the attempt by former President Fidel V. Ramos and his men to lift the term limits for the chief executive and other elective officials, which was vigorously opposed by Aquino’s mother, then Vice President Joseph Estrada, and religious groups.
“What happened to FVR then was political suicide because all the economic gains of his administration, including the attainment of a tiger economy was put to waste because the Ramos administration focused on Cha-cha during the homestretch instead of sustaining the nation’s march into a newly-industrialized country,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian also said there were parallels between the Ramos and the Aquino administrations in that both had preferred successors that had low chances of winning the presidency.
“In the case of President Ramos, then Speaker Jose de Venecia was trailing by a mile against the survey frontrunner Vice President Joseph Estrada, which was one reason why the political advisers of FVR decided to go for Cha-cha to enable him to seek another term,” Gatchalian said.
“In the case of Pnoy [Aquino], Mar Roxas is also faring poorly in the surveys against frontrunner Vice President Jejomar Jojo Binay and this is the main reason for the current Cha-cha,” Gatchalian added.
Extending term limits would only cause divisiveness and derail legislation that would help reduce poverty, he said.
“This is a very divisive issue. Putting this on the agenda will not be productive for the country at this time,” he added.
“The President should trust the people that they will choose a leader who is equally as honest and will continue the anti-corruption reforms he started. He should not underestimate the judgment of the people in making the right choice in 2016,” he said.
The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said it was not convinced by the assurances of a Palace spokesman that President Aquino is not pushing for Charter change during his term.
“The public backlash over Aquino’s openness to Charter change, term extension and to clipping the powers of the judiciary may have forced Malacanang to take one small step back. But there is nothing to stop Aquino from taking two steps forward when the time comes and when our vigilance is down,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr.
“We continue to receive reports that personalities identified with the Liberal Party and the Black and White group are planning a Yellow Rally towards the end of the month to create the perception of a public clamor for Aquino’s second term. There is a well-orchestrated and well-funded campaign,” Reyes said.
“Lawmakers and other officials identified with Aquino have also not abandoned the call for a second term. Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya, two key figures of the Liberal Party, continue to subscribe to the idea of a second term,” Reyes said.
“The connection is quite clear. Charter change and term extension are being used to get back at the Supreme Court for the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP decision. Term extension is being used to skirt accountability over DAP and corruption. The Pork Barrel King now wants to be a dictator,” Reyes said.
“Like a spoiled brat who can’t move on, Aquino keeps attacking the SC over the DAP decision. It seems he will not stop until he bends all other branches to his will. He has already been able to do this to Congress through pork,” he added.
Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate on Sunday chided Malacanang for shifting to damage control and taking back President Aquino’s admission he wants a term extension.
Over the weekend, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte was quoted as saying “The President never said in the much-analyzed TV5 interview that he wanted Charter change to happen now. I think we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. What I remember the President say was that he’s thinking about it. He didn’t say, ‘Let’s do this tomorrow.’”
Colmenares said the Palace was forced to backtrace because of the heavy criticism the President’s remarks drew.
“What President Aquino did was not a mere trial balloon but a serious attempt to perpetuate himself as well as his ilk in power. They are trying to escape accountability on the DAP and the Filipino people know this,” Colmenares said.
“All this talk about Cha-cha being merely a messaging ploy to diffuse public perception of President Aquino as a lame duck president is untrue. Cha-cha is a serious attempt especially since the Cha-cha resolution is now up for plenary approval on second reading in the House. President Aquino’s allies in Congress are hell bent in pushing for Cha-cha and term extensions not just for the President but for themselves as well,” Colmenares said.
Zarate urged the public to remain vigilant against attempts to tamper with the Constitution.
“Aquino’s duplicity is now finally and totally unmasked. After all his past denials, in truth he is more interested to perpetuate himself in power and evade accountability like Marcos and Arroyo” Zarate said.
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