FORMER president and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of Pampanga has called on fellow Charter change advo-cates to take advantage of the Duterte administration’s strong mandate and push hard for a constitutional over-haul, but said the presidency must be retained whatever form of government is chosen.
Arroyo, who is being eyed by President Rodrigo Duterte to head a 25-man commission to study amendments to the 1987 Constitution, made the call in a speech before the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) Thurs-day night, as she recalled her administration’s multi-track efforts to amend Charter.
“Now that our very popular President has pushed for federalism, I hope the Charter change advocates will sustain their devotion to Constitutional revision as well as during my time,” said Arroyo, who was president from 2001 to 2010.
Arroyo acknowledged that suspicions of term extensions were the biggest stumbling blocks in her own bid to amend the Constitution, which, she said, the current proponents should avoid.
“In sum, the proponents should stress to the public that elections would not be cancelled, and that even in a par-liamentary system, they would still vote for the president. They should avoid semantic arguments on whether the proposal was parliamentary with a president or presidential with a unicameral congress,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo noted that prior to her term, the Philippines missed the boat for Charter change twice: first during the time of President Fidel Ramos with the “Pirma” signature drive and second during the term of President Joseph Estrada, who formed a preparatory commission on constitutional reform and launched the “Constitutional Correction for Development” or Concord campaign.
Arroyo said she and her allies failed despite various initiatives to pursue Charter change, namely: people’s initiative or signature drive, a constituent assembly with Congress convening in joint session to amend the Charter, and a constitutional convention in which voters elect delegates.
The people’s initiative was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2006, in a close 8-7 vote because of the lack of an enabling law and because it was going to be used for a wholesale, rather than partial, revision of the Charter, she said.
Plans for either a constituent assembly or constitutional convention never took off because of upheavals such as the “EDSA 3” uprising over Estrada’s ouster and Arroyo’s takeover in 2001; the 2003 Oakwood rebellion in Makati; the scandal over alleged fraud during the 2004 presidential elections during which Arroyo was recorded while con-versing with a poll official; and the death of former President Corazon Aquino in August 2009 that generated public clamor for her son Sen. Benigno Aquino 3rd to run for President.
On top of this, Arroyo had to fend off five impeachment complaints.
Arroyo was hopeful the shift to a federal form of government – under which the country would be divided into 11 states with taxation and other powers – would succeed under the Duterte administration.
“Before he ran for President, he (Duterte) burst into the national scene advocating federalism. His landslide victory shows that the public response to Charter change is positive,” Arroyo said.