Philippines President Arroyo supports constitunional changes in her country

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Philippine’s proposals to cancel 2007
elections come under fierce criticism

By City Mayors' East Asia correspondent

24 December 2005: A former president, parliamentarians and community leaders have come out in opposition to plans that elections, due in the Philippines in 2007, should be postponed until 2010. The recommendations are part of the 121-page report submitted by the country’s Consultative Commission (ConCom) to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Commission was set up by the President to put forward proposals to change Philippines political structure from a presidential system to a parliamentary one. Under the report’s proposals, 2007 elections, including those of city mayors, would be cancelled.

The report recommends that all elected representatives who face elections in 2007 would stay in office until 2010. ConCom chairman Dr Jose Abueva argued that a postponement of elections would allow a smooth transformation from the present presidential structure to a parliamentarian one, modelled on the United Kingdom parliament. He added that once the new draft constitution was ratified in 2006, an interim parliament would be put in place, with Mrs Arroyo as transition President.

Under the proposals, Mrs. Arroyo would remain as head of state and head of government but would be sharing power with a prime minister to be elected by members of the interim parliament. The President would appoint at least a third of her present Cabinet and 30 other persons ‘experienced and experts in their respective fields’.

The President would have ‘supervision and direction’ over the interim prime minister and the Cabinet but would not be vested with the power to dissolve the interim parliament and would remain subject to the same disqualification and manner of removal in the next three years.

Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives would be members of the interim parliament along with those appointed by the President. The interim prime minister would be elected by members of the parliament and would serve as member of the Cabinet.

The commission’s report also includes the controversial recommendation that foreign ownership should be allowed in areas previously off-limits to non-Filipinos, such as land, advertising and media, schools and public utilities.

Seven ConCom members, who voted against the recommendations, issued a minority report urging the retention of the presidential system of government. They fear that the fusion of the executive and legislative branches of government in parliament concentrated too much power in the hands of politicians. Others opposed to constitutional changes argued that there was no evidence that parliamentary forms of government produced better results for their people. One commentator said the reason why in the world there were more forms of government modelled after the United Kingdom was because Britain had more colonies than other countries.

Some senior members of the Filipino Senate have also expressed their opposition to the Concom report. One senator called the proposals unoriginal and a throw back to the days of Ferdinand Marcos.

San Fernando (Pampanga) Mayor Oscar Rodruguez, who served on Concom and recently achieved fourth place in World Mayor 2005, said the majority of local officials, civic and religious leaders consulted by the commission were in favour of its recommendation seeking a five-year transition period to allow a shift in government from presidential to parliamentary. However, Philippines former president Fidel V. Ramos described the proposal to cancel the 2007 elections as a ‘monumental blunder’.

"I can say that my support for ConCom is waning right now," Mr Ramos said in a television interview, reacting to the recommendation to get rid of the upcoming balloting for local offices, Congress and half of the Senate, extend the term of incumbent officials and pave the way for parliamentary elections in 2010. The former president added that he was generally in favour of a parliamentary system of government but it would be undemocratic to scrap the 2007 elections.

There has also been powerful opposition to cancellation of elections from within parliament. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Jose de Venecia, said he thought the election proposals were a bad idea. “I personally believe that lawmakers should not benefit from their actions,” he explained.

Concom Chairman Dr Abueva confirmed reports that incumbent provincial governors and city and municipal mayors who were members of the commission were instrumental in recommending the no-election plan. But he also acknowledged that the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, composed of governors, mayors and other local officials, was split over the issue. Some commentators said that local elected government officials will campaign for the new constitution in any referendum in return for the three-year-bonus.

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