The Liberal Party (LP) will meet on Tuesday next week to come up with a common position on Charter change or Cha-cha.
The ruling party has been beset by divergent and often confusing viewpoints on the necessity to introduce amendments to the Constitution, giving rise to speculations that the issue is causing a rift among its leaders.
On Thursday, the party president, Senate President Franklin Drilon, said a meeting is planned to fine-tune the LP position on Charter change, especially now that President Benigno Aquino 3rd has expressed “openness” to amend the Constitution if there is a public clamor for it.
On Friday, two LP congressmen, Jerry Trenas of Iloilo City and Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao, said such a meeting will be held on Tuesday in Balay, the Liberal Party headquarters, in Quezon City.
“The party will discuss matters pertaining to Charter Change. We will follow the guidance of the party and the leaders,” Trenas said in a text message.
“There will be a meeting but it will only include the top brass [of the party]. Not all of us are included,” Baguilat said.
Trenas is openly supporting a second term for President Aquino, along with Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar and Rep. Edgar Erice of Caloocan City (Metro Manila).
The 1987 Constitution provides a six-year term without reelection for the President.
Other LP stalwarts such as Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th confirmed the meeting, but clarified that the party is yet to decide on its position on Cha cha.
“I would have no way of saying what is the prevailing sentiment at this point,” Abad said in a text message.
“I would just say there should be a meeting about it,” Belmonte, author of Resolution of Both Houses 1, which seeks to amend the Constitution by lifting the 40 percent restriction on foreign ownership of public utilities, added in a separate talk.
Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento of Western Samar, the LP secretary general, said the party has not drafted a unified stand on Charter change, regardless if it involves term extension or freeing up the restrictive economic provisions as proposed by Belmonte.
Sarmiento, however, clarified that Belmonte’s proposal takes precedence because it has moved to the plenary debate stage after languishing for at least five years.
“As a matter of policy, we [in the LP]hold a caucus once there has been already exhaustive debates on the proposed measure. If the debates have been comprehensive, then it will be ripe for our decision,” Sarmiento told The Manila Times in a phone interview.
Still, he said, “We can’t stop certain members from expressing their thoughts because that is what is being Liberal is all about.”
Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, meanwhile, said, the President was simply being “honest about his views on the Constitution,” but it does not mean he is for Charter change.
President Aquino’s has a mind of his own and cannot be dictated by people surrounding him on the issue of Charter change, Lacierda added.
“I really don’t know why the allusion is against the people surrounding the President when the President himself has already openly stated his views on the Constitution and the President cannot be dictated on.This is something that he personally mentioned,” he told reporters.
On Thursday, Vice President Jejomar Binay said the country’s democracy will be in danger if moves to extend Aquino’s term and clip the powers of the Supreme Court succeed.
Binay added that the Constitution granted powers to the judiciary to avoid another dictatorship, which the nation endured under then-President Ferdinand Marcos.
He was referring to the constitutional provision that gives the judiciary both the power and duty “to determine whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government.”
“This provision was included to prevent a submissive and subservient judiciary that bends to the wills of one branch, or as was the case during martial law, of one man. Such power is our insurance against the threat of another dictatorship and the ensuing encroachment upon our liberties,” said Binay, who is running for President in 2016.
Lacierda said Binay was thinking way ahead when he cited the supposed dangers of amending the Constitution.
A week earlier, in an interview with News5, President Aquino admitted that he changed his mind on Charter change after recent clashes with the Supreme Court, which made Aquino feel the high tribunal abused its judicial reach.
In the same interview, Aquino said he is open to a second term, which is prohibited by the Constitution, if the people will it. He pointed out, however, that it does not mean he would pursue it.
Lacierda maintained that the President has not made up his mind on the matter.
“The President has neither decided on term extension or endorsing a candidate. In both instances, the 2016 elections will push through,” he said.
He shrugged off reports that opposition lawmakers are planning to forge a tactical alliance with other political parties to block the initiative to amend the Constitution.
“It’s a free country. Again, they are getting ahead of themselves. There are no moves yet from the Palace to do Charter change,” Lacierda said.