July 1, 2010 / 9:16 AM / in 9 years

Arroyo seeks changes to Philippine constitution

MANILA (Reuters) - Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Thursday she would push for changes to the country’s constitution, creating a potential distraction for the reform agenda of the new government of Benigno Aquino III.

Arroyo, who won a seat in the lower house of Congress at the May election, and her son Diosdado, a congressman, filed a resolution seeking unspecified changes to the 1987 constitution one day after she stepped down after 9-½ years as President.

Arroyo’s shift to Congress, the first time a President has done so, had sparked speculation she would try to introduce a parliamentary style of government, where a prime minister from the lower house would become the nation’s top political figure.

“The... constitution contains certain provisions which have outlived their purpose and need to be revisited to institute much needed socio-economic and political reforms,” the Arroyo resolution said, calling for a convention to canvass changes.

While president, Arroyo had sought constitutional amendments to open the economy up to more foreign investments, but failed due to fears she would use the changes to stay in power longer.

Arroyo’s party is the largest in the lower house, but it does not have a majority and many members have defected since the May 10 election, hoping to win the favour of the government.

“Gloria is trying to test the waters. It’s one way of polling members of the House of Representatives and find out whether she still has the numbers,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director, Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.

“Her proposal to change the constitution could be a rallying point for congressmen who will not get positions under the Liberal Party-led House leadership.”

The constitution was drafted and ratified by the administration of Corazon Aquino, the new president’s mother, after dictator Ferdinand Marcos was forced from office in 1986.

“We’re aware that her heart has always been to amend the constitution; that’s not a surprise to us,” Edwin Lacierda, Benigno Aquino’s spokesman, told a news conference on Thursday.

“Of course, it’s something that we will be dealing together with our legislative partners in the House, so it’s not something that we are very bothered with,” he said, adding Congress could block the move to review the national charter.

Aquino has set up a commission to investigate allegations of corruption, electoral fraud and rights abuses by Arroyo and her administration. Arroyo denies any wrongdoing.

On Thursday, a group of leftist activists filed a complaint with the Justice Department, accusing Arroyo of involvement in an overpriced deal to build a broadband network in 2007.

Some lawmakers said Arroyo was using the resolution to make her presence felt in Congress and challenge Aquino.

“This is her reaction to the speech of President Aquino, as if to say she is no pushover and she will fight it out,” Senator Francis Escudero, a close ally of Aquino, told reporters.

“She’s just trying to flex her muscles.” (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair and Alex Richardson)

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