Arroyo’s Charter-Change Gambit: Longer Rule, Assured Immunity, Divided Public

Analysts say the Arroyo regime is exploiting a disorganized political opposition and an apathetic (or deceived, if not coerced) public to ram through charter change so Arroyo can remain in power — either as prime minister or House speaker — and possibly protect herself from legal suits in the future. The key to confronting this gambit, they point out, is to transform the people’s discontent and disgust into real political action.


MANILA – When former justice secretary Raul Gonzalez said early this month that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo might run for Congress seat next year, he was practically outlining Arroyo’s gambit. More specifically, Gonzalez provided the clearest motive for the regime’s relentless attempts to change the Constitution: that Arroyo needs to remain in power so she can deflect the various charges that will be brought down on her once she’s out of office.

Analysts say Arroyo is exploiting the greed of her allies in Congress, the factionalism in the political opposition and a level of public apathy to make all this happen. The president, they say, has likewise used various means to intimidate her opponents, particularly the mass movement, which plays a key role in the struggle against her regime.

“Self-preservation lurks in the shadow of the Arroyo agenda,” a paper released on Monday by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) said. “Stepping down voluntarily at the end of her term will unleash a deluge of lawsuits to make her pay for the alleged crimes she had committed while in office since 2001. She must stay in power to shield herself against any lawsuit even if some observers believe being House speaker or prime minister does not necessarily give her legal immunity.”

Already, various groups have said publicly that they would definitely file lawsuits against Arroyo and her cronies for alleged crimes that range from corruption to the series of extrajudicial killings, torture, abduction and harassments victimizing political activists, leftists, journalists and ordinary Filipinos.

Arroyo, who came to power in 2001 after the second “People Power” that toppled then president Joseph Estrada, has been accused of murdering and torturing hundreds of activists. Various investigations have established the culpability not just of Arroyo but of the military and police establishments as well in these atrocities.

“The only way to protect herself is to remain in power,” political scientist Benito Lim of the Ateneo de Manila University told Bulatlat in an interview. Lim said Arroyo is worried because there might be presidential candidates who, in order to curry votes, might make it a promise to prosecute her for these atrocities. “She might be jailed if found guilty,” he said.

Judy Taguiwalo, faculty regent of the University of the Philippines and co-chairperson of Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change, said there is a possibility that Arroyo’s anointed presidential contender might lose in the elections next year. If the elections go as planned and if Arroyo does step down, Taguiwalo said, Arroyo could be in trouble. “When Arroyo is already out of office, cases filed against her might prosper,” she said.

Prime Minister Arroyo?

The recent railroading of a House resolution that seeks to convene the Congress into a constituent assembly to change the Constitution is part of this game plan, these analysts say. Arroyo’s allies in Congress have said that they would tackle this once they resume their session in July.

House Resolution 1109 is “yet another move by Arroyo and her allies to ram through a parliamentary system by charter change, with Arroyo seating as prime minister and with those voting for the resolution enjoying a term extension,” Cenpeg said in its paper. The plan, it said, “was apparently hatched on the sidelines of the recent merger of Arroyo’s Kampi party and Lakas-CMD and, according to some of her allies, had the President’s imprimatur.”

Arroyo’s possible election to Congress and the constituent assembly “are conjoined to allow her a seat in a new parliamentary setup.” And if things don’t go as planned – for instance, if Congress remains the way it is and not turned into a parliament – it “will not prevent Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from eventually taking over as the next House speaker under a scenario where it will remain dominated by the coalesced Kampi and Lakas-CMD after the 2010 elections,” according to Cenpeg.

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