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No more cha-cha in the Philippines

Updated On: Dec 19, 2006

The Philippines President Arroyo has seemingly dropped her plans for a change in the constitution from a Presidential system to a Parliamentary one.

She had originally planned for an interim Parliament (comprising of existing lawmakers) to govern till 2010 when she steps down.  

This plan was seen by her political opponents as an excuse for her to avoid the mid-term elections in May 2007 and to extend her term of office till 2010. There had been many demonstrations and protests for and against the change in the constitution. Some commentators have even opined that the postponement of the ASEAN summit was due to Arroyo’s fear of massive protests and possibly a military coup resulting from the planned constitutional change.  

The Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye has suggested that the proposal to change the constitution is likely to be revisited in the future. He said, “The important thing is to keep the flame burning…. There will come a time when this will be revived.” The Philippines certainly needs some time out from the political deadlock arising from the constitutional change. Other issues particularly economic ones have been neglected due to the political polarisation in the country over the proposed constitutional change. Congressmen have agreed to shift their focus to the other challenges facing the Philippines, particularly on the economy.   

However, the government also needs to pay attention to the spate of political killings taking place in the country. On Saturday (16th December), House of Representative Luis Bersamin Jr and his policeman bodyguard were killed in a church in New Manila, Quezon City. In recent years, two town mayors have been killed publicly and their killers have yet to be found. Government officials have raised concerns that there might be more instances of politically motivated killings ahead of the already traditionally violent local and congressional elections held in May.  

Also troubling the government is the continued fighting in the South against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and an still active communist insurgency led by the New People’s Army (NPA). 

With so much domestic issues to be tackled, will President Arroyo be able to do what is needed to ensure that the rescheduled ASEAN summit in January will take place safely? Already, the Philippines has faced criticism from the Japanese Economic Minister, Akira Amari who said that the postponement of the various summits had “surely lowered the credibility of the Philippines government.” The Philippines Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita called Akira Amari’s statement, a “slight” and ordered the Foreign Affairs to see if either a diplomatic protest or a demarche against the Japanese government should be issued. Nonetheless, the Philippinesgovernment is not likely to pursue either option.  

All of the ASEAN leaders have confirmed their attendance at the January summit but the leaders of ASEAN’s dialogue partners have yet to do so. Japan Economic Newswire has quoted an anonymous Filipino diplomat who claimed that the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would cut short his trip to London to attend the East Asia Summit in January.  

The last time, the Philippines government blamed the weather for the postponement of the ASEAN summit, though later reports speculated that it was the threat of terrorism that resulted in the postponement. This time, to regain any credibility, the government have to work doubly hard to secure the safety of the meeting place and ensure that the summit would go on smoothly, come rain or shine. 

Sources:

Bloody Abra Politics Linked to Lawmaker’s Killing (Manila Standard,18 December 2006)

RP Won’t Pursue Protest Against Japan (Manila Standard, 18 December 2006)

Summit in January Assured (Manila Standard, 17 December 2006)

Palace Appeals for Calm and Sobriety at Rally (Manila Bulletin, 17 December 2006)

GMA Keep Chacha Fire Building (Manila Standard, 16 December 2006

Rebel Attack on Rally ‘Confirmed’ by NSC (Manila Standard, 16 December 2006)

Congressmen Pledge to Focus on Economy (Manila Standard, 16 December 2006)

Waste of Resources (Manila Bulletin, 16 December 2006)

Key Test for Arroyo (Straits Times, 16 December 2006)

Abe to Cut Short London Trip to Attend E. Asia Summit (Japan Economic Newswire, 14 December 2006)

Manila, rebels accuse each other of truce violation (Straits Times, 18 December 2006)