Aquino Won’t Cha-Cha

Congressional leaders on Monday failed to convince President Benigno Aquino III on the need for Charter change, but eked out a concession to have his economic and legal teams study the matter further.

“I stated my opposition [to Charter change], but we agreed to have the underlying basis studied by our economic and legal clusters with the participation of the private sector,” Mr. Aquino said after meeting Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile at the Palace.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda acknowledged that in ordering the study, the President may have been sending a message to Congress not to undertake unilateral action to push Charter change.

Before the meeting, Mr. Aquino challenged Belmonte and Enrile’s claim that amending the Constitution would spur growth, saying it might derail the country’s economic takeoff instead.

“There’s an American saying, don’t fix what ain’t broke,” Mr. Aquino said, adding that under the present Charter, the country was still able to grow by 6.4 percent in the first quarter “at a time when the whole world was in a slowdown.”

“Let us look at the proof…Even with the present Constitution, we are capable of reaching the economic heights that we want. Changing the Constitution will change the rules of the game and this might just derail us from getting there.”

After the meeting, Belmonte said Mr. Aquino had “reservations” about the proposed amendments to the Constitution’s economic provisions.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, who accompanied Belmonte, said the President was not convinced that Charter change at this point would contribute to economic progress.

Mr. Aquino earlier said he was not sure that removing the cap on foreign ownership, as Belmonte and Enrile had suggested, was a step in the right direction.

He also warned that even if the proponents of Charter change sought to limit the amendments to economic provisions, such moves could open the floodgates to other amendments, including changes to the political system.

After the meeting, Belmonte said that although they failed to convince the President, they at least were able to explain why they wanted to change certain economic provisions of the Constitution and won a concession that the Palace would study their proposal.

“We explained our proposal. We discussed it. He has his reservations, but on our joint request, he will refer it for study and comment by his economic and legal teams,” Belmonte said.

The speaker had wanted to add the words “unless otherwise provided by law” into the targeted economic provisions to allow Congress a free hand to amend those limits through legislation.

Enrile said the President was “fair” during their talk.

“He gave us a hearing and upon our request, agreed that it [the proposal] be submitted for study by the economic managers… to determine whether indeed there will be a benefit to the country if we do the exercise,” he said.

Gonzales said President Aquino’s concession was a welcome development, but Congress was unlikely to push Charter change now given the cold reception from the Palace.

Earlier, Gonzales had said that failure to push the amendments through during the current Congress would mean Charter change was dead in the Aquino administration because attempts to do so during the next or 16th Congress would spark suspicions that they were trying to extend the President’s term beyond 2016.

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