Velarde threatens march vs Cha-cha El Shaddai leader urges Arroyo: Stop it

By Juliet Labog-Javellana, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:52:00 12/03/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The spiritual adviser of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has threatened to mount one-million-strong street protests against the campaign of her allies in the House of Representatives for the amendment of the 1987 Constitution.

Bro. Mike Velarde, leader of the El Shaddai that counts at least four million members, again aired his warning to Congress not to push Charter change (Cha-cha) and, in the process, extend the term of the President and other elected officials beyond 2010.

But this time, Velarde also directed his appeal to Ms Arroyo, saying she should “use her persuasive powers on her allies” to withdraw their resolutions calling for Charter change and stop their campaign for a constituent assembly (Con-ass).

“Otherwise, if the President will not do it, we will do it in the streets,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the phone.

Velarde said he would call out a million of his followers “anytime” against House moves to railroad Charter change: “Paparadahan natin ’yan ng isang milyon.”

Even former Senate President Frank Drilon warned that the Charter change drive could spark “people power.”

“I hope this administration will not underestimate the anger of the people. This can be the tipping point. It can unite the entire nation against this administration. People power can be rekindled,” Drilon said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Religious, civil society and militant groups are planning an interfaith rally dubbed “Labanan ang Cha-cha ni Gloria” on Dec. 12 at the Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas intersection in Makati City.

“We will join that one even if I have to walk with my cane,” said former Sen. Vicente Paterno, 83.

Paterno belongs to the group called Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO), which monitors and evaluates the Arroyo administration’s policies.

He said the FSGO had decided to join the rally.

“Despite the congressmen’s assurances, we need to be wary that they could at the last session day insert amendments lifting the limit on the term of the President,” Paterno said on the phone.

‘Stop your children’

Velarde said that while the Palace had repeatedly denied that Ms Arroyo would seek Charter change to stay in power, “she must also show us that she means business by persuading her allies, especially her children, [to drop their campaign].”

“If I cannot stop my children [from doing something], I’m not a good parent,” he said.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, the President’s elder son, is said to be pushing a Con-ass resolution for signature in the House. The campaign is expected to be backed by his brother, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Arroyo, and his uncle, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo.

‘Show leadership’

Velarde said Ms Arroyo would not be interfering with Congress if she persuaded her allies to stop the Con-ass drive.

“The President has persuasive powers over her allies. It will not be interference, just persuasion,” he said.

According to Velarde, Ms Arroyo will step down when her term ends: “I personally believe the President will not stay beyond 2010. But I’m afraid her allies and those around her are trying to convince her to stay beyond her term, and they are the ones orchestrating this Con-ass.”

He said the President “should show her leadership and once and for all end these divisive moves.”

Velarde said the “single act” of stopping her allies from pushing Cha-cha “will once and for all convince the people and erase doubts about her intention, and this will also improve her trust ratings with the public.”

“She needs this confidence so that the people can rally behind her and her programs to lead the country out of the economic crisis,” he said.

In 2006, Velarde expressed strong opposition to a move in the House to push a Con-ass without the Senate’s participation. The plan was eventually shelved.

‘Tatamaan si GMA’

Velarde said Charter change, particularly through a Con-ass that would disregard the Senate, was ill-timed and divisive.

“In this [economically] difficult time, I would like to appeal to Congress to give the country political peace. The Con-ass [move] is very divisive,” he said, adding:

“We don’t trust the congressmen now because their move is suspect; many people think they will push this Con-ass to extend their term. So if they really have no such intention, they should not push this now.”

Velarde also said Congress should let Ms Arroyo finish her term and use her remaining time to lead the country out of the effects of the global economic crisis.

He said the Cha-cha campaign would boomerang on Ms Arroyo: “Tatamaan si Presidente dyan. I don’t want her to be disturbed until 2010 because we need her solid leadership and direction to solve our problems. We cannot afford to have a crisis like [what is happening now in] Bangkok.”

Starting Dec. 12

Velarde said he had aired his appeal personally to members of Congress—including House Speaker Prospero Nograles and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, the president of Ms Arroyo’s political party, the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino or Kampi—but that it had apparently been ignored.

“I’m not changing my position. If they will not stop this, I will call for a mass action against this Con-ass. I’m willing to lead the people and go to the streets to send a message to these members of Congress behind this Con-ass how serious we are in opposing this,” Velarde said.

“For that matter, I’ll start going to the streets of Bacolod on Dec. 12 to campaign against this Con-ass,” he added.

Civil, religious and political leaders kicked off protest rallies against Charter change on Friday night in Makati City.

Velarde said he would lead district-by-district “persuasive rallies” in Bacolod, Leyte, Pampanga and other bailiwicks of Ms Arroyo’s key allies and Cha-cha proponents.

“I will even invite the bishops to join me,” he said.

Velarde said he was in favor of Charter change, but only after 2010 and through a constitutional convention (Con-con) whose delegates would be elected simultaneously with candidates for elective posts.

He said those seeking the presidency in 2010 should “be prepared” for possible Charter changes during his/her term.

Remonde scoffs at Drilon

He added that his son, Rene Velarde, the representative of El Shaddai’s party-list group Buhay, had filed a resolution for a Con-con in 2010.

But Secretary Cerge Remonde scoffed at Drilon’s warning. “These are speculations obviously peddled by those who have long wanted to see this administration fall,” he told reporters.

Remonde said Malacañang would respect the people’s right to protest, but appealed to groups not to agitate the public into mounting a rerun of People Power I and II.

“In the spirit of Christmas, and in view of the hard times, we appeal to those who seek to do that, there are better ways of attaining change. That’s not good for the country and our people,” he said.

An October survey of the Social Weather Stations showed that 64 percent of adult Filipinos were opposed to amending the Charter and allowing Ms Arroyo to stay in power after June 30, 2010.

Undersecretary Anthony Golez, deputy spokesperson of Ms Arroyo, acknowledged that any amendment seeking to lift term limits was “doomed.”

“We find it to be doomed because the people will oppose this; they don’t want any term extension,” he told reporters.

According to Golez, the “safety valves” against any term extension are the Charter, which sets the President’s term to six years, and a plebiscite, where the people will vote or reject such a revision of the Charter. With a report from Dona Pazzibugan

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