'Prime Minister Arroyo' if Cha-Cha succeeds, opposition warns

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition leaders on Monday, July 23, warned that the election of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as House Speaker was a prelude to her rise as "Prime Minister" should the Duterte administration succeed in its bid for constitutional amendments.

Former Quezon representative Erin Tañada told Rappler on the sidelines of the post-State of the Nation Address (SONA) gathering of Tindig Pilipinas that Arroyo made several unsuccessful attempts to push for charter change (Cha-Cha) during her presidency.

Her election as Speaker makes the bid for Cha-Cha more "dangerous," especially if Congress would convene as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) for that purpose, said Tañada, Liberal Party Vice President for External Affairs.

"That’s why I’m saying Con-Ass is a very dangerous proposition right now because if they move and they are able to secure it is a voting jointly proposal, then they can always push that it will be a parliamentary system and then GMA is prime minister," he said.

Former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had insisted there should be joint voting in Con-Ass. Senators strongly oppose this, as they would practically be drowned out by 291 House members. 

Former Akbayan representative Barry Gutierrez noted that Arroyo, now Pampanga 2nd District Representative, had pushed for constitutional amendments when she was chief executive "as a means of extending her stay in power."

“She’s a threat in the sense that she’s very capable of pushing successfully the agenda of the administration with Congress, which is charter change at the moment. She has the smarts, she has the experience, and this is something that she’s wanted to have for a long time,” Gutierrez said.

During her presidency, Arroyo also formed  a consultative commission to propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution. (READ: Past charter change attempts and why they failed)

'Lack of independence'

Opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the change of leadership in the House was proof of that chamber's lack of independence from Malacañang.

Dito lang natin makikita na hindi totoo 'yung sinasabi nila na mayroong independence ang lehislatura from the influence of Malacañang, at alam naman natin na ang bawat galaw o pagpalit ng liderato sa House of Representatives ay meron basbas ng Malacañang, kung hindi man 'yung Presidente, isang malapit sa Presidente,” he said.

(We can see here that what they say about the legislature being independent from Malacañang is not true, and we know that each move or change in leadership in the House of Representatives has the blessing of Malacañang, if not from the President. from someone close to the President.)

In a series of events that would delay President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address for over an hour, lawmakers ousted Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez and elected Arroyo as Speaker. This was said to be upon the request of presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio. (READ: Alvarez out, Arroyo in as House Speaker)

OPPOSITION. (L-R) In this photo, opposition leaders including LP official Erin Tau00f1ada, former DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman, lawyer Barry Gutierrez, Senator Antonio Trillanes, former peace process adviser Ging Deles, Congressman Gary Alejano, former CHR chair Etta Rosales, and singer Leah Navarro react to Duterte's SONA. Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

OPPOSITION. (L-R) In this photo, opposition leaders including LP official Erin Tau00f1ada, former DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman, lawyer Barry Gutierrez, Senator Antonio Trillanes, former peace process adviser Ging Deles, Congressman Gary Alejano, former CHR chair Etta Rosales, and singer Leah Navarro react to Duterte's SONA.

Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

Asked how they intended to prevent this, Gutierrez said opposition groups would continue to inform Filipinos about the dangers of shifting to federalism,  especially during the transition period. (READ: Consultative Committee 'impeaching' Robredo via new constitution)

“The moment that they (Filipinos) realize Cha-Cha equals no election, Cha-Cha equals term extension, Cha-Cha will equal a dictatorship, I think we will have no shortage of our fellow Filipinos who will go out, engage legislators, let their voices be heard, go out to the streets if needed," he said.

Anti-corruption?

Opposition leaders also expressed dismay over the fact that Arroyo, who was previously hounded by several corruption scandals, was able to assume the speakership under an administration that flaunts itself for its campaign against corruption.

“The other alarming thing about 'yung kanyang return to a leadership position in the House is the fact that this is person na akala natin na-sentensiyahan na ng kasaysaysan (who we thought history had sentenced)," Gutierrez said.

"After she was charged in court…and most Filipinos thought she was the most corrupt president in our history, biglang-bigla nabigyan ng (she was suddenly given a) new lease on life under the Duterte administration,” Gutierrez said.

Trillanes, for his part, said,  “Definitely, she is not a positive influence to our society because she used to be the face of corruption and I don’t think she was able to rehabilitate herself or her image along those lines.”

Arroyo was linked to a number of corruption scandals such as the Hello Garci controversy, the alleged misuse of multi-billion Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds, the NBN-ZTE deal, and the fertilizer fund scam, among others. 

While Arroyo was jailed for the most part of the Aquino administration, the Supreme Court acquitted her of plunder in connection with misused PCSO funds less than a month into the Duterte administration. (TIMELINE: Gloria Arroyo: From plunder to acquittal)

Trillanes, however, believed that Arroyo’s speakership would ultimately weaken Duterte’s presidency as their interests “are not always aligned.”

“Their interest are not the same. Duterte’s interest is to prolong his stay in power. GMA’s interest is to reclaim power. That’s diametrically opposed," he said. "At some point, it will clash.” – Rappler.com

 

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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