ALL three senatorial candidates who participated in today’s first of a series of debates sponsored by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, agreed on one thing: Any proposal to amend the Constitution should be shelved for the next three years.
Despite earlier setbacks, Malacañang has not abandoned its plans to push for a parliamentary form of government that will abolish the Senate to make way for a unicameral Parliament.
For now, the Senate will have at least three sure votes against charter-change in the next three years. That is, if Team Unity’s Edgardo Angara, Francis Escudero of the Genuine Opposition, and Oliver Lozano of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan will all win this May.
In “Forum 2007, The Senatorial Candidates,” aired over ABS-CBN News Channel this evening, the three candidates in the debate were given one minute and thirty seconds to explain their answer to the question, “Should the Constitution be changed in three years’ time?”
Escudero maintained that amending the Constitution — a process he described as “a very important political exercise” — could not be entrusted to the Arroyo administration. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term will end in 2010.
More importantly, Escudero said, charter change will not translate to more jobs, cheaper prices of goods, and better standard of living.
Lozano also agreed that there is no urgent need to amend the Constitution; Angara gave no specific reason why amendments should not be introduced until after 2010.
A long-time advocate of charter change, Angara said there are restrictive economic provisions in the 20-year-old Constitution that must be “liberalized.” Angara said “we deserve a better Constitution,” one that will allow for more investments and generate jobs.
Escudero however argued this is not necessarily so, since there are countries like China which has protectionist laws but is now the fastest growing economy in Asia.
Anti-Cha-cha groups have likewise asserted that charter amendments are not needed to spur economic growth.
Escudero said he will never agree for the restrictions to be lifted unless it can be proven that allowing foreigners to own lands, exploit natural resources, and own public utilities will contribute to the general welfare of Filipinos.
When asked what mode of amending the Constitution should be used, Escudero said he preferred holding a Constitutional Convention even if it’s more costly and time-consuming.
Lozano meanwhile said the best mode is the people’s initiative.
The candidates were also confronted on other issues such as corruption, the environment, and human rights. These issues were raised by a three-member panel composed of ABS-CBN news anchor Korina Sanchez, Marvic Leonen of the University of the Philippines College of Law, and Benjamin Tolosa of the Ateneo de Manila University.
Angara, for example, was asked about the recently signed Anti-Terrorism law.
He said he made sure that the amendments he proposed, especially the safeguards against human rights violations, had been included before he signed in favor of the measure. He however admitted that the law is not perfect as even the United Nations is grappling with the proper definition of “terrorism.”
Asked if he thought the 2001 uprising was a mistake, Escudero agreed that it was. He said the Senate should have instead proceeded with the impeachment trial against Estrada.
He also said Edsa 2 was a “coup,” and the Arroyo government, which used the issue of jueteng to topple the Estrada presidency, has not managed to eradicate the illegal numbers game.
Lozano, a Marcos loyalist, was likewise asked if he thought Edsa 1 was a mistake. Lozano said it was; he said all the accusations of wrongdoing by the Marcoses had been dismissed by the courts.
Lozano was also asked to comment on allegations that he is a paid hack of the present administration.
Lozano in 2005 was criticized for filing an impeachment complaint that was of “inferior quality,” and recently, for fielding a namesake of senatorial candidate Alan Peter Cayetano, an opposition stalwart.
Lozano said the accusations are all lies.
The debate ended with final statements from each of the candidates. Lozano maintained that the nation needed “character change” and not Charter change; Angara said people should vote for him because of his achievements in health and education; and Escudero said there should be officials in Congress who can properly represent the people.
At the end of the debate, the candidates signed a Covenant, a document that will hold the candidates responsible for their promises, once they’re elected to office.
The debates, sponsored by the PPCRV, Comelec, and ABS-CBN News Channel, will run for four weeks, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Up next are senatorial candidates Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson, Francis Pangilinan, and Alan Peter Cayetano, who will tackle corruption.