Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Aug. 23, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
EL SHADDAI leader Brother Mike Velarde has come up with a formula aimed at ending the political crisis.
Velarde said he had proposed to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the formation of a “coalition government” with opposition parties getting 60 percent of the Cabinet posts, and amending the Constitution to allow for the holding of general elections in 2007.
He said the coalition government could include the best representatives of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, Partido ng Masang Pilipino of deposed President Joseph Estrada, Nationalist People’s Coalition of business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco and the Liberal Party chaired by Senate President Franklin Drilon, who had demanded that Ms Arroyo step down.
Velarde said the President was “receptive” to the idea of a coalition government and to elections in 2007 that would cut her six-year term by half.
“She is open to discussing this. We’ve been discussing this for some time now,” Velarde said
in a phone interview with the Inquirer yesterday.
Velarde said his proposals would “stabilize the political situation,” which had deteriorated following charges that Ms Arroyo rigged the presidential election last year and benefited from “jueteng” payoffs.
He said the political crisis was hurting the economy and the people.
The proposal was being presented as part of Ms Arroyo’s reconciliation program with her foes.
Velarde said he discussed his proposal with Ms Arroyo at least three times since the gravest political crisis of her administration erupted with a spate of calls for her to resign on July 8. He said the President had told him to “keep (discussing) it until we come to an agreement.”
Velarde said he had also been discussing the proposal with Estrada and other opposition leaders.
Covenant of solidarity
The plan, he said, was for Ms Arroyo, Estrada and other opposition and administration leaders to sign a “covenant of solidarity for the Filipino nation.”
The leader of El Shaddai, a Catholic lay movement, said the covenant would have been signed on Sunday during the birthday Mass for him at the Quirino Grandstand where Ms Arroyo and Estrada were scheduled to appear together and shake hands.
The plan was scuttled and Ms Arroyo and Estrada appeared at the rally separately.
Velarde, the politically influential leader of the Catholic charismatic group, said he had proposed a 60-40 sharing of Cabinet posts, with the larger proportion going to the opposition as a gesture of sincerity on the part of the President.
He said Ms Arroyo would still head the coalition government that would serve as a transition until general elections shall have been held, preferably in 2007.
“I was proposing that the opposition and administration national parties work for a coalition government which will become some kind of a transition toward Charter change which I hope would take effect in 2007,” Velarde said.
Asked what his role would be in the coalition government or in its formation, he said: “Mine is just shuttling back [and forth] between the two camps. I am just their servant.”
Velarde said he was not at liberty to identify the other opposition leaders he had spoken to. The leaders were open to the idea, he said.
He said some of the opposition leaders were concerned about the effect of the proposed arrangement on the impeachment proceedings against Ms Arroyo.
Velarde said he assured the leaders that the impeachment would push through if the lawmakers wanted it to.
“I’m not tying this coalition government to the impeachment case,” he said.
A high-ranking official, who Velarde apparently talked to, told the Inquirer earlier in the day that Velarde’s proposal was to hold presidential elections in 2007 to cut Ms Arroyo’s term.
“It means he (Velarde) also agrees that the President cannot stay there up to 2010,” said the official, who did not want to be named.
The official said the proposal was similar to that espoused by former President Fidel V. Ramos and House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. Ramos had suggested that the Constitution be changed through a constituent assembly to pave the way for elections next year.
Before the Inquirer talked to Velarde, a person close to him confirmed that it was “part of the amendments” being contemplated by, and which Velarde had discussed with, Ms Arroyo.
Velarde said the proposal entailed “limited amendments”’ to the Constitution possibly through a constituent assembly composed of the members of Congress.
The amendments should consist of easing some restrictive economic provisions, lifting the limits on the term of elective officials and holding general elections in 2007.
Velarde said holding the elections in 2007 could “more or less” cut Ms Arroyo’s term, who has until 2010 to stay in office. He said that when he raised this with Ms Arroyo, she said she was “open to it.”
“I said we should study what is best for the country. Everybody has to make a sacrifice,” he said.
Clean up Comelec
Velarde said holding elections next year would be too early because the electoral process and the Commission on Elections needed to be cleaned up for the elections to be credible.
“Twelve months is too short for that,” he said.
Velarde favors a four-year term for national and local officials, including the President.
Three years for local officials is too short to make them effective while six years for a President is too long, according to the El Shaddai leader. When a president becomes unpopular or saddled with charges, the people have no recourse but to go to the streets, he said.
Velarde recalled that Ms Arroyo had given her “commitment” to him about Charter change as early as the 2004 election campaign.
At that time, Ms Arroyo had sought Velarde’s endorsement and met with him in his air-conditioned bus in Tarlac province.
When they emerged from the meeting, Velarde’s spokesperson, now Light Rail Transit administrator Mel Robles, read a message saying that the President and Velarde had agreed on several commitments, including Charter change.
Velarde said Ms Arroyo agreed with him then that Charter change must be pursued immediately after her assumption to the presidency in 2004. “Otherwise Charter change would be suspect,” he said.
Velarde said he had espoused changes to the economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution that have been hindering progress, including the limitation on foreign ownership of land, and limits on the terms of elective officials.