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December 14, 2008

Filipinos protest charter amendment

About 5,000 Filipinos demonstrated Friday in Makati City, the country's financial district, to protest plans by Congress to amend the Constitution, reported Kyodo news agency.

The protesters denounced President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for allegedly orchestrating a fresh campaign to rewrite the Charter in a bid to extend her term that ends in 2010.

They said Arroyo is using her allies in the House of Representatives to push a resolution that would turn Congress into a constitutional assembly to rewrite the Charter.

Arroyo's allies control the House of Representatives, where her two sons and brother-in-law are members.

The move is stirring up political passions in the country. Already religious and left-wing groups have launched a series of protests against changing the Charter or what the media derisively termed "cha-cha."

"Let us kill the cha-cha," said opposition Sen. Manuel Roxas.

"We plan to end the year united in a common cause and determined to stop the 'cha-cha express' dead in its tracks," said Renato Reyes of the left-leaning umbrella group Bayan.

"This is just the first action and hopefully not the last. Arroyo should be forewarned, the people will not take cha-cha sitting down," he said.

Many senators also came to the rally and 23 senators have signed a resolution opposing any attempt to amend the Constitution via a constitutional assembly.

"We are expressing the Senate's sense that any attempt by the House of Representatives to unilaterally propose amendments to, or revision of, the Constitution without approval by three-fourths of the Senate voting separately is unconstitutional," said Sen. Francisco Pangilinan.

Ousted President Joseph Estrada supported the rally, but he failed to show up because he had to go to a hospital where his ailing mother is.

Police placed the country on full alert. At least 5,000 police and soldiers were deployed in the metropolis to maintain peace.

Hours before the rally, steel vans and barbed wire were strategically placed around the Malacanang presidential palace, the official residence of Arroyo and her family. Antiriot shields and portable urinals also lined the road leading to the palace.

Debate on whether to amend the Constitution has once again divided the nation. Added to the debate is confusion stemming from Arroyo's refusal to clearly state her own position on the issue.

The Constitution was approved in 1987 following the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country for more than two decades.

Critics are demanding a categorical statement from Arroyo that she will not tamper with the Constitution to extend her term of office, not merely an assurance that there will be elections in 2010.

The current Constitution limits the president's term to six years. Arroyo, who was swept to power in 2001 when Filipinos ousted Joseph Estrada, will have been president for 10 years when she ends her term in 2010. She served out Estrada's term before being elected herself.

Elections for a new president are due in May, along with those for other offices.

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