Philippines' Arroyo revives constitutional change idea

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MANILA, Oct 15 (Reuters) Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo revived plans today to change the constitution, but for the first time said any change could come only after she leaves office in 2010.

Talk of changing the constitution died down late last year after the powerful Catholic church opposed attempts to hold a referendum on the issue. Many viewed the move as an attempt by Arroyo to stay in office beyond 2010, when her constitutionally mandated term of office ends.

Addressing a forum in Manila, Arroyo said she has formed a government panel to draft plans for the establishment of a federal form of government in 2012.

''We are hereby forming a panel to draft a roadmap to federalism by 2012,'' Arroyo said, adding the measure would also help address the issue of insurgency in the southern Philippines.

She said the measures would eventually result in changes to the 1987 constitution.

In December 2006, Arroyo was forced to retreat from pushing efforts to amend the constitution and shift to a parliamentary form of government after the church threatened to mobilise street protests.

Political analysts, however, believe Arroyo's announcement to revive the issue could be an attempt to deflect attention away from bribery scandals that have hit her administration in recent weeks.

''It's more of the talk than the walk,'' said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.

Last month, Arroyo's husband was named in a kickback scandal involving a multi-million dollar broadband project and his golfing buddy -- the head of the elections commission -- quit his job.

Last week a senior official of Arroyo's political party, Kampi, was fired after he allegedly offered bribes to opposition lawmakers to support a weak impeachment complaint against her, shielding her for at least 12 months from any similar motion.

Today, a Roman Catholic priest who was elected governor of Arroyo's home province claimed to have received half about 11,365 dollars after Arroyo met lawmakers and local officials to discuss her impeachment case in Congress.

''The president was obviously trying to hit two birds with a stone on her latest pronouncement,'' Casiple told Reuters, adding she was wooing support of local officials who favoured the federal system and appeasing House of Representatives Speaker Jose de Venecia, a known supporter of constitutional change.

Relations between Arroyo and de Venecia have been strained recently because his son named Arroyo's husband in a senate inquiry into the 330 million dollars broadband deal.

REUTERS SKB RK1440

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