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Arroyo moves to rewrite Philippine constitution

world Updated: Jul 01, 2010 15:07 IST

Former Philippine president Gloria Arroyo on Thursday launched a bid to change the constitution, raising speculation she is plotting to grab back power while trying to shield herself from prosecution.

Arroyo, 63, filed a petition to parliament calling for a constitutional convention, which if successful could change the system of government to one ruled by a prime minister rather than a president.

However Arroyo's successor, Benigno Aquino, played down the initiative, saying she did not have the support in parliament to succeed.

"The filing of the charter change (resolution) is not a threat as far as we are concerned," Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters.

"If we are able to convince the members of the house that this is not a valid or a good time to amend the constitution, then that will be dead in the water."

Arroyo, who was required by constitutional term limits to stand down after nearly a decade in power, has long been suspected of wanting to continue leading the country.
She took the unprecedented step for a sitting president of contesting, and winning, a seat in parliament in the May 10 national elections.

Arroyo's critics have accused her of wanting to use her position in parliament as a platform to change the constitution and become prime minister.

During her presidency, Arroyo had frequently said the gridlock arising from the presidency and parliament not agreeing on policy directions was holding back economic progress.

She tried repeatedly to change the constitution, but her initiatives were blocked by the Senate, many of whose members, including Aquino at the time, harboured their own ambitions to the presidency.

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said Arroyo's fresh bid to change the constitution could also be part of her efforts to avoid possible prosecution for alleged crimes committed during her time in power.

Aquino has said he intends to set up a Truth Commission to investigate and possibly prosecute Arroyo for alleged vote rigging, corruption and rights abuses.

A change to another form of government would derail the work of the investigative body, according to Casiple, from the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

"It's just a matter of time before the commission starts its work," he said.

Arroyo and her aides could not be reached for comment on Thursday.